The first comprehensive reform of NSW school curricula in three decades began in early 2023, and one Armidale school led the way in user testing.
In May 2018, the NSW Government announced the launch of the NSW Curriculum Review.
This was the first comprehensive review of the NSW primary and secondary curriculum since 1989, and aimed ‘to equip students for the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century’.
As a result of this review, NSW is revitalising all curricula, and the English and Mathematics K-2 syllabuses are the first to be implemented next year.
Two years in the making
PLC Armidale’s Head of Junior School, Fiona Wake, has spent two years as a part of a representative group of 200 teachers from primary and secondary classrooms from all sectors (government, Catholic and Independent) across NSW, who have been user-testing the newly developed materials for the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) to ensure that the new curriculum connects with practice and works well in the classroom.
As part of this Teacher Expert Network (TENS) team, PLC Armidale teachers were tasked with providing direct feedback to NESA through user testing.
“To facilitate this effectively, K-6 teachers also embarked on their own study, reflecting on current practice and interrogating the evidence and research that underpin the new K-2 English syllabus,” Mrs Wake said.
“Content from the kindergarten to year 2 mathematics and English across 2022 was delivered, feedback provided, and student work samples were annotated and supplied to NSW Education Standards Authority as samples of work.”
‘Not new to us’
PLC Armidale was the only school from Armidale that participated in the user group and one of only a handful across New England to be included.
The new curriculum is better, Mrs Wake says, because its focus on fundamentals allows students and teachers to go deeper in two subject areas rather than skim across a wider range.
“I like the new curriculum and feel very comfortable with it,” Mrs Wake said.
“English and mathematics are the first to be adapted because other subjects can be taught through these lenses in future.
“They are essential in establishing foundations for future learning success, particularly the development of oral language, reading, writing, mathematical knowledge and skills,” she said.
Mrs Wake said staff at PLC Armidale are ‘taking the lead as early adopters’ of the new curriculum.
“Our staff are continually engaging in professional learning to ensure the implementation is done in a supported way, effectively and smoothly, as the old syllabuses are phased out and replaced by the new,” she said.
“Skills are identified that are required by all students to develop competence in oral language, reading and writing, and content is structured and sequenced to highlight the connections across these areas.”
But what is expected in an independent school with smaller classes and attention to detail is higher than NSW Education Standards Authority minimums, according to Mrs Wake.
“We won’t throw the baby out with the bath water, and there are certain practices and methodologies in teaching that we know work despite a new curriculum, so we adopt and adapt,” she said.
PLC Armidale Junior School teachers commenced the journey to plan collaboratively and administer the new curriculum last year, despite its mandatory implementation being in 2024.
“Being an early adopter wasn’t a big jump for us as a lot of the new curricula we were doing anyway,” Mrs Wake said.
“The explicit teaching of grammar and syntax in writing ensures the foundational elements of writing are a solid platform from which to build in later years. We look forward to further collaboration to deliver educational experiences that ensure dynamic and exceptional learning outcomes for our girls.”
Next year, the Years 3-6 English and Mathematics syllabus will be rolled out at PLC Armidale.
“The work on this is already taking place,” Mrs Wake said.