Curriculum is the ‘what’ in teaching and learning. Usually, arts/music education advocacy ignores the curriculum or calls for it to change. Curriculum designers and developers definitely prefer the latter and, they’d like practice-based evidence to support the calls for change. With a revised Australian Curriculum recently released and soon to be implemented this article looks at the relationship between curriculum and advocacy practice.
Curriculum is the ‘what’ in education practice. What will be taught and what will be learnt. Whether you’re working in the ‘system’ or you’re an independent educator, if the intention is that teaching and learning will be happening when you interact with students, you’ll be using a curriculum. Whether it’s a written curriculum developed nationally or locally or it’s a curriculum that’s in your head, based on extensive personal experience, it’s a curriculum. And, chances are, sometimes you question why the curriculum is the way it is and wish that you could change its positions, aims, values or goals. You want curriculum that reflects your views on best practice. It’s this dialogue that gives curriculum potential as a powerful advocacy tool. Saying ‘this should/must/needs to happen’ and considering our work as an advocate complete then disappointment and frustration will follow. Advocacy requires active involvement. Actions, we hear, speak.
Really? Let’s look at what Australian Curriculum F-10: The Arts version 9 (AC:TA v9, https://v9.australiancurriculum.edu.au/ ) can offer, focusing on the Introduction (quotes and paraphrases from the curriculum are in italics). This will be a widely used curriculum. Exactly what its’ reach will be is a matter for the implementing jurisdictions –authorities and systems, schools and in some cases, individual teachers.
AC:TA v9 was released in early May 2022. Thousands of arts and music educators, musicians, performers, artists and creative practitioners working in diverse fields, advocates, researchers, community members, primary classroom teachers, representatives from cultural and health organisations, First Nations Australians’ organisations, members of the public and a small number of students from remote, regional and metropolitan Australia contributed to the review discussion. Their views about exactly what words should be in the Australian Curriculum reflected the diverse range of settings in which they work. Ultimately, the final curriculum was approved by state and territory education jurisdictions, the ACARA Board and Australia’s 9 Education Ministers – one from each of the 6 states, the Australian Capital and Northern Territories and the Commonwealth government.
There’s rich material for advocacy in AC:TA v9. The Introduction sets out a clear expectation of who will study the curriculum, followed by a statement that requires advocacy for it become reality, and there’s a couple of details that don’t sit comfortably with all advocates (The Arts, Year 8):
The Arts curriculum is written on the basis that all students will study The Arts from Foundation to the end of Year 8. State and territory school authorities or individual schools will determine how the curriculum is implemented.
The Arts – Dance, Drama, Media Arts, Music and Visual Arts are guaranteed a place in the curriculum thanks to the list of learning areas in the Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Education Declaration. However, any Arts/Music education advocate will tell you that being on a list in a policy document isn’t enough to assure provision of high-quality or even, any, arts or music learning programs. Constant attention and advocacy is required to ensure that students get access to this entitlement.
As a starting point, the Rationales for the Arts learning area and Music draw on the extensive body of evidence that describes the cognitive, emotional, social and physical benefits of Arts and Music education. The rationales, aims and key ideas underpin a flexible framework educators can use to provide high-quality learning for every student in every school. The introduction is also clear about what Arts learning involves:
‘Arts learning involves deep engagement through the continuing and emerging practices of The Arts subjects. Understanding how the practices of each subject are being used in dynamic and innovative ways across cultures and communities supports students’ understanding of how they can contribute to their world’. (AC:TA, v9, Key Considerations, ACARA 2022)
In Music, that means, learning happens through deep engagement with the continuing and emerging practices of listening, composing and performing. The curriculum also requires learning that is structured to allow all students to develop their creative and expressive potential and to explore, investigate, reflect on and interpret their own and others’ works, cultures, worlds, ideas and contexts.
The curriculum gives state and territory curriculum leaders, teachers, researchers, and resource developers opportunities to act as advocates; it is set-up for them to enact learning programs that build students’ knowledge and understanding of why the arts and music are essential and beneficial for all people across every stage of their lives and their capacity to enjoy and benefit from engage from life-long engagement with the arts and music. As people work with AC:TA v9 they’ll have a chance to use the structure it offers to enact advocacy positions.
To find out how the curriculum you enact connects with research, advocacy about the benefits of arts and music education, consider if and how the local curriculum you develop is
- respectful and inclusive. How does it allow students to engage with arts and music practices, works and practitioners from diverse cultures, times, places? How does your curriculum allow students to learn about the diverse roles that the arts and music play in lives, cultures and communities?
- a vehicle for students to ‘learn about the central place of the arts in the oldest continuous living cultures in the world following protocols that ‘describe principles, procedures and behaviours for recognising and respecting First Nations Australians and their intellectual and cultural property’. Information about such protocols is available through First Nations organisations including AIATSIS, Narragunnawali, state and territory education authorities and the Australia Council for The Arts.
- a curriculum that allows students to
- use their voices, bodies, analogue instruments, digital resources
- engage with arts and music works in traditional, conceptual, site-specific, hybrid, multimodal or trans-disciplinary forms that exist in physical, digital or virtual spaces and are created individually or collaboratively?
- designed to foster student agency and co-agency. Will students have opportunities to use questions to
- frame wondering, reasoning and reflecting
- explore ideas and make decisions
- explore and develop empathy for multiple perspectives
- express and celebrate identities, ideas and meaning
- think deeply about their own arts works and art created by others? (AC:TA v9 Introduction, Key connections, Viewpoints)
From these deliberations, you’ll be able to align what happens in your school/classroom to a variety of advocacy positions. You’ll also gather evidence about how the curriculum works with your preferred pedagogical approach. Which sections of the curriculum did you spend most time with? Why? Where there sections that required ‘interventions’ because they didn’t have a natural fit in your existing program? Will you keep those interventions? Why or why not? Your findings will allow you to contribute to (advocate) for the next curriculum by providing feedback to ACARA about what works. In recognition of the diversity of approaches in play across Australia’s primary and secondary schools, AC:TA v9 is silent on specific pedagogies or approaches that teachers should use to deliver learning. Feedback about interactions across curriculum, pedagogy and assessment practice is critical for future curriculum development. Under current policy, the next review of AC:TA will take place in about 2026. It would be wonderful if the people who lead that review have access to evidence-based evaluations of AC:TA v9.
From 2018 to the end of 2021, Helen Champion worked at the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). Across 2020 and 2021, she led the review of the Arts section of the Australian Curriculum. Helen lives in Naarm, on the lands of the Wurundjeri and Boonwurrung Peoples of the South-Eastern Kulin Nations, and works as a freelancer on arts, education and community projects.