ATESOL NSW Response to draft K-10 Australian Curriculum in English, history, mathematics and science - 30 May 2010



ATESOL NSW Inc. is an incorporated professional association of people working in the field of TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and related areas. It attracts members from all education sectors: schools; adult, community, TAFE and other VET settings; consultancy services within NSW Department of Education and Training and the independent and Catholic sectors; and university teacher education departments. The attached response has been prepared and reviewed by a working party of ATESOL NSW councillors.

ATESOL NSW shares the same concerns as the Australian Council of TESOL Associations (ACTA) and the Multicultural Programs Unit (MPU) within the NSW Department of Education and Training. After close collaboration with these organisations, we offer in principle endorsement of the feedback offered within their submissions.

ATESOL NSW recognises that the learning needs of EAL/D learners must be addressed in every learning area within the Australian Curriculum. Support from specialist English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers is an essential part of their entitlement, as is the provision of appropriate ESL teaching and learning programs. As the majority of EAL/D learners are placed in mainstream classrooms it is vital that their teachers are supported in assisting students to negotiate the specific language and literacy of all the learning areas.

We therefore endorse the view that additional documents need to be developed to accompany the Australian curriculum.

Firstly, a link between the Australian curriculum and a national ESL curriculum framework showing the progression of English language achievement within learning areas of ESL students. This framework, when hyperlinked to the learning area documents, would act as a bridge between the two. It could include achievement standards, work samples and an EAL/D reporting scale.

We also suggest the development of another document that details the language and literacy demands of each learning area, hyperlinked to the content of each subject area. We believe that a deep knowledge of language is essential for students’ competence in literacy across the language areas and that it is not the responsibility of the English curriculum to provide the relevant skills. If subject teachers are to meet the increasingly sophisticated language and literacy demands of the upper primary and secondary curriculum, then ACARA should provide clear guidelines regarding the critical role of language and literacy within the learning area.

We recommend that the expertise present within the membership of ATESOL NSW  be utilised to contribute to the formation of these supplementary documents. 


Content descriptions

  • Please identify any content that you believe should be included in the Australian Curriculum that is not currently, and give reasons for your selection.

ATESOL NSW believes that the teaching of subject specific language and literacy is the responsibility of subject teachers across the curriculum. In order for this to be effective, the demands of each learning area in each year level must be made explicit within all content descriptions. The literacy statements under the General capabilities heading in each of the learning area curriculums (particularly mathematics, science and history) need to be strengthened. In general, each statement reflects a limited view of literacy that does not encompass the critical role of understanding English language in the development of literacy competence or describe the full range of literacy skills and knowledge in each learning area.  Different areas of learning involve highly specialised language styles, vocabularies, texts and illustrations. Because of this, and because language is best learned when linked to content and activity, all teachers in all curriculum areas must take responsibility for language development.  Teachers need to understand how language is used in the content areas and to share this understanding with students through explicit teaching.


A more consistent and clearer delineation of English language learning should be provided in the Language strand of the English learning area document. The role of subject English in guiding language and literacy teaching across the curriculum is not sufficiently explicit to ensure that relevant language structures and features are taught within each learning area. An explicit statement of the role of subject English teachers in supporting the learning of English language and literacy across the curriculum, particularly in the primary years, and of the shift in responsibility for teaching subject specific language and literacy skills to subject teachers as the language demands of learning areas become more sophisticated and specialised in the secondary years should be provided in the Links to other learning areas in the English document. The supplemental role of subject English for the teaching of language and literacy skills for other learning areas must also be clearly reflected in the English content descriptions.


The mathematics curriculum does not identify the language and literacy skills required for competent communication in Maths beyond the early years (K-2). In the upper primary and secondary years, students are implicitly assumed to have the necessary skills to negotiate the content. Thus they would be expected to solve word problems without the explicit teaching of the necessary language structures (for example, the passive voice), or they would have to differentiate between everyday and mathematical usage of the vocabulary (for example volume or face). Errors made by EAL/D students arising from unfamiliarity with the grammatical structure (i.e., a language skill) are prone to be incorrectly assessed and misreported by mathematics teachers as an inability to complete subtraction tasks (i.e., a subject content skill). ACARA should clearly identify the language and literacy demands of mathematics by inserting the following text in the years 3-6 and years 7-10 sections: "Learning the language of mathematics remains a priority in these years". There should also be included an acknowledgement of the importance of oral interaction in the introductory statements and in the content descriptions and elaborations.


While the content descriptions in the history learning area include reference to a range of text types including narrative, description, imaginative response, explanation, argument and description, they do not provide direction about the specific language structures and features required to respond to and compose these texts.

Oral interaction as a tool for learning is not apparent in the content beyond K-6 and should be similarly incorporated in the content descriptions for years 7-10 by using words and phrases such as "talking about", "commenting on", "telling", etc.

Within the History Curriculum rationale and content strands, the cultural diversity of learners is reflected in a very limited way. We believe that there should be a greater emphasis on using the diverse backgrounds of students as a resource when exploring world cultures and diversity within Australia and that intercultural understanding be contextualised to include more than only Asian cultures. This is significant in terms of student identity, especially for EAL/D learners. It is important for students to develop understandings of the complexities of their own and other cultures. Greater emphasis should be given to historical events and people who have contributed to the development of the diversity of Australian identities and to notions of social inclusion, social cohesion and community harmony. The term culture should be treated as a more complex notion so that students become familiar with it as a dynamic process rather than as a static or superficial entity.


The specific language required to respond to and compose Scientific texts is not identified although the document consistently includes reference to the literacy skills. Oral interaction is not apparent in the content in years 9 and 10. ACARA should expand the literacy statement within the General capabilities to include the specific language and literacy demands of Science including describing objects and events, interpreting descriptions, read and give instructions, explain ideas, write scientific reports, procedural recounts and expositions. ACARA should clearly identify the language and literacy demands of Science and integrate oral interaction as a process for student learning in years 9 and 10 in the Science Inquiry Skills as it has in years K-8.

  • Please provide any additional comments you would like to make about the content descriptions.   

We strongly urge that the importance of teaching language across the curriculum be made explicit throughout the content descriptions of all learning areas. If we recognise that language gives us access to learning, then the key to equitable outcomes lies in students’ taking an active part in the learning process and in using language to learn.  Using language as a tool for learning, both individually and co-operatively, develops a range of literacy and learning skills that help students become inquiring and independent learners.

Language-focused teaching in all curriculum areas also assists learning by developing understanding of many specialist forms of language.  It is the teachers’ responsibility to assess and build on each student’s language proficiency.

The inclusion of Literacy – and to some extent, Language – as a discrete strand within the English curriculum document, though not for the other three learning areas, is problematic, and could be interpreted to suggest that English teachers alone will be expected to assume the bulk of the responsibility for teaching literacy and language skills for all learning areas.

Scope for a description of the progression of learning of subject specific language and literacy skills must be incorporated into the content descriptions for each learning area. A global statement about the language focus areas might be included as a separate heading in the Preface to each year level and, additionally, incorporated into the curriculum focus descriptions for the three "broad year groupings" delineated in the Organisation section of the draft mathematics, science and history documents, as follows:

  • Years K-2: typically students from 5 to 8 years of age
  • Years 3-6: typically students from 8 to 12 years of age
  • Years 7-10: typically students from 12 to 15 years of age

These subject specific language and literacy skills should be reflected in the achievement standards for each year level also.

These broad year groupings could also provide a useful organising tool for the incorporation of other of the general capabilities and cross-curriculum dimensions into the content of the learning areas, and for the articulation of EAL/D learner pathways into the mainstream curriculum learning areas. 


Content elaborations

  • How can the elaborations be further improved to better illustrate the content descriptions?

We are aware of some confusion amongst teachers as to whether the elaborations are mandatory elements of the curriculum. We suggest some clarification of the role of elaborations.

We support the view that elaborations are well placed to to illustrate how knowledge, skills and understandings from the general capabilities and cross-curriculum dimensions can be incorporated into the curriculum.

They could also be used to give advice about providing pathways for students entering the mainstream curriculum at different stages with different levels of English Language Proficiency (i.e., EAL/D learners) along with links to the relevant supplementary documents for these groups of learners. 


Achievement standards

  • Please provide any other comments you would like to make about the draft achievement standards.

The achievement standards for all learning areas are developed based on the assumption that students start school in Kindergarten with a level of proficiency in Standard Australian English and continue to progress through to year 10. Significant numbers of EAL/D learners in our schools are developing proficiency in English. The achievement standards do not allow teachers to assess accurately on EAL/D student progress in learning English. 

Similarly, the broad A-E descriptors are designed for speakers of Standard Australian English. They do not allow teachers to report accurately on the developing English language proficiency of EAL/D learners. In relation to assessment and reporting of EAL/D student achievement, ACARA needs to give consideration to the development of an EAL/D reporting scale.


General capabilities

  • Please provide any further comments you would like to make on the incorporation of general capabilities into the Australian Curriculum.


The inclusion of the General capability Literacy is strongly endorsed. However, literacy skills cannot be developed without the knowledge of the language structures and features that are required to create and respond to the broad range of texts. Currently the mathematics, science and history curricula do not provide this level of detail. It is essential that each of the curriculum documents clearly identify the language and literacy demands of the learning area.  An inconsistent interpretation of literacy appears across the learning area documents. In the mathematics document literacy is interpreted as the language of maths and written texts only.  In Science, the definition broadens and becomes a way of describing the range of ways of communicating in, and interpreting the language of Science. The maths and science documents do not include any reference to the use of new communication technologies or multimedia which is included in the history and English curricula. It is recommenced that a consistent definition of and rationale for literacy be provided in each curriculum document in addition to listing the literacy requirements of each learning area.

Intercultural understanding

We support the inclusion of Intercultural understanding as a General capability. It reinforces the notion that the development of intercultural understanding is essential for a country as culturally and linguistically diverse as Australia. We recognise that the way students learn to describe the world influences the way they learn to see or experience it and that language is a vital carrier and creator of meaning and knowledge. Students from different cultures (even groups) describe the world in different terms and in a multicultural or heterogeneous society there are various versions of reality. Schools play an important role in developing young people as responsible and active citizens who have a well-developed ability to live together and embrace opportunities that arise within a diverse society.  It is essential therefore, that Intercultural Understanding is incorporated within all four documents, rather than limiting it to History and English.

We also support ACTA's view that the emphasis within the content strands reflects a focus on understanding "culture" through a study of "other" cultures. The view of culture presented is one of culture as static and exotic rather than a concept of culture as an ever-changing process, requiring exploration through engagement with others and conceptually.

We would like to see this general capability carried through to the content descriptions and elaborations or the achievement standards. At present it tends to be addressed mainly in the introductory sections of the curriculum documents. For example, mention is made in the origin of mathematical ideas and in science as human endeavour, but specific content references are difficult to find.

The diversity of cultural, linguistic and religious backgrounds of students is only partially acknowledged, with specific references mostly to those from indigenous or Asian backgrounds. For example, the history document provides little room to consider other perspectives, e.g. migration is portrayed as "flight" and little focus is placed on the contributions made by migrants to Australia. Given that approximately 30% of students enrolled in Australian schools are identified as having a language background other than English, it would seem that a substantial proportion of Australian students are "invisible" as far as Australian Curriculum is concerned.

There is little in the documents to support teachers in developing strategies to develop intercultural understanding, such as countering racism and discrimination or developing respectful classrooms. A set of values statements and/or outcomes, and related strategies in the content, linked to the National Framework for Values Education in Australian Schools could focus attention on these concerns.


Cross-curriculum dimensions

  • Please provide any further comments you would like to make on the incorporation of the cross curriculum dimensions into the Australian Curriculum.

We support ACTA's positive view of the inclusion of Asia and Australia's engagement with Asia. Given Australia's proximity to Asia, it seems reasonable to expect that the Australian curriculum include a focus on developing a deep understanding of the region, including Australia's connection to it. However, the definition of Asia is unclear. The Australian Curriculum should clearly define Asia and refer to it consistently throughout the learning area documents. At present, the treatment of Asia and Australia's engagement with Asia in all learning areas does not allow for students to develop a deep understanding of the region, including Australia’s connection to it. In addition to this, the focus on Asia should be extended to include "Asia and the Pacific". 


World class curriculum

  • Please provide any further comments you have on the draft Australian Curriculum (e.g., strengths, priority areas for improvement).

The Australian Curriculum will play an important role overseas as a representation of Australian beliefs and values. It is essential that it demonstrate a clear understanding of the impact of globalisation on languages, the effects of cultural change and emerging identities, and the optimal methodology for teaching English as a global language.

At present, the Australian Curriculum does not sufficiently cater to the needs and abilities of students who are learning English as an Additional Language or Dialect (EAL/D). More explicit and comprehensive guidelines for the incorporation of the general capability of Intercultural understanding and the teaching of EAL/D students in all learning areas will enhance both the quality and the international marketability of the Australian Curriculum.

We believe that a more comprehensive understanding of the diversity of learners in Australian classrooms should be reflected in these documents. Cultural and linguistic diversity is a defining characteristic of Australia and a feature of most schools and includes migrants and children of migrants as well as Indigenous students. On average across Australia, almost 30 percent of students are from Language Backgrounds Other Than English (LBOTE). However, this average does not reflect the reality in many metropolitan schools where LBOTE students comprise the majority of the school population (up to 96 percent in some schools) or in remote Australian schools where large numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students speak traditional Indigenous languages.

In addition to limited acknowledgement of cultural and linguistic diversity, the documents fail to recognise the complexity of this group. A more detailed description of the diversity of Australian learners in the rationale at the start of each curriculum document would assist teachers to understand and cater for their students more effectively.