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Curriculum review lacks artistic eye

Tara Watson

A review of the Australian school curriculum recommends a major overhaul of arts education but does the arts sector agree?
Curriculum review lacks artistic eye

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An Abbott Government-commissioned review of the national curriculum has made major recommendations of changes to arts education, in a list of revisions many in the arts education sector are calling anti-arts, reducing compulsory arts content.

Julie Dyson, Chair of the National Advocates for Arts Education(NAAE) said that the review was commissioned before the five arts subjects had time to be tried and tested in classes, also accusing the review of being filled with inaccuracies and facts not grounded in research.


‘We consider this review to be premature. There has been little opportunity to test the five arts subjects in the classroom,’ said Dyson, adding ‘we have major concerns about the number of contradictions, assertions and factual errors in the report’.

It is proposed that the core five strands of arts should be reduced, recommending that only music and visual arts be mandatory. The other arts subjects drama, dance and media arts should be optional electives and the school and parents will decide whether they will be offered as part of the curriculum.

Dean of the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music Barry Conyngham agreed with some of the recommendations, saying that the review admitted some harsh truths that need to be faced in a curriculum that cannot please everybody.

'If there were to be a reduction in the core areas then the most technical arts practice should be considered. Music is the most technical. Very difficult to separate the other four but I believe it would be easier to involve drama, dance and media arts in other programs,' said Conyngham.

One feature of the review focuses on the subject of media arts, recommending that the subject should be more thoroughly defined and substantially reduced in content. Director of the Australian Network for Art and Technology (ANAT) Vicki Sowry said that media arts education should be further expanded rather then scaled back.

'It is of real importance that the art curriculum taught in schools conveys this more nuanced and catholic approach to art production and presentation, with artists incorporating media technologies across both more traditional and cutting-edge arts practices,' said Sowry.

'It is important that our school curriculum, as well as looking to where we have come from, also reflects where we are now and where we might be heading. To this end, it is essential that any art-based curriculum reflect contemporary as well as traditional artform practices'.

The review states that some arts subjects could be absolved into other subjects recommending ‘media arts, dance and drama be subsumed into other parts of the curriculum,’ said Dr Vallance. This would mean for example media arts could be taught as part of technologies and drama as part of english studies. 

Sowry said this would not be a viable option 'unless you believe it is possible to teach music using mathematics', adding 'whilst there may be common underpinnings for each discipline it is the context that each discipline has grown from and operates within that informs how one learns about it'.

Director of Drama Victoria Emily Atkins said that the idea of teaching drama through English was unfounded and impractical.

'I think English teachers have enough to teach our children then to also learn how to explicitly teach drama. Drama in of itself is a very different discipline and whilst there are many english teachers that may have a double discipline in drama, being drama-trained is a very specific thing. Having the knowledge that goes with making a drama classroom a space for children to experiment with their creativity, a place where they will actually gain the knowledge that they need, does actually require the explicit teaching of drama,' said Atkins.

However Conyngham said that absorbing arts subjects into other core subjects, while a difficult decision, may ultimately be a necessary move.

'It would be possible but not desirable. The curriculum is very crowded and hard choices need to be made. The question to be answered is: what learning will have the greatest impact on the students and on our society,' said Conyngham.

Dyson said that the NAAE are particularly concerned with the findings of the review as the association were not called upon for contribution to the report.

‘We note that the National Advocates for Arts Education - or any other arts education organisations - were not consulted in the process of writing this review. Why were arts representatives excluded when subject area associations such as mathematics, geography, science, history and social & citizenship education were represented?’ said Dyson.

In a question of curriculum priorities, the review generally emphasizes the importance of mentally technical subjects such as maths and science, with some arts subjects being downgraded as principle learning studies in foundation years.

‘It’s bringing into question the value of arts in education, it’s of national concern and therefore it concerns us.' said Atkins. ‘We are more important than a lot of people give us credit for or what the reviewers give us credit for'.

About the author

Tara Watson is a Melbourne journalist & artsHub writer. Follow her on Twitter @TarasWatson