16/10/2019 - 13:47

Position paper points to value of core national curriculum

16/10/2019 - 13:47

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A paper has argued Australia should replace its tertiary ranking system with a common curriculum and individual learner profiles.

An example of a proposed learner profile. Photo State of Victoria

A paper has argued Australia should replace its tertiary ranking system with a common curriculum and individual learner profiles.

Australia's Tertiary Acceptance Ranking, or ATAR, has come under scrutiny since its nationwide introduction a decade ago, as educators and policymakers increasingly question its effectiveness in preparing students post-graduation.

While the ranking was introduced to provide a unified system for Australian students looking to enter university, many students in recent years have begun entering university through alternate pathways.

Evidence of this trend was reported in a 2018 study from The Mitchell Institute, which found just one in four undergraduate students are admitted to university via their ATAR.

Criticisms of the usefulness of a ranking system were outlined last month in a position paper from Victoria-based Australian Learning Lecture (ALL), which proposed a rethink of how students approach school from year 10 onwards.

In its ‘Beyond ATAR: a proposal for change’ paper, lead authors Megan O’Connell, Sandra Milligan and Tom Bentley proposed that instead of rankings, a nationwide core curriculum should be established for senior school students, with students provided resources and pathways to pursue their own strengths and interests.

After that, students would develop a ‘learner profile’, which would de-emphasise the need for examinations and marks and instead emphasise learned skills, values and capabilities developed during secondary school.

The report suggests universities should analyse a student’s skills and abilities, rather than looking at how they rank compared to other students, and accept students based on whether their skills fit with course requirements.

“By recasting senior secondary learning outcomes and supporting young people to understand and pursue their strengths, we will support better transition of young people into tertiary education and improve their chances of long-term success,” the report’s authors wrote.

In proposing an alternative to tertiary admissions through rankings, several industry figures, including The Grattan Institute’s school education program director Peter Goss, endorsed these proposals as mapping out a future beyond ATAR.

“Australia needs a better way to capture what students know and can do when they leave school,” Mr Goss said.

“ATAR has real value, but also real limitations.”

For its part, Western Australia has sought to broaden how students can complete WA Certificate of Education subjects, with Education and Training Minister Sue Ellery announcing earlier this year that schools would offer general courses to senior school students as an alternative to ATAR pathways from 2020.

Ms Ellery said the introduction of this pathway was designed to give students more options and allow them to maximise their future study and career options.

“For some students, five year 12 general courses, or a combination of general and ATAR courses will be a more appropriate preparation for their post-school pathway,” she said.

“In the past you chose ATAR courses if you wanted to go to university and VET courses if you wanted to link into training, and this middle ground gives students an option for both.”

Wesley College principal Ross Baron told Business News the existing ATAR system was hampering schools across the country, saying the last thing schools wanted to do was prepare students just to receive a university admission ranking.

“We’re actually doing the work for universities to make their entrance requirements easier,” he said.

“Every principal in Australia would say there’s got to be a better way.”

While Mr Baron said it was important to alternatives to ATAR were debated and discussed, he expected universities were likely to push back against any changes to the current system.

“They will use every political trick they can to not change this, because in the end it’s going to make a lot more work for them if we go away from that ranking,” he said.

Mr Baron said the number of students entering university through alternative pathways was on the rise, with parents and students increasingly aware that students could attend university or TAFE with English competency, general courses or certificate competencies.

He said it was important students were offered a greater array of pathways post-graduation, regardless of their ATAR.

“We have students who are university bound, but we also have students who aren’t bound that way and want to go straight into work or vocational training,” he said.

“Any change that values all of those is a good change.”

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