This review of course covers the entirety of the curriculum and some of the circumstances in which it is delivered. While the arts are taught in that larger context and its assumptions affect the observations and recommendations about arts education, The Music Trust does not have the resources (nor the need) to examine the whole report. We focus only upon the small part of the report concerning arts education. Even so, there are many, many points to address.

Any of the curricula, arts and otherwise, should be open to challenge. The Australian Curriculum was produced over four years with broad participation, continuing consultation, iterations and revisions, and expert writers. It perhaps cannot be expected that a review entails an equal process but it should call up an equivalent measure of expertise and application.

The review of the arts curricula depends heavily upon two “arts specialists”, Dr John Vallance, the principal of Sydney Grammar School and Ms Michele Chigwidden, a teacher in Glen Osmond Primary School, Adelaide. Both schools are said to have excellent arts programs. The consultants’ expertise in the arts and in curriculum design is not stated, although from another source we discover that Dr Vallance’s background is in classics and he has an interest in music. His opinions mirror the politically driven, ideologically based debate about the English national curriculum in the early 1990s. This debate essentially focused on whether the practice of music education should be based on passive, liberal and aesthetic ideals in contrast to a technical, skill-based activity in which students learn by doing. Through Dr Vallance’s contribution to the Review, we see again a difference of opinion concerning the nature of music education.

In the report, the Arts section comes last in the sequence in which learning areas are covered. It’s a little like having a surname beginning with Z: it becomes your fate. It is symbolic of the importance given to arts education when it comes to the practicalities of assigning teacher expertise, class time, resources. An emphasis-based choice of listing subjects is preferred over a broad equivalency-based choice.

No amount of research and demonstration of the value of arts education seems to make any difference. In a general way, the arguments are accepted. Many politicians and bureaucrats know them and when propitious, acknowledge them. But unlike in countries high on the PISA tables (see below), the rhetoric of the curriculum is never translated into real action. The Review does recommend action, albeit in some ways compromised action. It is less than the states have already committed to.

On-the-ground experience and surveys show that at least the majority of public and Catholic primary schools do not have competently taught programs in even one artform, let alone the five included in the Australian Curriculum. A survey of preservice teacher education a few years ago showed that the national average mandatory education in music was 17 hours, and probably less, even much less, for other arts subjects. For those whose preservice study was for a postgraduate degree, the average was 10 hours. This to teach seven year-levels.

After decades of such overwhelming underperformance, we have a primary school workforce that has not been given sufficient education nor a chance to develop the confidence needed to deliver an arts curriculum in any subject. There are exceptions: people who by one means or another have acquired skills in an artform, perhaps more than one. Unlikely to be five. But they are a small minority. Because the teachers cannot teach, the subjects are not taught.1That seems to be acceptable to the systems. Unlike in “important” subjects, major state systems do not assess student achievement in the arts. Non-achievement is unnoticed. Most have no data about how many schools teach music and presumably the other arts. Z for the Arts.

A note on definitions. The specialist consultants and the writers of the Review confuse the terminology found in the curriculum. In particular, by “strands” is meant the two activities of making and responding. The writers often refer to the five “arts subjects” as “strands”.

There are five arts subjects each of which has an individual curriculum statement. They are independent of each other, bound by a common rationale and broad over-riding structure. The content is subject-specific.2

The Review

PLEASE NOTE: Text below in italics is a direct quotation from the review. This commentary simply follows the document through from beginning to end.

The review of the arts curriculum begins with an acknowledgement:

There seems to be universal agreement that the arts are a crucial part of formal school education and should not be viewed as an ancillary or ‘add-on’ component of schooling. This is reassuring but not reflected in the recommendation of the Review that Drama should be subsumed into English and Dance into HPE3, presumably as in some way ancillaries since English and HPE teachers have not been educated in teaching the artforms.

In paragraph 4 of the Review of the arts curriculum, we already are into one of the fundamental and indeed, perplexing misunderstandings that dog this report:

However, there appear to be no other countries that have combined these five art forms into one curriculum. Music, visual arts, and drama exist in some form in most curriculums, but as standalone subjects, and are not always all part of the core. Dance is less common, and media arts is virtually non-existent as a standalone subject.

The report is saying that it is only in Australia that the arts are combined into a single curriculum and it makes much of this later. While there is an Australian Curriculum: The Arts which finds some commonalities between artforms, within it, each of the five artforms has its own curriculum and this is the main content.

There is a broad, common structure for the content descriptors:

  • Exploring ideas and working with elements
  • Developing understanding of practices and developing skills and techniques
  • Sharing (performance practice)
  • Responding to and understanding artworks and their contexts.

This is as it has been for decades, beginning with the agreement of all governments in the Hobart Declaration of 1988 to define key learning areas.

Even a cursory examination reveals that in this context, each of the art forms has a standalone curriculum, related to the descriptors above.4 The futility of the “Creative Arts” blancmange reigning in some university education departments and schools ensured vigorous rejection from all the artform protagonists including the representative organisations.

However, there was a realisation that primary school teachers, who were to be required to teach five art forms and in most cases, had not been provided with the skills to teach even one, could be assisted to the extent that it was possible for the five art forms to share concepts and terminology.

Even a cursory examination reveals that in this context, each of the art forms has a standalone curriculum, related to the descriptors above.

There was an early attempt in the ACARA process to try to describe all of the arts and arts education with terminology common to all artforms. That would have had obvious efficiencies. But the futility of the “Creative Arts” blancmange reigning in some university education departments and schools ensured vigorous rejection from all the artform protagonists including the representative organisations.

In the next paragraph: A number of submissions wanted a particular art form created as a standalone subject – music was the main focus of this approach and some submissions argued that music could only be delivered by music specialists.

This is a non-issue: there is a standalone music curriculum. What are these submissions asking for? A different standalone curriculum? Our guess is that they want music’s fate detached from those of the other artforms, taught as a compulsory subject. That is not an issue of curriculum design.

The Music Trust certainly argued that music should be taught by specialist teachers (or alternatively, teachers who specialise in three or four subjects rather than the entire curriculum, such as is typical nowadays in some Asian countries) – because for one thing we cannot see how perhaps 100,000 or more primary school teachers nationally are to be given sufficient PD to teach an appropriate curriculum in music or the other artforms.

It is important to note that teacher education in the arts, if pursued through remedial professional development, is far more expensive than the provision of sufficient arts education in the course of preservice education (as was the case before the Dawkins amalgamations). Teachers must be paid by the hour to participate in professional development. In preservice education, only the lecturers are paid. There is no national strategy to deal with this issue. In any case, we agree with the review that the solution lies in the use of specialist teachers. But there is no strategy for that either.

One overwhelming concern expressed in both submissions and consultations was whether generalist teachers would be able to handle all or any of these art forms, since they were written as specialist learning areas by specialists.

There is great concern about generalist teachers’ competencies, for reasons already given. Of course the curricula were written by specialists (although we may be confused when later, the report asserts that they were not). But is this sentence saying that they were written to be taught by specialists? That is not the case because so far there is no commitment to employ specialists.

One of the great dilemmas therefore was this: should the curriculum be written to the level that might reasonably be expected of the students, competently taught? Or should it be written to the level that can be taught by a workforce which (through no fault of its own) lacks an appropriate level of competency? ACARA wanted a curriculum that could be taught by the existing workforce. But that would be almost no curriculum at all. The states were committed publicly to teach this arts curriculum. But what would they be willing to do to equip their teachers to teach it? How could anyone know? We are guessing that ACARA wrote the curriculum/ curricula that would serve the children and not leap out at the horses. The report does not begin to comprehend these issues.

Further, it was understood that the states would have concerns about the primary curriculum articulating with the secondary curriculum. There are existing standards at secondary level that can be supported by the fact that all secondary teachers are specialists, including arts teachers, and there were strongly stated concerns by the profession that the national curriculum should not erode these standards.

The report did acknowledge a general feeling that schools would need to have specialists on staff or on contract to handle the arts curriculum in upper primary and secondary years and it carried this through to its own recommendations. There could hardly be a more important recommendation.

…it might be beyond the realm of less-endowed schools to teach all of the five arts forms in the one curriculum. The question, particularly for a primary school, is which arts specialist does a school bring in?

It is a key question, especially since most schools are “less-endowed”.

The Music Trust says that ‘the countries topping the PISA scores … all offer much more music education than do government schools in Australia;…[And their teachers are much better trained.]

Research indicates that in other countries the arts are vital in understanding history and culture, and are important in developing artistic appreciation and skills, and play a vital role in cognitive development and achievement. However, in most of the PISA top performing countries music and the arts have separate learning areas.

And the point is?… The arts deliver all these benefits, apparently because they are standalone subjects? But our artforms do indeed have standalone curricula.

The report seems to have missed the Music Trust’s purpose in citing the situation in our PISA superiors: they apply better quality resources and more class time to teaching music but this diversion of resources has not prevented high achievement by those countries in what we could call “NAPLAN subjects”. Research into the benefits of music education suggest that it is even possible that the time given to music has increased their PISA scores.

The Review’s terms of reference ask for comparisons with international best practice. For reasons unknown, the arts Review chooses comparisons with England (the Queen lives there) and Korea. Who knows why only two and who knows why England and Korea.

Reports of the ‘Subject Specialists’: Dr John Vallance

Dr Vallance’s contribution begins with a quote of his excellent enunciation of the intrinsic and instrumental benefits of the arts and arts education. He clearly is a friend of arts education: but is not convinced that these points are made forcefully enough in the Australian Curriculum. He goes on to make specific criticisms of the concepts and descriptions in the curriculum. His concern is that such standardised formal language quickly starts to dominate content with inconsistent results and consequential difficulties for assessment. Also, it means that all of the art forms are described in the same terms, which is inappropriate.

It is surprising to hear this criticism because, as noted, each artform has its own curriculum written in its own terminology. Inevitably, a formal curriculum uses formal concepts to describe content. Are there successful exceptions? Is this not the case with all learning areas in the Australian Curriculum?

Dr Vallance notes that there is no clear unambiguous indication in the curriculum of the amount of regular class time it is envisaged be spent teaching component parts of the arts curriculum.

Here is the relevant statement from the first pages of the curriculum, available for all to see.

“12. Allocation of time for teaching the Arts learning area will be a school-based decision. Notional hours for each band of schooling will guide the writers of the Australian Arts Curriculum as follows: 120 hours across F–2; 100 hours across Years 3–4; 100 hours across Years 5–6; 160 hours across Years 7–8 and 160 hours across Years 9–10. [Curriculum is about content. Teaching hours are about implementation.]

“13. Schools are best placed to determine how learning in the Arts will be delivered. These decisions will take account of the different approaches that can be taken for each subject in the Arts. For example, some subjects in the Arts require frequent brief tuition while others require more intense immersion less frequently.”

We understand that the suggested hours are the minimum. They average about 14 minutes for each of the five arts subjects each week. This is clearly insufficient, whatever the subject. The distribution of school hours is not totally prescribed and it is intended in this concept that they assign the remaining hours as they wish. But in any case, curriculum content is proposed by the national curriculum authority, but implementation is the prerogative of the education systems and/or the schools.

In the context of all Australian schools he questions the relative importance of each of the art forms in the curriculum, despite the fact that they are treated in the same manner.

Dr Vallance makes some assertions about relative importance but does not really argue his case. Each artform had equal treatment from the curriculum authority. It was not ACARA’s role to deal with a question of relative value; it is a matter for state governments and schools. Whatever artforms a school chooses to teach, the curricula will be available.

In his view, media arts does not require a separate curriculum at all; all the content set out for the media arts could readily be covered in other places – in visual arts, English, history, music and so on.

It is a view that is asserted, not argued. Media arts may have application in all the mentioned disciplines but what would be taught absent a curriculum? It clearly involves many considerations not covered in the subjects mentioned. Media Technology is a different subject.

Media Arts has the same foundation in aesthetics as do other art forms. A clear majority of states and territories teach Media Arts and expected it to be included in the curriculum.

In 2009, The Ontario curriculum put the case for Media Arts it this way:

“A new aesthetic sensibility has arisen from the technological revolution, allowing young people to view the world through multiple modalities. Multisensory and cross-disciplinary approaches are challenging fixed forms and categories as means for interpreting human experience. Traditional definitions of the arts do not sufficiently take these forces into account.”

He worries about the pressure brought to bear on less resourced schools by lobby groups and advocates of new technologies. This is the view taken in many other jurisdictions.

Is this intended to invalidate the arguments for teaching new technologies or their particular application in Media Arts? IT is integral and pervasive across the curriculum. This is an issue for school or system management, not curriculum.

Dance and drama, though obviously important, should not arguably have a claim on formal time in a core curriculum either – they are better pursued as co-curricular activities especially in the early years of school.

What are the arguments behind “arguably “, why are dance and drama “better” pursued as co-curricular activities? These are major changes, advanced by mere assertion.

The curriculum document states: “In the arts, students learn as artists and audience through intellectual, emotional and sensory experience. They acquire knowledge, skills and understanding specific to the arts subjects and develop critical understanding that informs decision making and aesthetic choices.” The arts are about aesthetic practice and knowledge. Aesthetics are not the focus of HPE nor even most of English as taught.

An argument might be made for a fruitful partnership between English and drama. However, in all the artform curricula, “making” art is key. English teachers “respond” to drama, they do not make it. Except by personal choice, they do not have drama-making skills. Making drama is not part of the English curriculum.

Concerning dance, we have a proposal. HPE should be subsumed into dance. Most of the objectives of the HPE curriculum would be achieved along with the aesthetic agenda of this rich and ancient art form.

If the reader finds that a bizarre proposition, so is the reverse. These are different “cultures”. Dance is an aesthetic practice. HPE teachers are more likely to be expert in field sports than dance.

If the HPE teachers do not have the skills to teach dance, who will teach it? If dance teachers teach it, what exactly is the pedagogical advantage of subsuming dance into HPE?

The rather crude bilateral taxonomy dividing the curriculum into areas of ‘making’ and ‘responding’assumes that one must be either a producer or member of an audience, but this distinction is more of a hindrance than a help: ‘is there any room to be a student?’ he asks. The question seems to be a non-sequitur. As to “making” and “responding”, they are defined under “Strands” in the curriculum document (pages 7-8). In this definitional section, their relationship is described:

Making and Responding are intrinsically connected. Together they provide students with knowledge, understanding and skills as artists, performers and audience and develop students’ skills in critical and creative thinking. As students make artworks they actively respond to their developing artwork and the artworks of others; as students respond to artworks they draw on the knowledge, understanding and skills acquired through their experiences in making artworks.”

Also, on page 9:

Band descriptions

Band descriptions provide information about the learning contexts that apply to the content descriptions and achievement standards in each Arts subject. [They] also emphasise the interrelated nature of the two strands, Making and Responding.

So the distinction surely is common sense, is not crude and there is no assumption of mutual exclusivity.

Moreover, he finds that ‘making’ is privileged over ‘learning how to make’ and there is inadequate space in the curriculum for reading, listening, and reflecting. There is, he believes, an assumption that intuitive forms of expression are enough on their own, without an additional need for disciplined training in the context-founded skills required for effective communication.

“Responding”, one of the two strands, includes reading, listening and reflecting. Making and responding are interrelated as stated above. “Making” is described: “Making includes learning about and using knowledge, skills, techniques, processes, materials and technologies to explore arts practices and make artworks that communicate ideas and intentions.” Although the word “intuition” does not appear in the curriculum, making must involve intuition. Children learn how to make by making. The ‘Viewpoints’ sections lead students to ask questions in relation to their own work and the works of others. The content descriptor on listening, responding and contextual understanding is thoroughly explored through the content elaborations.

The focus of every Australian Curriculum document is on student-centred learning. Students are capable of creative thinking and of solving problems and developing skills in a range of expressive forms, including music. The arts document is philosophically ‘in kind’ with the other curricula, as it should be. Students learn by doing. The framework provides a developmental guide to assist students to achieve learning outcomes across musical processes. There is room for teachers to help students develop skills. There are also opportunities for students to learn from their listening experiences how to combine sounds into meaningful musical forms. These too, are skills. Music education requires a balanced approach found in this document.

The standardised language does damage as well in relation to the cross-curriculum priorities. He believes they have been clumsily integrated without any serious attempt to establish the practical relevance of these priorities to specific learning areas.

We believe that the cross-curriculum priorities should be reconsidered and that there should be a balance in reference to all cultures of the world, all rich in arts heritage and practice. Australian indigenous culture should always be included wherever appropriate.

He analyses each of the arts strands in more depth, and notes that in relation to music it is very clear that the music community was, on balance, unhappy with the draft curriculum.

The Music Trust did not encounter this unhappiness in any large measure. We do not know the basis for this assertion. Recall the highly consultative process. There were plenty of opportunities for happiness, but there would also have been mutually exclusive propositions that left someone disappointed. The critical issue is not a head count of who is unhappy, especially when such a large proportion of the potential respondents are not educated in the subject, but achieving the best possible curriculum in ambiguous circumstances.

Descriptions of content and their elaboration are on the whole vague and differentiation and specification at various age points is very poor and so the curriculum provides a weak level of guidance for those teachers and schools most in need of it.

Yes, there is some vagueness because the content descriptors are written at 3- and then 2-yearly intervals – ie for achievement assessments at years 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, rather than yearly. This is not the case for non-arts subjects and is a matter of some contention within the arts community. The Music Trust favours yearly assessments. The development of skills and understandings over the three years F-2 is enormous and to have content descriptors for only the end of that period is dysfunctional.

Content descriptions notably lack any meaningful focus on the teaching of Western music notation – a foundational tool for anyone planning to pursue an interest in practical music whatever its origin–and there is no meaningful reference to the teaching of music theory, harmony, or counterpoint…

With reference to the teaching of Western musical notation, there are drop-down sections at every level which reference the kind of notation students should be able to read and interpret. The Music Trust notes that a) the learning of notation is not necessarily foundational as stated because in many musical genres both Western and non-Western, musical practice does not depend upon notation or there may be no notational system and b) a misplaced emphasis on the learning of notation can hinder the acquisition of musical understanding and skills.

With reference to the teaching of theory, harmony or counterpoint, these appear appropriately in the curriculum. It may be that they do not appear in the hard copy version.

[Vallance] compares the Australian curriculum with the English and Korean curricula and finds it wanting. He observes ‘compared to the other two countries our curriculum appears organised around a series of unfocused, apparently unexamined, assumptions which have their origins far outside the classroom.’

This document is the latest in the evolution of arts documents commenced in Australia in the 1980s. There has been much reference to Australian initiatives (state and federal) by other countries including the UK during that evolution. Various of these projects have benchmarked and referenced the curricula of other countries to assist in their formulations. The Australian Curriculum has been executed with rigour by many expert and committed people over a four year period and repeatedly scrutinised by others. The process is not complete since the curricula in various learning areas including the arts are being adapted by each of the states, syllabuses written, and tested in the schools. This process does not guarantee perfection, of course, but we could ask where we are most likely to find “unfocused, apparently unexamined assumptions”: in the curriculum, or in such statements in the report?

In concluding his analysis Dr Vallance places the Australian Curriculum in the spectrum between the knowledge/truth-based approach to education and the ‘romantic’ approach. He is concerned that Australia over the years has drifted towards the latter and now has a strong tendency to privilege pedagogy over content.

Is pedagogy privileged? It seems largely absent, as is usual in such curricula: they focus on content, not on how it is delivered. It could be argued that just as, in music, form is content, the process of teaching and learning is a part of the content learned. 2 + 2 = 4, however that news is delivered. A perfect cadence is an arrangement of pitches, a rhetorical device, an element of structure, a nuanced emotional experience and so on, depending in part upon the pedagogical approach. However, that is a digression.

As to drifting toward the “romantic” approach, this is not defined, probably through no fault of Dr Vallance, and so it is not possible to comment.

For too long curriculum development in Australia has been left in the hands of educators, rather than subject specialists … These curriculum documents appear to have been drafted by experts in ‘education’ rather than by experienced leaders in the disciplines involved.

There is some irony in having this criticism levelled by a consultant who is not an arts specialist. But in any case, Dr Vallance’s speculation is incorrect.

The curricula were in fact developed by subject specialists – those who are teaching the arts in schools and in tertiary institutions, curriculum writers and members of arts education organisations. It was a highly collaborative process. There were many, many Australia-wide consultation phone-ins and meetings, there were many calls for input to which many organisations and individuals responded. All were received and considered in good faith throughout the process.

The result is a series of vague, discursive and rambling targets, in which the need to find uniform and consistent terminology is privileged over the specific and distinctive requirements of each discipline.

In short, he finds the documents are [quote]: so vague as to provide an inadequate sense of their intended content … The curriculums are far from being either balanced or substantial … They appear overlong, overworked and unfocused … They are the obvious product of multiple compromises, deals with interested parties and the red pen of educational bureaucrats. At nearly every point they lack rigour …Australian children are being told that they can run before they can walk; it is a cruel hoax.

We have attempted to respond to each of the previous specific criticisms. The above paragraphs are so inaccurate, intemperate and all-encompassing that further effort is not warranted.

The documents are too long, diffuse and tendentious in terms of their quasi-technical vocabulary to be comprehensible to students or to parents who want to know what their children are learning.

Pardon? Curriculum documents should be written so that they can be comprehended by seven year-old students? The writers probably thought they were writing for more or less competent teachers.

The Second Subject Matter Specialist, Ms Michele Chigwidden

Overall she is less critical of the arts curriculum than the first specialist has been, and cites the international recognition the arts curriculum received in the International Arts Education Standards: Survey of the Arts Education Standards and Practices of Fifteen Countries and Regions, a report prepared in August 2011 by the New York-based College Board for the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards.

15 countries, not two. The Australian Curriculum was highly praised.

Ms Chigwiggen also expresses concern about the capacity of generalist teachers to deliver the curricula, especially in all five art forms. She advocates that all of the time allocations be reviewed as they seem to be inadequate, and also presses strongly for more professional development for teachers.

We agree.

Another of her concerns regarding most of the five art forms relates to the ratio between ‘making’ and ‘responding’. In some areas she believes that an appropriate balance has been struck but not so in other parts.

It is not possible to comment without more specific information. The interrelationship has already been covered.

Ms Chigwidden has concerns about the cross-curriculum priorities and would like to see some guidance as to the proportion of content or scope and sequence from all learning areas that is required to embed the three curriculum priorities.

We have noted our concerns above.

She goes in detail through each of the artform curricula and makes observations which are very briefly reported.

Her view of the music curriculum is opposite to that of Dr Vallance. Her assessment is that the music curriculum is quite prescriptive, with a clear and detailed structure and sequence. There is not enough emphasis on Asian cross-curriculum priorities here she believes.

There is a wealth of Asian music from vastly different sources – Indian, Sri Lankan, Indonesian and Japanese music traditions, all different and distinctive. There are also fusions of music made in Australia by bands such as Go West which combine Asian and Western music traditions.

The core content in the music subject allows for flexibility in classroom delivery up to Years 3 to 4 but for Years 5 to 6 and Years 9 to 10 specialist resources, instruments and classrooms are required with delivery by a specialist teacher. She further comments that while the document is user-friendly for teachers to the end of Years 3 to 4, generalist teachers for remaining bands would need further training and development…

It is curious that Ms Chigwidden shares Dr Vallance’s prescription for media arts, though no rationale is offered.


Presumably the Conclusion is reached by the two principals in this review, Professor Wiltshire and Dr Donnelly. Naturally, they would have depended upon the reports of their two “specialist” consultants. Preference is given to the views of Dr Vallance.

There is considerable evidence that this curriculum has been cobbled together to reach a compromise among the advocates of all the five art forms, rather than a serious consideration on educational grounds as to the place of each in the whole curriculum, the current practices in schools, and the realities of a school’s resources and time.

One of our writers was an advocate for music and was involved peripherally in the development of the curricula. He is aware of no process of negotiation between art forms in the formulation of their respective curricula.

The circumstances of the arts in the education system would have required consideration of the other matters mentioned but the issue of over-riding importance is that the primary school generalist teachers have not been educated in the arts. For whom, therefore, can a credible curriculum be written?

Of course, there were the interests of the states to take into account. They run the largest school systems. The curricula had to be formally accepted by each one of them. Inevitably there were compromises. In the circumstances, the design of the perfect curriculum as an autonomous exercise at arm’s length from all interest groups was not possible. Were the resultant compromises unacceptable? The Review seems to think so, but they were not compromises between art forms.

It would also seem that not a lot of realistic thought has been given to the structure and sequencing of the components of each area and some major rewriting is required along the lines that both subject matter specialists suggest.

The key part of this document is the 8-page section called “Scope and Sequence”: what is to be taught and the order in which it is to be delivered.

This easy dismissal of the “thought” of so many people over such an extended period is, frankly, less than helpful for advancing a debate that will have any chance of achieving general consensus.

It is also clear that, as the age level increases, the capacity of a generalist teacher to master the content and devise appropriate pedagogy becomes very strained. There would have to be specialist teachers used, on staff, or on contract, to handle such demanding material. Each strand also seems to be overcrowded and requires slimming down. Professional development would still be required for generalist teachers and the language needs to be made clearer.

We agree, once again, on the proposals concerning teachers.

It is not evident whether curriculum writers took account of the considerable amount of ‘doing’ or ‘responding’ that schools are already achieving in these creative domains as part of their school-based activities… Most schools would be very active already, in at least four out of five of these arts areas. They would also be effectively integrated into other curriculum streams; for example, drama in English, music and drama in history, media arts in technology and the ICT capability, dance in health and physical education, visual arts in history, and so on. Consequently, the key question arises as to whether all five strands should be integrated into one curriculum and whether they should all be mandatory.

The comments about the level of school activity are untrue. The National Review of School Music Education (2005) found that only 23% of primary school students across all systems receive music instruction. Given that most independent schools are believed to offer high quality music education, presumably most of the 11% of students attending independent schools receive music instruction and the remaining say 13% are found in the 89% of schools that are government or Catholic. There is anecdotal reason to conjecture that participation is lower now than in 2005.

A recent survey of primary school music provision discovered that, according to principals, 63% of schools have no classroom music program. The research almost certainly suffers from sampling error but remove the error and probably the number is higher; this is suggested also by the study cited above. It is roughly confirmed by anecdotal reports. The situation for the artforms other than visual arts is probably worse.

Most education departments cannot provide data on how many primary schools are teaching classroom music or other artforms. There are more data on provision of instrumental instruction in music and it is offered in a substantial proportion of state schools in some states. But the percentage of students participating is very small: highest by far is Queensland at 11%. Co-curricular music is paid for by parents in many schools in affluent areas but this is usually not curriculum-based, not classroom music, not paid for by the systems and not available in low income areas.

The comment on integration of the arts into other subjects is a list of concepts, not a description of widespread or disciplined practice. The final sentence begins “Consequently” but seems to be a non-sequitur and also is held to follow from two statements that are incorrect.

If these statements are being made as part of a response to be considered by the government, then they must surely be required to be supported by evidence. This has not been provided.

Each of these art forms has much to offer and there can be no doubt that a curriculum should be available in each for those schools who want to access it. However, based on the international research, and evidence and opinions expressed to this Review we consider that media arts should become a standalone subject and reduced in content.

What is the evidence? The “research” as so far cited finds only that Media Arts are not taught in some other countries. Perhaps then, Australia is a leader. Why should these opinions be heeded?

The other four arts areas – music, visual arts, drama, and dance – which have a more common foundation and conceptual base, would remain in one curriculum but be reduced down to a slimmer concise content. Then, only two of the five arts subject areas would be mandatory and the most likely ones would be music and visual arts.

Slimmer concise content? The entire document of 140 pages covers 5 subjects over 11 years = 55 subject/years. That is 140/55 = 2.5 pages per subject per year.

The key “The Arts Scope and Sequence: Foundation to Year 10 (by band)” section is eight pages long. 8/55 = 0.15 pages per subject per year. Too brief, we would be inclined to say. It is all there but gives less guidance to those who need it the most. Less content does not mean a more substantial document.

Is the intention in achieving a slimmer, more concise content to reduce the achievement standards or to meet them more expeditiously? There is no clear purpose or rationale. The implication is that since only two of the artforms would be retained in their own right, this is not about curriculum but about economics.

However, schools could elect to offer any of the remaining three subjects in a form and structure of their choosing…


1. The arts curriculum should be available to all students throughout all the years of schooling. The learning area should be formally introduced at Year 3 but provide a rich source of resource material for Foundation to Year 2, the Foundation years.

  • We support the proposition in the first sentence but note the word “available” and note also that what is in question are five arts curricula. Would the review support this statement: The five arts curricula should be available, taught by expert teachers, to all students throughout all the years of schooling?
  • Notwithstanding the use of the word “available”, we believe that all five artforms should be mandatory for F-6, two should be mandatory in 7-8, and all should be available but optional thereafter.
  • We oppose the proposition concerning F-2 in the second sentence. The idea that the arts should not be formally introduced until year 3 flies in the face of all of the evidence of how early music learning assists with the development of non-arts abilities, specifically numeracy and literacy – not to mention the intrinsic value of music in early childhood development.
  • If formal introduction of the arts curricula is delayed until Year 3, the children will be 8 or 9 years old. This is beyond the age when some important arts-induced brain developments occur, with consequences for arts and non-arts abilities. That is part of a rationale that speaks against this recommendation. No rationale has been given in its support.
  • The argument can be made in terms of brain development. Research shows that the benefits to brain development follow from continuing, planned arts-making activity. If formal introduction of the arts curricula is delayed until Year 3, the children will be 8 or 9 years old. This is beyond the age when some important arts-induced brain developments occur, with consequences for arts and non-arts abilities. That is part of a rationale that speaks against this recommendation. No rationale has been given in its support.
  • If arts subjects are to be delivered only as resource materials serving the F-2 curriculum of literacy and numeracy, as recommended elsewhere in the report, how is the discipline of the arts curricula to be brought to bear? The curricula can be integrated but must not be abandoned.

2. The core content of all five strands should be reduced and a considerable portion of the current core be included in school-based curriculum and activities, thus augmenting the rich arts programs which most schools are already conducting.

  • A case has not been made for reduction of content
  • Most primary schools do not have arts programs.
  • The report made much of its incorrect perception that the artforms are not standalone subjects, in contrast to the situation in other countries. The language in this recommendation appears to mean that they should not be standalone subjects but should be subsumed into other subjects. Or does it mean that the national curricula in the arts should be subsumed into the curricula devised by each school? Which mostly do not exist. We do not know.

3. Two of the arts strands should be mandatory and we recommend music and visual arts. The other three strands would be elective subjects and schools would choose which to offer according to their resources and wishes of the parents and nature of the school context. Media arts should become a separate standalone subject and substantially reduced in content.

  • We support the proposition that two artforms should be mandatory but add “and taught in depth”.
  • At which year levels? P-10? 3-6? We suggest F-8 as is the current requirement (on paper) in NSW.
  • Using the national curricula or included in the school-based curricula?
  • Why music and visual arts? The only hint to date is that this is a choice made in some other countries. If the Review does not have a rationale, what was theirs? (Of course, The Music Trust can give a rationale, but in this context it would be inappropriate.)
  • The recommendation re media arts has been supported only by assertion. We have seen no assessment of its value or circumstances. It is already a standalone subject in the arts learning area. What will be gained by moving it elsewhere, or depriving it of a curriculum?
  • Because of the limitations of class time and resources, especially teachers, there is an argument for schools teaching two arts subjects in depth and providing regular experiences in the remaining three. In primary schools, all five subjects should be mandatory.

4. Elements of the current arts curriculum should also be integrated into other learning areas such as English, health and physical education, history and technologies.

  • We support the practice of utilising the arts to support learning in non-arts subjects. This should not be seen as an alternative to or substitute for teaching the arts curricula.
  • Who in practice will integrate eg the elements of the music curriculum into the history class? The feasible solution in primary school is that the responsibility falls to the classroom teacher. Therefore, even if the music curriculum is taught now by music specialists instead of the classroom teachers, the latter will need more basic music education than they are now receiving. The practicalities need to be addressed.

5. The content of each of the arts forms needs to be restructured and re-sequenced along the lines suggested by the subject matter specialists. The documents need be expressed in clearer language .The balance between ‘making’ and ‘responding’ in each of the strands needs to be revisited involving consultation with arts teachers.

  • Who finds the language unclear? The consultants? Music teachers? Classroom teachers with little knowledge of the arts? For whom should the language be chosen?
  • Why does the review simply accept the views of two “subject matter specialists” over those of many other specialists, different people for each of the five arts forms, who have gone through a four-year process to produce these curricula? Have they produced reasons or just opinions?

6. The considerable resourcing costs associated with delivering the arts curriculum need greater consideration, and professional development for teachers is needed as the years progress. It needs to be acknowledged that arts specialists will be needed at the advanced levels.

  • Generally we support the observations and the recommendation. The provision of skilled teachers is a resource issue for all arts subjects. Otherwise, there generally are low cost options. Music can be taught through singing, although there is great advantage in also offering the more costly instrumental programs.
  • Given the present lack of arts education skills in the primary school workforce, it appears to be infeasible to achieve teacher competence through professional development training. There are too many teachers needing too much education.

7. An analysis needs to be undertaken to identify the extent to which the cross-curriculum priorities have produced repetition of content in these strands, and the extent to which they have skewed the content of all the strands, particularly away from Western and other cultures. The cross-curriculum priorities should be integrated, but only where appropriate, and their presence more clearly indicated.

  • We agree that the cross-curriculum elements should be reconsidered and a balance sought in the references to world cultures, with special consideration of Australian indigenous cultures.

The Australian Curriculum: The Arts

Review of the Australian Curriculum. The arts section begins on page 212.


Richard Letts, Gary McPherson and Mandy Stefanakis for the Music Trust, 20 October 2014.


  1. To different extents in the various states, some schools solve the problem by hiring arts specialist teachers or paraprofessionals using discretionary funds, often those available to pay for relief time for classroom teachers.↩︎
  2. They also confuse the status of different information. Most of the 140 pages are ‘guidance only’. The content descriptions and the achievement standards which are the ‘mandated’ content fit into 8 pages, combining all the Arts subjects across F-10. Of particular concern is confusion between content elaborations – examples of approaches to delivering content relevant to a content descriptor. They also appear to have missed the ‘examples of knowledge and skills’ –information-only status, but importantly for Music, including details of notation, and developmental learning for concepts such as duration-pulse-beat-rhythm-metre.↩︎
  3. Health and Physical Education (ed.).↩︎
  4. Paragraph 14 in the arts curriculum: “Each subject in the Arts is unique, with its own discrete knowledge, symbols, language, processes and skills.”
    The first words in the Introduction: “In the Australian Curriculum, the Arts is a learning area that draws together related but distinct art forms. While these art forms have close relationships and are often used in interrelated ways, each involves different approaches to arts practices and critical and creative thinking that reflect distinct bodies of knowledge, understanding and skills. The curriculum examines past, current and emerging arts practices in each art form across a range of cultures and places. Each subject focuses on its own practices, terminology and unique ways of looking at the world.”↩︎

Dr Richard Letts AM is the founder and Director of The Music Trust, founder and former Executive Director of the Music Council of Australia (now Music Australia) and Past President of the International Music Council. He has held senior positions in music and culture in Australia and the United States, advocated for music and music education, conducted research, written policy documents, edited four periodicals, published four books and hundreds of articles.

Mandy Stefanakis is a sessional lecturer in music education at Deakin University. She was previously Director of Music at Christ Church Grammar School and Essex Heights Primary School. She is a member of the Advisory Council of The Music Trust, Assistant Editor of the Trust’s e-zine Loudmouth, past-President and a Life Member of the Association of Music Educators. She lectured in music education at the University of Melbourne where she received her Master of Education degree. She has contributed to many arts curriculum initiatives and conducted professional development to assist implement these curricula over several decades. Mandy is the author of the Australian music focused education kits, Turn it Up! She has conducted extensive interviews for the National Film and Sound Archive, is an avid composer and her obsession with piano and cello continues.

No comment yet, add your voice below!

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *