Written for ACES Review, A Journal of Educational News and Comment, Vol. 10, No. 1, February/March 1983, pp. 1-3.
In NSW there are two statutory authorities which have responsibility for the design of syllabi and the award of secondary education certificates. The Secondary Schools Board, which administers the School Certificate, covers the years 7 to 10. The Board of Senior School Studies, which administers the Higher School Certificate, covers the years 11 to 12.
Both of these bodies are scenes of educational conflict. The Secondary Schools Board after inching towards the reintroduction of external examinations for the award of the School Certificate in 1980 (after abolishing external examinations in 1975) now, largely due to the recommendations and influence of the Report From The Select Committee Of The Legislative Assembly Upon The School Certificate, known as the McGowan Report after the Chairman of the Select Committee, is resigned to changes along some of the lines of the Select Committee’s recommendations.
The Board of Senior School Studies, particularly after the conduct of marking and scaling of the Higher School Certificate candidates’ examinations, is frequently busy defending and explaining the complex procedures which lead to matriculation based on Higher School Certificate results.
Although these Boards are the key authorities in determining the courses of study in the schools of NSW, little has been published about their difficulties, particularly those caused through insufficient resources being allocated to allow the Boards to service the NSW education community. This paper will briefly comment on some problems bedevilling the Boards in relation to staffing and the question of curriculum development and then make some suggestions about how to improve on this situation. The paper will be restricted mainly to considering the resources available to the Boards.
The McGowan Report, at page 56, observes that:
Neither the Secondary Schools Board nor its companion body, The Board of Senior School Studies, which is responsible for the Higher School Certificate, is an autonomous body. Each board commands a small secretarial staff provided by the Public Service Board, but otherwise has neither funds nor staffing allocated to it. The Department of Education, working mainly through its Examination and Scholarships Division, provides the funds and resources necessary to implement the board’s policies.
In fact the Boards operate on a financial shoestring. Consequently heavy demands are made on Board members (who are unpaid) and Syllabi Committee personnel. Without their generous assistance the Boards would completely flounder.
The Study Boards rely heavily on the services of the Department of Education. For example,
* Those persons employed by or associated with the Boards are scattered throughout different buildings in Sydney and North Sydney.
* Brochures, syllabi and other material are despatched through the head office of the Department.
* Meetings of the two Boards are held in the Director General’s meeting room in the city, whereas the secretariat is located in North Sydney.
* The public relations of the two Boards are largely performed by the Community Relations and Information Unit of the Department.
* Monitoring of the Study Boards’ courses is undertaken by regional directors of the Department.
* The Study Boards rely on the Department’s inspectorate to verify that non-government schools meet the requirements for registration.
With different staff answerable to different senior officers, it is little wonder that the McKinnon Inquiry (established to report on scaling of certain HSC subjects and pupils in 1981) stated that: “… until there is a clear organisational relationship in which the Board [of Senior School Studies] can successfully command the services of all professional and administrative staff, the system will be error-prone.”
Curriculum development is an area where poor organisation of Department and Board responsibilities has caused many difficulties. Each course of study, for example, Geography at the School Certificate level, (with the exception of Other Approved Studies offered by the Board of Senior School Studies), are modified or sometimes overhauled by the relevant Syllabus Commjttee; each Syllabus Committee is composed of volunteers nominated by various education organisations.
Composition of Syllabus Committees of the Board of Senior School Studies
|Colleges of Advanced Education
|Department of Education
|Association of Heads of Independent Girls Schools
See Table I for details concerning the Board of Senior School Studies.
Much of the work of both Boards is taken up with consideration of and debate concerning reports from Syllabus Committees, which may be seeking, on occasion, substantial variations.
Despite the immersion of Board members and Syllabi Committee members in this work, there is no one employed directly by the Board as a Curriculum Officer. What happens is that the Directorate of Studies of the NSW Department of Education, through its Director (represented on both Boards) and the assignment of staff members to Syllabus Committees, enables the Board to research and competently produce syllabi. The Directorate also provides discussion notes and reading lists as teaching aids for various syllabi, wruch are distributed to schools, both government and non-government.
There are some disadvantages with the current set-up. First, the availability of the Director and his staff for work associated with the Study Boards is dependent on demands from the Department for work in other areas, and on the constraints of time and place. Second, the relationship between the Boards and the Department may be cosy, but it is a relationship that does not allow for autonomy by the Boards. Third, by being locked into the Department’s structure, the Boards are also locked into the Department’s financial and staffing restraints. To some extent all of these objections are arguments for autonomy, so it is to this issue which is now discussed.
Recommendation 9 of the McGowan Report states:
The central authority should command adequate resources to carry out its functions fully and effectively but it should have no power to commit the resources of the government or non-government schools systems. The systems themselves must retain full responsibility in areas such as appointing teachers, and distributing resources.
Leaving aside for the moment what is meant by “resources”, it is clear that this recommendation is muddled in what is implied by “full responsibility” in the areas of teacher appointments and distribution of resources. After all, any decision by one of the Boards to introduce a new course of study or substantially alter an existing one will require the generation of resources such as a package including suggestions for teaching, a bibliography of relevant books and articles. These functions, which are presently performed by the Directorate of Studies, could be transferred to the Boards. It is not easy to separate, especially with the development of new or revised curricula, what are the Boards’ functions and what are the responsibilities of the schools.
What was of concern to the McGowan Committee would also seem to be concerning to senior members of the Department: the breaking of the nexus between the Boards and the Department, and thus the consequent development in autonomy of the Boards. Some of the reasons given for preserving the status quo are that the Directorate of Studies is able to assist in the coordination of activities between in-service training and changes in syllabi, and that in the development of a K to 12 Curriculum, the Directorate is better able, and indeed necessary to, the coordination of activities required.
But this is so much nonsense. First, in-service training could be the responsibility of the Boards and available to all teachers teaching Board subjects rather than to teachers maintained by the Department of Education. (Consideration needs to be given to the capacity of some in-service courses which are currently conducted. The in-service courses for careers advisors, which are supposed to turn a teacher – usually from one of the humanities – into a career advisor, now lasts five weeks – a ridiculously short time to accomplish successful training). Second, the coordination of activities between the Departments and the Boards could not be worse than how things currently stand. Third, the notion of a K to 12 Curriculum is paid lip-service to by many educators, but this should not obscure the fact that this expression in its various usages is frequently without substance.
A significant objection to the increase in powers and responsibilities of the Boards which is here advocated is that the Boards, because of their conservative composition and procedures, would considerably frustrate education reforms, but now in a much more decisive manner. In other words better the devil you know that the devil you do not.
This paper will not address itself to the composition of the Boards, but the following points are relevant to this objection; one, with part-time, volunteer staffed Boards with enormous responsibilities and meagre staff to assist, it is surprising that so few errors are made (or at least, detected). If the government were to allow the Boards to be adequately staffed, with provision for Board members to seek assistance with papers and research, this would considerably improve the quality of Board decisions. Two, the multiplicity of functions performed on the part of the Boards would surely be better performed if under a central administration. Three, the major responsibilities of the Boards are in regard to curriculum assessment and development; but it is in these areas that the Boards lack their own specialist expertise. It is not a matter of the Directorate of Studies being transferred – heaven forbid – but of the Boards being allowed to develop their own expertise.
This paper has shied away from considering many of the areas of controversy concerning the Study Boards, their composition and role in the design and implementation of curricula. What has been of concern to this paper is the small amount of staff and resources available to the Boards. In view of the Boards’ functions and standing within the NSW education system, this scarcity of resources is extraordinary.
Note on Publication
Michael Easson is the Education Officer of the Labor Council of NSW. The author would like to acknowledge the assistance provided by Mr. Peter Harley, Member, Board of Senior School Studies, in providing background information.
My article on the Boards of Studies (as they were called in NSW) was commissioned by Charles Bentley (1921-1986), who was then the General Secretary of the Workers Educational Association (WEA) of NSW.
One of the pleasures of going to meetings of the Secondary Schools Board (which set the NSW curriculum to Year 10) and the Board of Senior School Studies (which set the curriculum for the Higher School Certificate in Years 11 & 12) was to meet Bob Winder (1930- ), a master bureaucrat and maestro of NSW education policy. Cultivated, personable, canny, Winder usually chaired the meetings. A diverse Board with variable and differing views, I admired his art of pushing through the agenda, usually finishing on time, and appearing to give everyone a say. He rose through the ranks. He reminded me of Gerry Gleeson (1928-2018), another consummately astute NSW Bureaucrat who rose to the top of his profession (in Gleeson’s case head of the Premier’s Deopartment from 1977 to 1988). Both were trained as teachers, became Inspectors in a system of management that checked on progress, consistency, and resourcing across the state. Glesson focused on technical education, Winder on schools.
Winder was educated at Gunnedah High School and studied at Armidale Teachers College and the the National Art School University of New England. He was a primary school teacher and secondary school teacher to 1958, then Art Advisor and Supervisor Department of Education 1958-1967; Inspector Schools (Secondary) 1967-1971; Assistant Director General 1977-1982; Deputy Director General Education 1982-1985; then, Director General of Education 1985-1988. Along the way he was a member of the Senate of the University of Sydney to the early 1980s.
During my time on the Boards, Winder puzzled over economic and societal change, the numbers of students staying longer at school, developments in the youth labour market, the need for cater for a cohorts of students not all of whom were academically focused. He saw the need to think about a new, comprehensive six year approach to secondary schooling. He expressed concerns over several potential solutions and structures, such as ideas favouring separate senior colleges, fearing that the critical early secondary years could be neglected. Although the superiority
of senior colleges was pressed by some “reformers”, Winder foresaw their tendency to attract the more able, experienced teachers in those states where these structures were adopted.
Against Winder’s arguments were advocates of a differentiated public secondary education system that encompassed a variety of different types of schools.
I found Winder an articulate, intelligent, and provocative voice in education debates. He passionately believed in standards, exams and testing, a robust curriculum. He was proud of the public sector and his own experience progressing through the public school system. He warded off the trendy and poorly thought out. Yet he knew an overly-academic curriculum did not suit all. He subtly foxed against reducing the importance of the core – mathematics, the sciences, and English. The issues were complex. He kept returning to a core point: is this idea good for the students?