The nation’s newspapers reported on the release of the National English Curriculum: Initial Advice paper with the following opening lines:

GRAMMAR will return to the classroom

‘CHILDREN will be taught grammar for the first time in more than 30 years’

‘ENGLISH will be stripped back to basics under a draft national curriculum so students learn more about grammar’

‘Old-school grammar lessons, the phonics method of learning to read, and classic texts’

‘Grammar, punctuation and spelling will be the focus of a national curriculum in English’

Reading the document does not make it clear exactly how English in NSW classrooms would be different but certainly leads to a number of worrying questions for students who could be consigned to the completely inappropriate, de-contextualised, stand-alone grammar lessons from a bygone era, if the newspapers are to be believed.

The suggestion in one of the above articles that the NC is a return to ‘Shakespeare, Dickens and Austen’ is laughable – they never left.

After reading the doco one is left having more questions than answers.

In a time where we should be seeking to provide a relevant, progressive and 21st education, it seems that a very uninspiring view of English Education is being presented. It has been commented that the “banal and turgid prose of this document does nothing to inspire us as English educators that English is dynamic, creative and inspiring.”

Feedback on initial advice papers closes 5 November 2008 via email or by mail to: National Curriculum Board Feedback, PO Box 177, Carlton South, Victoria 3053. 

Formal consultation will continue until the end of Term 4 2008 and I encourage you to submit a personal response or participate in assisting your professional association to respond. 



  1. I must say I have no problems with reinstating a systematic and explicit approach to the teaching of English grammar, spelling and punctuation across Australia K-10. I am a languages teacher and am aware how important it is to understand the structure of a language to be able to use it correctly and effectively.
    Although, I am not an English teacher, I thought that in NSW there had progressively been a reintroduction of these aspects of English over the last years K-10.

    As for early childhood approaches to teaching reading, I am for a blend of whatever practices and methodologies it takes to have each child reading well,say by Yr 4.

    • Edward Kent

    • 16 years ago

    The first indicatin I heard was from the Sky News interactive headlines on PayTV which was based on this news article:

    This article, contrary to other media coverage of the issue, seems to outline that, indeed, the National Curriculum will be doing something ‘productive’ as opposed to counterproductive in aligning English teaching with LOTE teaching as this has been proven to be effective in Finland which has the highest literacy scores.

    I trained initially as a LOTE teacher and I have since had at least five years of teaching English here and in the UK and am currently completing the last module of my English teaching methodology. I find that more ‘language-focussed’ (as opposed to traditional grammar-focussed) lessons help to invigorate the teaching of English and provide students with a more competent grasp of their language in order to be able to function competently at the 21st century level.

    I don’t believe any curriculum would be so banal as to wipe any vestiges of critical literacy from its agenda in this country in this day and age – we have too many informed people on our boards who would not allow that to happen.


    • Mark O'Sullivan

    • 16 years ago

    I can see that there are some differences between this National Curriculum statement of intent and the current NSW syllabus. I, however, can’t really see much of a change in what will actually go on in classrooms, especially secondary ones. There’s already a shift back to “grammar” and “explicit teaching of skills” as a result of HSC feedback as well as the onset of NAPLAN and the implications of that exam on a school.

    And it’s good that Australian literature has been emphasised in this document – it’s a message to schools who think the English literature canon should be the be-all-and-end-all of its program of study.

    • Troy

    • 16 years ago

    Long timer reader, first time poster…I attended the National English Curriculum Board Forum in Melbourne…A few observations: I do wonder why one method of teaching (explicit teaching) should be highlighted above and before all else. Interesting, we were sent the advice paper at 7pm the night before, only to arrive at the venue to receive an updated copy of the advice, not exactly the best way to create an informed audience in this forum. Further, the only question focused on technologies was: How should new technologies, especially digital and online settings, be accommodated in subject English across the stages of schooling?
    Accommodated?? How about embraced?? In the group I was in we had a number of people argue against the use of websites in English, including how they are constructed, critical anaylsis, and even as web based learning…
    It is an interesting time to be an English teacher!

    • darcymoore

    • 16 years ago

    The AATE press release is positive about the document as one that can be used to move forward:

    “There was a positive response among English and literacy educators from around the country to Professor Freebody’s Initial Advice Paper on the National English Curriculum. Its emphasis on knowledge about language, an informed appreciation of literature, and growing repertoires of English usage provides a way forward for the subject English. It also acknowledges the rich traditions and the diverse ways in which English is taught.”

    • darcymoore

    • 16 years ago

    The English Teachers Association newsletter had the following piece from AATE President, Mark Howie:

    Nat. Curriculum Forum & Initial Advice Paper on Nat. English Curriculum

    This press release followed a well-received forum on a national curriculum for English and a highly productive follow-up meeting with Professor Freebody, author of the framing paper for English, which was attended by representatives of the four national peak professional teaching associations and the executive director of the Australian Academy for the Humanities. In a very real sense, the press release marks a historic moment, as it brings together educators from around the nation and working across the early years of schooling to the university sector in declaring their joint commitment to the process of developing a national curriculum for English.

    The Academy of Humanities and the four peak professional bodies for English and Literacy teaching see Initial Advice Paper as a positive way forward for Australian students and teachers.

    The National Curriculum Board and Professor Peter Freebody are to be congratulated on a highly productive forum on a National Curriculum for English, held in Melbourne on Friday 17 October 2008.

    There was a positive response among English and literacy educators from around the country to Professor Freebody’s Initial Advice Paper on the National English Curriculum. Its emphasis on knowledge about language, an informed appreciation of literature, and growing repertoires of English usage provides a way forward for the subject English. It also acknowledges the rich traditions and the diverse ways in which English is taught.

    We affirm our broad agreement with the content of the Initial Advice Paper. We welcome the commitments made to equity and diversity in improving learning standards for all students and believe that the directions provided will ensure breadth and depth in the National English Curriculum.

    We look forward to working together, in collaboration with Professor Peter Freebody and the National Curriculum Board, as the process moves through to the writing and implementation of the curriculum.

    It is my perception that the peak association representatives came away from their two days in Melbourne with the clear belief that the organisation of the framing paper around three key elements – knowledge of English language, appreciation of (a broadly defined) literature and growing repertoires of English usage – was generally supported by forum participants. It was widely seen as providing a way forward for considering the future of the subject in this country, while acknowledging the rich history of the subject and the diverse ways in which it is taught. Participants had an opportunity to raise concerns and record questions about the structure and content of the framing paper during the forum workshops. A key goal of the follow-up meeting was to work through these with Professor Freebody, informing the re-writing he will undertake. One particularly noteworthy issue was the stress forum participants put on the three strands being understood to be interrelated across the K-12 English curriculum. This point was certainly re-emphasised in the follow-up meeting.

    Members will likely be aware that some criticisms of the framing paper were voiced in newspaper reports of the forum, including commentary by individual participants who attended the forum. Where such commentary has been informed by deep knowledge and understanding of the history of English in the country, it needs to be separated from some reporting which responded to the framing paper in a partial way. Commentary taking issue with aspects of the framing paper reminds us that the next stage of the curriculum development process is crucial. The devil, as it is so often said to be, is in the detail.

    As a result of the forum and the follow-up meeting, Professor Freebody will make further revisions to the framing paper. The new text will have the status of draft initial advice to be provided for the yet-to-be-appointed English curriculum writers. This document will be published on the National Curriculum Board web site ( for public consultation beginning in mid-November and continuing until March. Members are strongly urged to regularly check the NCB website for updates and to respond to the Initial Advice document when it is released. Please also send any responses to ETA, so that these can be incorporated within the association’s response. Further details about ETA’s consultation with its members in response to the initial advice document will follow upon its release.

    Mark Howie

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