September 29, 2023

WA’s upper school students are not being taught the correct syllabus. Are teacher shortages to blame?

By Holly Thompson
September 29, 2023 — 2.00am
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A high number of West Australian schools are not teaching the Year 11 and 12 syllabus correctly, leaving experts concerned this could have a detrimental impact on student success in final coursework submissions and exams.

The latest School Curriculum and Standards Authority WA annual report revealed results of a syllabus delivery audit, first introduced in 2015 to ensure all schools delivered and assessed the correct syllabus to comply with WACE requirements.

Many WA schools are not complying with teaching the syllabus, a new report has found, and this could be impacting students. Credit: iStock

In Term 1 2023, the compliance rate achieved by schools was 54 per cent for course outlines and just 26 per cent for assessment outlines.

This is a significant drop from 2022, when the percentages were 62 per cent and 54 per cent respectively.

The Term 1 review was undertaken over four days by 40 reviewers – 13 principal consultants from the Authority and 27 experienced teachers – and involved 2130 documents associated with the delivery of 17 selected courses, including Year 11 computer science and economics, Year 12 ATAR biology and drama and Year 12 general geography.

The courses selected were those with syllabus changes resulting from the syllabus review process or other minor syllabus changes implemented in 2023.

“The audit suggests that not all teachers were aware of the syllabus updates or the Authority’s changes to assessment practice to ensure assessment should not generate workload and stress that, under fair and reasonable circumstances, would unduly diminish the performance of students,” the annual report states.

“Principal consultants for each course contacted the small number of schools identified with significant non-compliance issues in each subject to ensure that each school had taken action to modify the audited documents and was using appropriate assessment tasks and marking keys to assess student work.”

Education expert in school curriculums and adjunct professor at Southern Cross University David Zyngier said the percentages were of “serious concern.”

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“Teachers in Western Australia are paid above the average but are working well over their limits because there is a severe shortage, particularly at the upper secondary level,” he said.

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“This workload is causing extreme stress. Simply put, teachers at public schools are underfunded and overworked, and it should not be a surprise they are struggling to keep up with changes to the curriculum.”

He said while it was unclear in the report which schools had the most significant non-compliance issues, he would assume they were mainly in lower socio-economic and rural or remote areas where schools had more significant teacher shortages and less resources.

“The system is failing students, not the teachers, but often teachers face all the blame,” he said.

“How can we expect students to achieve high results in Year 11 and 12 if they are not able to learn what they are being tested on?”

Zyngier suggested that instead of paying 40 people to review syllabus compliance, the Department should instead go into schools and provide support and instruction on syllabus changes at the schools which needed the most help.

State School Teachers Union WA President Matt Jarman said while he couldn’t comment on the link between the two, staff shortages had been impacting schools in many ways for years.

A WA Education Department spokeswoman said several of the courses reviewed were either new or recently revised and therefore not comparable to previous years.

“Trained reviewers, including experienced teachers and staff from the Authority, reviewed the course outline and assessment outline against specific criteria. There are three criteria for a course outline and seven for an assessment outline,” she said.

“The criteria for reviewing the assessment outline were refined in 2022 to ensure reviewers were able to provide more fine-grained feedback to teachers.

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“Course outlines and assessment outlines submitted may not have adequately addressed one or more of these criteria to be identified as non-compliant.”

She said feedback from the audit was provided to schools, including actions that had to be taken so that all criteria were met to ensure that the mandated curriculum was taught and assessed according to the syllabus.

“The Authority worked with schools to action the required changes to ensure syllabus compliance,” she said.

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Holly Thompson is the education and general news reporter for WAtoday.Connect via Twitter or email.
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