Curriculum requirements: Continuing learning post COVID-19

As teachers and students have returned to school across Australia, focus turns to curriculum delivery and assessment for the remainder of the year. Given educators have unexpectedly lost a significant amount of face-to-face teaching time, how will they decide which elements of the curriculum are crucial to cover for the remainder of the 2020 school year?

Acknowledging that meeting all curriculum and assessment requirements for the rest of this school year might be difficult, states and territories have begun to advise educators on how these could be adjusted and where some flexibility would be appropriate. Of course, the situation continues to change daily in some states and territories, and education departments are regularly updating their advice.

Continuity of assessment post COVID-19

The continuation of teaching and assessment during lengthy periods of government-mandated learning from home has presented challenges, and meant time needed to cover curriculum requirements has been lost. COVID-19 has affected different areas of Australia in different ways, so the challenges faced by educators are not always the same.

In Tasmania, the Department of Education has reconsidered the reporting requirements for students in Prep to Year 10. It has advised school staff and parents and carers that teachers will be given more flexibility for the requirement of mid-year reporting this year.

Instead of producing grades of A to E for students, teachers will communicate the student's level of achievement in core learning areas in their reports, and indicate next steps in learning. They will also provide a summary of the student's wellbeing.

‘The Tasmanian Government believes it is important to give clarity to teachers and schools, but also to provide fairness and equity to students whose learning may have been impacted by the pandemic this year,' a spokesperson from the Department of Education tells Teacher.

‘When planning for the return to school-based learning, Tasmania has been guided by Public Health advice and decided to adopt a staged approach to ensure we could continue to manage the movement of people across our communities.

‘We also planned for those students returning to the critical senior years of 11 and 12 to do so with confidence knowing they're still on track to attain their goals. These students will work to a modified curriculum which clearly spells out what is needed from them for the remainder of the year, and how teachers can best support them in their learning.'

On the other hand, the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) says it is ‘taking a flexible and agile approach to meeting emerging issues and is relying on schools to be similarly flexible and agile in ensuring continuity of learning and delivery of assessment'.

‘Teachers are identifying the progress students have made in their learning and the need for any additional support to be provided in Term 3,' a VCAA spokesperson said. Victoria, and Melbourne in particular, is an example of how events are continuing to change day by day. The VCAA response was given to Teacher before the latest six-week lockdown and changes to the school holidays for certain age groups was announced by Premier Daniel Andrews.

In the Northern Territory, where students returned to school full time much earlier than other students in Australia, assessment and reporting expectations will remain the same. The case is similar for students who needed to continue learning from home after school returned.

‘For students learning from home, each school will develop an assessment and reporting schedule that identifies evidence of learning from Term 1 and 2 to make an assessment of the student's progress and achievement,' the Department of Education says.

‘These students can still receive an A to E grade for each subject studied. Each school to determine how teachers will collect evidence of learning if students are learning from home.'

Essential elements of the curriculum and deep learning

In New South Wales, the New South Wales Education Standards Authority (NESA) has released official guidance giving school leaders the authority to cover the elements of curriculum they see as essential for students across K-10.

‘This means schools may select the outcomes and content that will form the basis of the educational program for Kindergarten to Year 10 students,' NESA explains. ‘The educational program does not need to address all outcomes or all content of the syllabuses.'

Western Australia's School Curriculum Standards Authority (SCSA) offered similar advice while educators were teaching remotely, saying, ‘given the current situation with COVID-19, teachers are in the best position to use their professional judgement to make decisions on aspects of the curriculum that are suitable for those students who are working within a modified teaching and learning environment (e.g. online).'

‘While there hasn't been any change to the expectations for delivery of the pre-primary to Year 10 curriculum content, schools have been provided with some flexibility regarding Semester One reporting of student progress,' Allan Blagaich, the Executive Director at SCSA, says.

Over in Queensland, the Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority (QCAA) has released advice on what should be considered when designing assessments and how teachers can continue to assess students while learning from home. It has also addressed how teaching and learning can be approached during remote learning and once schools have returned.

‘Schools may elect to reorder their teaching, learning and assessment programs to complete theoretical components of the learning area content while social distancing requirements are in place and then address practical elements of the learning area later in the year.

‘Priority should be given to learning areas or aspects of learning areas which: support continuity of learning; can be delivered as part of learning at home; provide opportunities to consolidate and build on concepts and skills previously taught explicitly in class.'

In South Australia, it has been decided that curriculum requirements for state government schools will remain the same.

Principals and teachers invested extraordinary time and expertise developing programs and resources to ensure that continuity of learning was preserved for students in the classroom and for those learning remotely,' Executive Director Learning Improvement at the Department for Education in South Australia, Susan Cameron, tells Teacher.

In a recent Teacher article, Emeritus Professor Peter Sullivan said for the remainder of the 2020 school year, teachers should focus on rebuilding relationships, avoid rushing through missed content, and preference a deep understanding of a few topics over a superficial understanding of many. He says it's a risk to put pressure on teachers to cover 12 months in nine months they have available.

‘If they did try to do that, the people who suffer most are the people who probably suffered the most from the remote learning. And so it's very important, just from an equity point of view, that teachers take their time in re-engaging the students with school,' he says.

Reviewing the curriculum

Professor Geoff Masters AO, CEO of the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), recently undertook a review of the New South Wales curriculum and has highlighted the overcrowded nature of the curriculum and the lack of deep learning that has come as a result of this.

Teachers who spoke with the Review also emphasised their desire for a more flexible curriculum, giving them more opportunities to use their professional judgement about what individual students are ready to learn.

Professor Masters said, ‘coverage of the entire curriculum is less important than establishing the points individual students have reached in their learning at this stage of the pandemic, and targeting teaching accordingly. The focus should be on developing knowledge, skills and understandings crucial to each student's successful further learning in a subject'.