The curriculum – inclusivity without inclusion

A curriculum with a glaring exclusion.
Oct 25, 2021
Playing catch up on disability access.

Students with a disability’s place in national curriculum development was almost an afterthought, that omission effects one in every five students in Australia.

While good intentions may have been in place for the inclusivity of the Curriculum, it has not translated into an inclusive curriculum.

People living with disabilities, and their carers, were not properly consulted at the beginning of the process of the drafting of the curriculum, explain Dr Deborah Price and Professor Roger Slee from the University of South Australia.

“The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) has tried to play catch-up since then, but it’s not gone far enough,” says Price.

Their research explored the ways in which the current curriculum is not achieving its stated goals through examining the reviews that have taken place into inclusive education since the Australian Curriculum began, and the outcomes of and submission to those reviews.

“The Curriculum fell short because it was an incremental rather than authentic reform initiative,” says Price.

The rationale for the introduction of the Australian Curriculum was that it would be equitable, accessible, and a consistent curriculum for all learners.

Consistent reports at all levels of government since the Australian Curriculum was first implemented, though, show that this has not been the case.

“We can see this in various reports: teachers say they aren’t getting appropriate training, parents report that they have to move their children from school to school to find a good ‘fit’, and students with disabilities continue to be suspended or excluded at disproportionate rates.

“The reality is that for all it’s good intentions, and the reviews that have taken place so far, the Curriculum continues to reflect an ablest world – it advocates for a ‘typical’ or ‘normative’ achievement level, and how can that respectfully demonstrate progress and achievement for all learners?”

Since the introduction of the Australian Curriculum, provisions of specific illustrations to access and participate for students with disabilities have been incorporated.

These include elaborations, work samples, and examples of personalised learning and adjustments to allow for participation.

There are a growing number of resources reflecting innovative curriculum design, with applications across a diversity of learners. The responsibility of this adaption lies with individual teachers.

“Work samples and illustrations aren’t really enough, though,” says Price. National curriculum developers need “to go further and think more holistically."

“Teachers say that the year-level progressions that underpin ‘attainment’ as it’s defined by the Curriculum are irrelevant to some students. The focus needs to be on the individual’s learning and abilities.

“A truly inclusive curriculum questions ‘what does this student need to achieve within their own personal needs?’

“Learning benefits should benefit the individual, and their individual needs. Not all students need to ‘achieve’ in the same way. They aren’t all heading to the same destination. But it doesn’t mean they aren’t achieving what that individual needs for their own successes.”

The authors of the paper contend that reforming the curriculum for students with disability requires a much more expansive view of curriculum, a view that recognises that the challenge is not just making additional curriculum for different cohorts, and is not just rewritten or adapted syllabi and tests.

From Price, D., Slee, R. An Australian Curriculum that includes diverse learners: the case of students with disability. Curriculum Perspectives 41, 71–81 (2021).

A version of this paper was first published in Reid, A., & Price, D. (Eds.), (2018). The Australian Curriculum: Promises, Problems and Possibilities, Canberra: Australian Curriculum Studies Association.

Photo by Marcus Aurelius from Pexels