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Video clip synopsis – Who decides what is taught in Australian History in schools?
Year of production - 2007
Duration - 2min 10sec
Tags - Australian History, historical representations, interviews, Learning Journey History, national identity, see all tags


Ideology and the Curriculum

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About the Video Clip


Talkback Classroom is a forum program run by the Education section of the National Museum of Australia. Each year panels of three secondary students, selected from schools Australia-wide, interview leading decision-makers on important current issues. The panels participate in a ‘learning journey’ (researching the issues and developing interview skills) to explore the issues and prepare for the forum.

This clip comes from a 2007 forum on the topic of “Australian history in the classroom”. The guest interviewed was The Hon. Julie Bishop MP, former Minister for Education, Science and Training. The interview panelists were NSW Year 12 students Sam Goldsmith from Masada College, Elliot Cameron from Fort Street High and Year 11 student Rosa Nolan from Sydney Girls’ High School. In preparation for the forum, students participated in a learning journey that involved interviewing Paul Kelly, editor-at-large of the Australian newspaper, Kimberley Webber, curator at the Powerhouse Museum, Nadia Wheatley, author and historian and Alistair Grierson, director of the film Kokoda.

Background Information


In the early days of the British colony in Australia, education was managed by church groups and private individuals. Between 1872 and 1895 Education Acts were passed which made “free, compulsory and secular” primary education a state responsibility. Currently all school education is administered by state and territory governments. All government and independent schools follow the learning outcomes set by the states or territories.

Whether schools should conform to a national framework or curriculum is presently the subject of national debate. National consistency in curriculum, testing and reporting, alongside performance pay for teachers and transparency of reporting procedures have been key features of this discussion. In specific reference to Australian history, the emphasis placed on this subject in the school curriculum has been much debated. The importance of teaching a national story, a defined body of historical knowledge and a clear set of historical skills has been identified by commentators, historians, academics and teachers as a priority in the construction of a national history curriculum.

Classroom Activities


Before you watch

  1. Using the internet, get examples of the Australian state and territory history syllabus documents. Divide the class into groups of say four or five. Each group will be given two syllabus documents. The groups will analyse the documents using the following criteria:
    1. What are the similarities and differences between the syllabuses?
    2. What assessment tasks are used in each? How are final student grades estimated?
    3. What is the common content? This could be particular themes or periods in Australian/international history and case studies.

Each group is to write up its findings and report back to the class. Once all groups have reported back, summarise the activity via a class discussion. List the main points of the summary on a whiteboard or large sheet of paper.

While you watch

  1. Listen carefully to the responses from former federal education minister Julie Bishop. Make some notes of the topics being discussed and what she says in relation to these topics. Once you have some notes, try this activity later on:
    1. Imagine you are a newspaper reporter who specialises in education news. Using your notes, write a newspaper-style article presenting what Julie Bishop said in the clip. You may benefit from researching newspapers for education articles; look through hard-copy papers or their websites. Pay particular attention to the language used, writing style and length of the articles found.

If the entire class participates in this activity, create a wall space in the classroom where each student’s article may be displayed. Perhaps they may be scanned and posted on the school’s intranet. Encourage others to read the articles and compare styles and content.

After you watch

  1. The national ‘debate’ about school curriculum and syllabuses involves many people at many levels across Australia: federal government and Opposition education ministers, state and territory education ministers and departments, academics, teachers and parents. As a school student being taught these curriculums, you are well placed to comment upon them. Using your student point-of-view, draft a letter on the topic of ‘History in Australian schools – what I want.’ Imagine that you are going to send the letter to your local newspaper. Ensure that the letter covers these aspects:
  • Introducing yourself i.e. “I am a Year 9 student living in…”
  • Introducing the topic of the letter.
  • Setting out your main argument e.g. what you already may study in History classes and what you would perhaps like to study.
  • Suggesting ways of studying History.
  • Opinions – maybe you think nothing should be changed? Remember to support your opinions – incorporate ideas, facts and figures that may build them up.
  • Keep your letter to the point and avoid any language that may be inappropriate. Write a letter that you could read to your grandparents without upsetting or embarrassing them!

Further Resources


National Museum of Australia’s Talkback Classroom website

Australian History Summit Press Release from Julie Bishop