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Australia ahead of England when it comes to teaching English

Media release

England’s education curriculum for teaching English lags behind Australia’s curriculum, new research from Curtin University has found.

The research by Dr Paul Gardner from Curtin University’s School of Education, and published in UK based international journal, English in Education, compares the education curricula in England and Australia and has uncovered a significant difference in the way students are being taught English in the two countries.

Dr Gardner, a former UK academic, now living in Australia, found that the England curriculum (which covers England and Wales) was more rigid in what and how teachers were able to teach English, while the Australian curriculum provided greater creativity and flexibility.

Looking at the style of language used in curricula that sets down what teachers should be teaching and what students should be learning, the research found that sixty-eight per cent of the England curriculum emphasised a more didactic, or teacher directed approach to teaching, rather than interactive learning.

Dr Gardner said that approach offered pupils a less-than-appetising diet of phonics, spelling and prescriptive grammar.

“What the research shows is the England-based approach focuses very heavily on language at word level and did not encourage pupils’ exploration of meaning at the level of texts,” Dr Gardner said.

The research found the Australian curriculum was better at combining the basics of English learning with a broader socio-linguistic view of the language, and this helped encourage students to reflect on, and respond to, a wide range of literature.

Dr Gardner said the Australian curriculum also allows teachers to teach more creatively, and students to learn more creatively, as well as being more culturally and internationally aware.

“Unlike England, Australian teachers are encouraged by curriculum guidelines to use a variety of methods to teach English and this includes the use of Indigenous oral story-telling and the chance to incorporate literature from around the globe,” Dr Gardner said.

The research also shows that the Australian curriculum encourages students’ engagement with multimodal texts in which images and words, as well as audio, combine to communicate meaning.

Dr Gardner said the research raised concerns over whether the more formal teaching approach in England is failing to prepare children for literacy needs in the 21st Century.

“Whilst phonics, spelling and grammar are important you cannot base your whole curriculum on the basics,” Dr Gardner said.

“The knowledge economy of the 21st Century requires pupils to be able to read and create multimodal texts, and democracy requires citizens who can think both creatively and critically. The primary curriculum of England does none of these things.”

The full research paper, Worlds Apart: a comparative analysis of discourses of English in the curricula of England and Australia can be found online at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/eie.12138/full