Australian colonies originally accepted responsibilities on a number of fronts….age limits relating to admission, entry and compulsion, the kinds of schools, the length of primary schooling, the treatment of private and alternative schooling, and the kinds of curriculum offerings.  They borrowed ideas from each other while maintaining a rigid independence in structural terms.  In Australia it has become messy and requires  re-thinking by school people if schooling is to be treated as a national enterprise.

The mess is well illustrated by the names given to the first year of schooling.  NSW and the ACT call it Kindergarten; Victoria,  Tasmania and Queensland call it Preparatory;  South Australia calls it Reception;  Northern Territory calls it Transition;  Western Australian calls it Pre-primary.  Believe it.  After the first year of schooling pupils then move into Year 1 !  Try to believe also that there is no effort to standardise the names at this time.  Whenever, such things are mentioned at meetings of the Ministerial Council for Employment,  Education,  Training and Youth Affairs [MCEETYA],  it seems that they are given short shift.

What is so difficult for a country as small as ours [1] to have a standard age of entry such as turning 5 years of age by a set date and [2] to call the child’s first year at school Year 1…and for the child to progress year by year to Year 12 or 13 [whatever is determined]? !!

The age of entry to schooling is different for each state and there is no standard entry date to schooling so equivalent year-level ages are askew.  [7. Ages of Compulsory Schooling] Examination of the impact of standardisation has been considered by MCEETYA.  It has, over the years, received submissions about  [a]  all pupils in Australia spending the same number of years at school;  [b]  providing the same opportunities to learn the same age-appropriate material;  [c]  consistent curriculum outcomes across state boundaries.  Appearing to treat compulsory schooling lightly, it has suspended thinking too deeply and does not appear to be in a hurry.

It was in the 1970s that the Australian Primary Principals Assopciation and the Conference of Directors of Primary Education asked the meeting of the Commonwealth Ministers to take action on the age of admission to schooling.  Fast movers… in 2004… almost thirty years later, the august collective examined a Position Paper.  It decided that further detailed analysis was needed ‘to be undertaken by a suitable consultant’.  One could name a few hundred such consultants who are presently running schools who could have performed the task  in their spare time. Instead they must have hired an external consultant or used one of their office staff.

In April 2007 MCEETYA “…decided not to proceed with the implementation of a national eligible schools starting age given that no educational benefit had been demonstrated and affected State and Territories would incur significant costs”.  Can matters of standards, leadership and transparency be judged as effective while there is such a crass attitude to important issues of schooling?

Does it seems sensible to impose  national tests and standard curriculum requirements on such a mixture. For instance:- what does ‘Year 3’ mean ?  Is the third, fourth or fifth year of school ?

Sorting out the inter-state confusionn is a very serious undertaking and needs to be undertaken asap. The orders at present are : “Ready ? FIRE !  Aim.”