Resourcing curricular decision-making in mathematics

Year: 2012

Author: Clarke, David, Sullivan, Peter, Clarke, Doug

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Essential to teachers' planning are decisions regarding what should be taught. Curriculum documents are the most obvious authority. But what is a "curriculum document" for  mathematics teacher in Australia? Are there other credible sources of information that Australian teachers draw on when deciding what to teach? This paper examines responses of Australian teachers to a national survey examining their planning practices and curricular decision-making.

Informed by data from focus group conversations with primary and secondary teachers in Victoria and New South Wales, a questionnaire was developed for completion online by mathematics teachers throughout Australia. The results reported here come from analyses of the responses of 256 primary and 283 secondary teachers. This paper concerns the section of the questionnaire dealing with curricular authority.

The results were both surprising and reassuring. First, we were surprised by the priority and value attached by teachers to the results of their own assessment as informing their planning in both Yearly and Weekly contexts. Second, we were reassured by the plausibility of the combination of preferred resources: official curriculum documents, materials developed by teachers and their peers, web-based curriculum materials, and teachers' own assessment. The distribution of respondents across the country suggests a resilience to the results that is very encouraging. Thirdly, it was clear that commercial publications (e.g., textbooks) are accorded greater status in secondary schools than in primary schools. Such a result has been part of the folklore of Australian schooling for many years, however it is confronting to see community assumptions come to life quite so convincingly.

Whether from the perspective of a school system or a school, at least three particular actions are suggested:

  • Given the importance of school-based curriculum leaders, systems and schools should provide all possible opportunities for such people to develop their curricular knowledge and expertise, since their peers look to them for advice.
  • Given the significance that teachers attached to the results of assessment, teacher education programs for both prospective and practising teachers should assist them in obtaining quality assessment information and making the best possible use of that information.
  • Knowing that teachers will inevitably see official curriculum documents as carrying definitive power when it comes to deciding what should be taught when, it is essential that those documents communicate clearly the performances that are actually valued by the curriculum and offer teachers clear indications of how these valued performances might best be promoted and developed.