Who’s steering the ship? National curriculum reform and the re-shaping of Australian federalism

Stream: Panel 93 - Public Policy & Social Justice: Education Policy 
Date: Wednesday, 28 September 2016
Time: 1.30 pm – 3.00 pm


This paper explores the repositioning of state education departments and curriculum agencies in response to the establishment of the national Australian Curriculum and the key national policy organisation responsible for its development: the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). I begin with an analysis of the federal Labor government’s role in the early years of national reform, arguing that Labor was afforded a rare window of political opportunity that enabled the fundamental restructuring of curriculum policy at the national level, and which has significantly altered intergovernmental relationships. Following this, I engage with research literature that has sought to theorise the changing nature of Australian federalism in relation to schooling reforms. I then present an empirical analysis based on interviews with policymakers in four Australian states (Western Australia, New South Wales, Queensland, and Victoria) and in ACARA. My analysis draws attention to three dominant trends: powerful new roles for ACARA in driving national reform and inter-agency collaboration; increased policy overlap and blurred lines of responsibility; and an ‘uneven playing field’ of intergovernmental relationships and powers. I conclude by considering the implications of national reform trends for policymakers, and for researchers seeking to conceptualise the shifting dynamics of Australian federalism.


Glenn Savage (Presenter), The University of Melbourne
Dr Glenn C. Savage is a Senior Lecturer in Education Policy and an ARC DECRA Fellow (2016-19) at the University of Melbourne. His research focuses on education policy, politics and governance at national and global levels, with a specific interest in federalism, intergovernmental relations, and policies relating to curriculum, equity, school funding and standards-based reform. Dr Savage currently holds an Australian Research Council ‘Discovery Early Career Researcher Award’ (DECRA) titled ’National schooling reform and the reshaping of Australian federalism’ (2016-2019).