This paper traces the history and the nature of curriculum change in the lower secondary education system in Western Australian State High schools.  Educational change, of which curriculum change is a subset, can be defined as the processes which alter the behaviours or the attitudes of those who are involved in education, or to alter the structures, procedures or outputs of an organization, in this case the Western Australian lower secondary education system.  The paper begins with a discussion of the nature of change, including a definition of how change is viewed in terms of this paper.

The paper includes a brief historical overview beginning with the founding of the Education Department in 1893 up to the appointment of Dr. Robertson, 1950, as Director General of the Education Department.  This period of the Department can be seen as a time of ‘establishing’.  It was a time when there was little room for ‘educational change’.  During this time the focus was on setting up the Department and on gaining community acceptance and support for the introduction of state run secondary education.

The appointment of Dr. Robertson coincided with the post-war era, a time of rapid economic expansion in the state and considerable growth in population.  This was a time when internationally there was much attention being paid to the introduction of mass secondary education.  In the Western Australian Education Department the focus shifted onto how to meet the all the perceived needs of the growing number of students enrolling in lower secondary education, both those with academic and vocational interests.  The Department’s response was to initiate an inquiry.  Dr. Robertson approached the then Minister for Education, the Hon. A Watts, to establish the inquiry, which led to the unpublished 1954 Report.  The 1954 Report was the first of seven major reports over the following thirty years that have been responsible for major changes in lower secondary education in Western Australia.  Other reports include the Dettman Report, which has been held responsible for the introduction of the Achievement Certificate.  The last of the seven reports discussed in this paper is the Beazley Report, released in 1984, which saw the introduction of the Unit Curriculum.

The paper finishes with the year 1993, the last year in which a certificate was awarded at the end of lower secondary education and the introduction of yet another system wide change in the state lower secondary education system in Western Australia, the Curriculum Framework (Education Department of Western Australia – hereafter EDWA, 1998).

The History and Nature of curriculum change in the Lower Secondary Education System: Western Australia, 1950-1993

Educational Change:  A Working Definition

The term educational change is a very generic almost primitive term which “implies that between time one and time two some noticeable alteration has taken place” (Miles, 1964).  The term is used to refer to the any of the processes which alter the behaviours or the attitudes of those who are involved in education, or to alter the structures, procedures or outputs of an organization – such as a class, school, school district or an entire educational system.

The study of educational change and how educational change worked in schools began in the early 1960’s.  Fullan (Fullan & Stiegelbauer, 1991; Fullan 1998) has described the four decades of educational change as the Innovation Decade, the 1960’s, which saw the development and adoption of large-scale curriculum innovations, as well as technical innovations such as the television; the Implementation Decade, 1972-82, a time of studying what was (or was not) changing in schools and the degree to which these changes were taking place; the Meaning Decade, 1982-92, a time of intensification and restructuring in educational change and an increased focus on allowing participants to find their own meaning concerning change; and the Change Capacity Decade, 1992 up to the present, which has emphasized the individual’s capacity for change, without necessarily waiting for the system to change (Fullan & Stiegelbauer, 1991; Fullan, 1998).

We have seen a great number of technological changes in education, especially since the Second World War.  There has been the introduction of television, calculators and of course computers.  And whilst all of these have had some impact on the periphery of education, they have not had the impact on the core business of education as many people thought they would have[1].  There have also been changes in teaching styles, such as teaching groups or team teaching.  But again, these are changes that are initiated by the teacher and wax and wane with the enthusiasms of individuals (Hargreaves, 1994).

Much of the real change that happens in schools is concerned with systemic planned change, which Bennis (1966) defined as:

“a deliberate and collaborative process involving a change agent and a client system which are brought together to solve a problem or, more generally, to plan and attain an improved state of functioning and applying valid knowledge.”  (Bennis, 1966).

Most systemic change in schools is top-down.  Dalin (1974) names this political-administrative change.  The process of change is one of compliance, of the less powerful to the plans or directions from those with more power.  Chin and Benne (1985) call this power-coercive change, which is based on the application of power in some form.  Usually the power is in the form of a legitimate authority, political or other (Chin & Benne, 1985).

When we look a the documented history of educational change in countries such as the USA, we note that change occurs either at a school by school, district by district basis, and occasionally change is initiated at a state or at the federal level (Fullan & Stiegelbauer, 1991).  In Western Australia, although there have been some changes initiated at the school level, especially technological or curriculum changes, the history of educational change, in the period from 1950 to 1993, can be seen as a series of systemic changes, heralded by government reports.  Over this period there were seven reports, each of which had a significant impact on the form of secondary education, their influence being principally on lower secondary education.  To understand why there is such a difference, we need to understand the evolution of state education here in Western Australia.

The development of state secondary education in Western Australia happened in three stages.  The first stage covers the period from the founding of the Education Department in 1893 to the opening of the first state high school, Perth Modern School, in 1911.  The second stage, which saw the establishment of state secondary education in Western Australia, includes the interval from 1911 to the appointment of Dr. Robertson in 1950.  The third stage, from 1950 to the present, has seen the rapid increase in the population of Western Australia and an ever changing economic and technological society which encourages adolescents to not only stay to the end of their third year of schooling but beyond, many adolescents now completing four or five years of schooling.

Establishing Secondary Education; 1893-1950

State or government secondary education in Western Australia began in the 1890’s with the establishing by the Elementary Education Act, 1871, Amendment Act, 1893, of the first Education Department (Ewers, 1947; Smart & Alderson, 1980).  Although previous to this there had been secondary education offered to students, this was only available by government subsidy at fee paying private religious schools, there had been no effort to establish a system of state secondary education (Ewers, 1947; Ibbotson, 1965).  The first government school to offer a form of secondary education was the Perth Boy’s School, which offered to prepare ex-sevenths for the external examinations run by the University of Adelaide (EDWA, 1963).

Three men were instrumental in establishing state secondary education in Western Australia.  They were Walton, Jackson and Andrews.  The first of these James Walton was appointed Inspector of Schools in 1889.  He was Inspector of Schools for twenty years.  Although he was not responsible for the introduction of state secondary education, he, through the use of his annual reports, continually urged for the introduction of Teacher training and Continuation Schools (Ibbotson, 1965).  His 1905 report included, as an appendix, an inquiry into the secondary education in America, Switzerland and England.  In this appendix he advocated the importance of secondary education, for children to enter this at about 12 years of age, that these schools should be mixed, and for the introduction of schools that would specialize in mining and agriculture in country districts (Walton, 1905, appendix, in Ibbotson, 1965).

The next man to have an impact on the eventual introduction of state secondary education was Cyril Jackson.  Jackson became the Inspector General of education in 1897 (Ibbotson, 1965).  Jackson was responsible for the foundation of the Teacher’s Training College, in 1900, and he made substantial changes to the curriculum, to allow for the teaching of post primary, or ex sevenths, students at Perth Boys’ School, the number of which rose from eight in 1896 to 68 by 1899 (Ewers, 1947).  Many of these students stayed on for three or four years after the Primary stage and the school prepared many successful candidates for the Adelaide Junior Certificate and the Higher Public Examination for the University of Adelaide.  Some went on to Perth’s first Teachers Training College.  The headmaster of the College was Cecil Andrews.

Andrews became the new Inspector General of Education in 1903 when Jackson resigned.  At this time there was still no organized system of state secondary education in Western Australia.  Many people disagreed that it was within the role of the state to be involved in secondary education at all and that this was best left to the private schools (Ewers, 1947; Ibbotson, 1965).  Andrews had a different view and made it clear to the then Minister for Education in a special note that:

“…the organization and control of Secondary Education is one of the most important functions of the State” (Cited in Ewers, 1947, p. 119).

Andrews suggested three alternatives for the Minister to consider, which were to further subsidize existing private schools, to continue the practice of adding upper classes to primary schools or to build specific secondary schools.  It was the latter two suggestions which were acted upon and in 1911 the Perth Modern School was opened with 226 students (Ewers, 1947).  The school was to be a comprehensive and coeducational establishment and students were to receive as well as a classical education, both science and mathematical instruction (Ibbotson, 1965).

The second stage of the development of state secondary education started with the commencement of Perth Modern School.  It was still however, a highly selective and elitist system during this period, as entry was granted on the basis of performance in the Government controlled scholarship or school entry examination and by recommendation from the primary headmaster.  Those who failed to gain entry could continue their education at the Central schools which catered for the vocational needs of early school leavers, those that would leave at the age of 14 (EDWA, 1963).  They could also attend one of the many fee paying secondary schools.

There was no rapid expansion in government secondary education generally during this next period; gains made were very modest (Ibbotson, 1965; Smart & Alderson, 1980).  Schools were controlled from the Perth Education Department Office, with the department being responsible for the selection and hiring of staff and for setting the curriculum, a curriculum which did not change significantly during this interval[2] (Ewers, 1947).  By the end of the war 16 per cent of students continued on to secondary education, a rise of only six per cent in the previous thirty years (EDWA, 1972).  At this time six other high schools had been build, five of which were in country towns (EDWA, 1963; Ibbotson, 1965).  Meanwhile, the concept of a centrally run secondary education system had been consolidated and the stage for had been set for the development of mass secondary education to start soon after the war.

The years 1946 to 1947 saw one significant change which was the renaming of Central schools to three year high schools.  This had an impact on the education offered, as the aim of these schools was now to prepare students for the Junior Leaving Certificate instead of catering to the vocational needs of the early school leavers (EDWA, 1963).  This was to have repercussions within a short period of time.

The first Committee of Inquiry – 1952

The year 1950 saw the appointment of Dr. Robertson as the Director-General of Education.   At his instigation the then Minister for Education, the Hon. A. Watts, established a committee to prepare a plan for secondary education in the state of WA.  The committee was called on to report to the Minister regarding the expected growth in secondary education, to come up with a plan that would meet the need of the anticipated influx of students expected both as a result of the growth in the birth rate and as a result of the growth in immigration (EDWA, 1963), and because of the “rapidly changing social structure, characterized by a technological advancement hitherto unknown in this state” (EDWA, 1969, p. 8).

This was not however, either a system change or a re-form or re-structuring of the existing system.  The 1952 committee was to make recommendations for the “subsequent development” of secondary education in the state (EDWA, 1963, p. 11).  Some of the recommendations made by the 1952 Committee, in its unpublished 1954 Report, were that high schools be co-educational[3] and comprehensive and that all students should “be transferred to high schools, irrespective of attainment[4], so that they may have the advantage of a secondary school environment before they leave school” (EDWA, 1963, p. 11).  This followed the shift in many industrialized nations around the world towards the establishment of universal secondary education (Keeves, 1986).

The Interim Report – 1958

By 1957 it was recognized that secondary schools in Western Australia were not meeting the needs of the students, a result of the change of emphasis from the vocational to the academic in high schools.  Dr. Robertson once again advised the Minister for Education, now the Hon. W. Hegney, to establish another committee to inquire this time into the curriculum for secondary schools.  This Committee presented its first report (hereafter called the Interim Report) in 1958.  The Committee’s task was to review secondary education “in view of the rapid changes in our society…and to see if the products of our school were meeting the needs of citizenship and employment” (ED, 1958, Foreword).

The Committee recognized the concern of the Education Department that the curriculum as it was, was not meeting the needs of a large percentage of students, especially those who were not proceeding beyond second or third year of high school.  This was because of the large emphasis on academic courses brought about by the requirements of the public examinations.  The 1957 Committee became primarily engaged with the question of “What Shall We Teach?” (Capital letters theirs; ED, 1958, p. 1).  The Interim Report lists a number of basic principles the first of which reads:

“The basic aim of this programme is to provide the opportunity for girls and boys to develop as individuals and citizens whose attitudes and attainments enable them to live full lives, contribute to society and to obtain employment satisfactory to themselves and their employers” (ED, 1958, p. 2).

The report recognized that there would be some students who did not fall into what it called the ‘upper 85%‘ (p. 2).  The curriculum which followed was to be aimed at this group and not for the ‘lower 15%‘ who constituted “a special problem which is outside the scope of the present committee and demands special investigation through a separate committee” (p. 3).  To cater for what it recognized as the differentiation in ability in the upper 85% the Interim Report recommended streaming and the use of supplementary courses including vocational training.

The Interim Report identified five broad areas of learning experiences for inclusion in the curriculum.  The five areas were based on basic disciplines underlying subject matter and did not incorporate such “certain items” as a second language or algebra, geometry and Trigonometry as these are “special fields whose values are limited to a minority and should not be required of the mass of secondary students, who could well devote their extra time to work in basic mathematics which is of actual use to the child” (ED, p.21).  Innovations, such as ability grouping and a curriculum based on basic subject matter, were not peculiar to Western Australia.  Miles (1964) termed them innovations based on “normative beliefs”, which ensure the maintenance of standard behaviours and a continuation of the system (p. 17).  These changes were part of a large scale resurgence of interest by universities and the community in school curriculum and schools in general that was happening in many other nations (Fullan, 1982; Keeves, 1986; Miles, 1964).

The push for the change in the secondary curriculum in Western Australia, came in this instance not from the community, as was found in some American change studies (MacKenzie, 1964). Although from the reading of the Interim Report there does appear to have been some community perception that the Curriculum as it existed had within it a certain amount of “dead wood” (ED, 1958, p.1, 23) and that it was too “dominated by a European tradition which is no more” (p. 1).  However, pressures for change in the curriculum were the same as were experienced in other nations of that period, the changing social considerations, such as a recognition of the rapid developments within mathematics, technology and the sciences; a recognition of the changing requirements for employment and a belief in the importance of education for personal development (ED, 1958; Fullan, 1982; MacKenzie, 1964; Miles, 1964).  The 1957 Committee therefore was made up of a range of people including teachers, university representatives and members from churches and community organizations, such as the Chamber of Commerce and Retail Traders’ Association. The Committee established five sub-committees which would work on the details of the syllabus according to the recommendations laid down by the Report.  These details would then be distributed for comment before a final report was to be presented to the Minister (ED, 1958).

This utilization of committees and sub-committees is what Miles (1964b) has described as using temporary systems to bring about a change in an organization that would have difficulty in changing itself.  This is because most of the Department’s “energy” would be going into the maintenance of the existing system (p. 443).  “The fraction of energy left over for matters of diagnosis, planning, innovation, deliberate change, and growth is ordinarily very small” (p.443).   Miles (1964b) found that many organizations resorted to the establishment of temporary systems, and because of their structure these were more able to introduce desired changes. The final report of the 1957 Committee was completed in 1964 (hereafter the Neal Report) and was published under the author’s name, Dr. Neal, the then Director of Special Services.  Smart and Alderson (1980) in their study of the State Education Department policy-making noted that this was highly significant of the time, a deliberately political move so that the Department would not be too closely associated with the proposed changes which the report recommended.   In fact the preface of the Neal Report makes it clear that the Report should not be considered as Departmental policy:

“Many of the suggestions made here have resulted from discussions with officers of the Research and Curriculum Branch and from the investigations of the various committees.  However, the main responsibility for the Report rests with the undersigned, since the Co-ordinating Committee has not yet determined its stand on some of the issues.  It should not be regarded as expressing the official view of the Education Department” (emphasis theirs, EDWA, 1964, Preface).

The 1961 Committee

In 1961 another Committee was established by the new Minister for Education, again the Hon. A. F. Watts, on the recommendation of Dr. Robertson, now the Director-General of Education.  The function of the 1961 Committee was to review the changes made as a result of the 1954 Unpublished Report into Secondary Education in WA, and to make recommendations for future directions of secondary education.  Particular areas of concern were the length of secondary education and public examinations.  The 1961 Committee found that of the eleven recommendations of the previous Committee six had been implemented and five had not been implemented.  The five which had not been implemented were to be re-examined by the present Committee.

Some of the changes made as the result of the 1954 Committee’s recommendations included the closure of all single sex schools.  Secondary Education in Western Australia was now to be co-educational and comprehensive.  This also meant that Perth Modern, which had previously offered academic courses to a highly selective intake, based on an entrance examination, was now a district high school and offered a full range of courses “catering for the needs of the majority of adolescents” (EDWA, 1963, p. 13).  The Department’s new policy, based on the 1954 recommendations, of chronological promotion, ensured that there was now provision of secondary education for all “except those severely handicapped” (p. 12). This also meant the abolition of examinations for secondary school scholarships in 1960 and the funds redirected to the provision of new scholarships aimed at the fourth year of high school.  At this stage the provision of senior secondary education for all students was not yet a concern.

There was an enormous increase in the size of secondary education in Western Australia in these years.  In 1952 the number of total enrolments in secondary government schools was 12,802 students.  By 1961 this number had more than doubled to 30,472 students.  There had also been a rapid growth in the number of new schools opened.  By 1961 there were 16 Senior High schools, offering five years of secondary education, 14 High schools, offering three years of secondary education and 36 Junior High schools, country primary schools which had an enrolment of more than 25 secondary pupils and where secondary courses were being offered (EDWA, 1963).  The 1962-63 Report expected that figure if not to double to keep on increasing at a very rapid rate.

The increasing size of an education system means there will need to be changes made to the nature of the education being offered (Miles, 1964).  Other changes will concern the use of staff, organization of the school, size of classes, use of support staff, and so on, in order to meet the growing demand of the education system (Miles, 1964).  The 1962-63 Report inquired into some of these issues and made many recommendations regarding the size of each school and how staff should be used and which staff should be allocated.  For example, one recommendation regarding the number of students to be allowed into year eight in any given school, suggested that there be no more than ten first year classes and that there should be no more than 30 students in a class.  Another recommendation suggested the employment of a bursar, clerical staff and a technician-handyman.

The 1962-63 Report also raised the issue concerning the use of and the effect on the curriculum of the Junior Examinations, especially as now almost seventy percent of students who entered government secondary schools stayed for the full three years.  The 1961 Committee drew on some recent research findings available which suggested there was a difference in how individual students learned and that this should be reflected both in the school and in the Certification, that a form of cumulative certification be introduced, which would reflect a students learning over the three years which they spend at school.  However, it was going to be a slow change process taking more than twenty years.  The introduction of what was eventually to be called the Achievement Certificate was in fact an anti-climax, what Smart and Alderson (1980) called a “non-issue issue…the result of twenty years of gradual evolution in the WA secondary schools” (emphasis theirs, p. 71).  The 1961 Committee hoped that as the result of the recommended certification a more flexible curriculum and school organization would develop which would allow greater student choice, emphasis on educational objectives other than just academic, and allow students to move through this first stage of secondary education at a rate “adjusted to individual capacities” (EDWA, 1963, p. 21).  However, doubts about the certificate were expressed by the State School Teachers’ Union which saw in the Junior Certificate an “external and impersonal measure of achievement” (quoted in Jones, 1970, p. 7).  The 1961 Committee recommended that a research project be established which would look more closely at the possible implications of a cumulative certificate scheme.

The Neal Report, 1964

Some of the contributions made to the 1961 Committee came from the ongoing work of the 1958 Curriculum Review Committee, which submitted many of its suggestions to the 1961 Committee for its consideration.  The 1958 Curriculum Review Committee presented its final report, the Neal Report, in 1964.  The primary focus of the Neal Report was the Lower Secondary School curriculum and the introduction of a cumulative certificate, a recommendation that was adopted by the 1961 Committee but with the proviso that further research be made into it before its implementation into schools.  The Neal Report recommended the change on the basis that the existing fifty year old curriculum was unable to meet all the needs of the society and was lacking in flexibility, so that up to 26 per cent of students who set the Junior Certificate examinations failed.  The Neal Report unequivocally lay the blame for this failure not on the students or the teachers but on a system which was frustrating and emphasized the academic subjects “to the detriment of the so-called non-academic subjects” (emphasis theirs, EDWA, 1964, p. 16).

The Neal Report drew on current learning theory, which emphasized the development of concepts, understandings and attitudes, rather than the memorization of facts, which the present system supported.  Some attempt had been made previously by the Education Department to rectify the situation where students who did not sit for their Junior Certificate could obtain the High School Certificate, but the Neal Report noted that this course, although educationally successful, had had a great deal of difficulty in making itself generally acceptable:

“The system of certificates and associated examinations has attained a prestige in the eyes of the public, the employers, the parents, and some teachers, which far outweighs its importance” (EDWA, 1964, p. 19).

Employers preferred to use the Junior Certificate Examinations as an indication of educational achievement (Jones, 1970).  Furthermore, the alternative certificate had difficulty in being implemented because of the requirements placed on some of the courses by the Public Examination board, in order to meet with its acceptance.  To make any change implemented within a system, it needs the full support of not only the internal players, such as the schools and teachers, but also needs the external support of the parents, the community and other educational institutions (Miles & Louis, 1987).  In this case the lack of support by the Public Examination Board and the community meant that this certificate and the educational course which it was accrediting would need to be modified in some way.

The Neal Report, in order to remedy these criticisms, proposed therefore not only a new certification process, which was cumulative in effect, but also an entire reorganization of the first stage of secondary education.  As a result of the Neal Report in 1964 the Cumulative Certificate Research Project was established to look the issues involved in setting up such a certificate and to plan for its implementation (Smart & Alderson, 1980).  A Central Council was also inaugurated to plan for the implementation of the Achievement Certificate.  The Council had representatives from the Teacher’s Union, independent and Roman Catholic schools and from the Department of Education.

The Achievement Certificate

The 1960’s were a period of massive social upheaval in many nations of the world.  Some of the issues which were raised, such as civil rights, were echoed in Australia.  In the United States of America the educational focus shifted to issues of equity in education and academic excellence, the advocacy of inquiry-oriented instruction, as well as the spending of large sums of money on the development of new curriculums in maths and science (Fullan & Stiegelbauer, 1991; Fullan, 1998).  In Western Australia individual teachers in schools adopted teaching strategies such as group work, inquiry-oriented instruction and collaborative teaching (EDWA, 1969).  At the systems level, the Department was working on a pilot project in four government secondary schools, looking at issues involved in implementing what was now being called the Achievement Certificate.  In 1966 Dr. Mossensen was appointed the Director for Secondary Education with the Department, and the Chairman of the Achievement Certificate Council.  It became his role to oversee the final change to democratize the Secondary Education system from the elitist structure it had been in the 1950’s, and “to make it more relevant to the needs of students in an age of mass secondary education” (Smart & Alderson, 1980, p. 72).  Part of the task was to make sure there was much publicity and that any potential problems were removed well before the official launch of the Achievement Certificate (Jones, 1970; Smart & Alderson, 1980).

The Dettman Report, 1969

The next Committee of inquiry into secondary education in Western Australia was called by the then Minister for Education, the Hon. E. Lewis, on the advice of the Director-General Mr. H. W. Dettman in 1967.  Dettman was to chair the 1967 Committee and the Report of the Committee was published by the Education Department in 1969 (hereafter the Dettman Report).  The 1967 Committee was to examine the proposals of the 1963 Report, the work done so far with the Achievement Certificate Research and to assess the further needs of Secondary Education for the ‘Seventies’.  The first indication of the change in the nature of the education to be made available by the Department was that it was no longer to be aimed at only the upper 85% of the population, as had been the aim of the 1958 Report.  The Dettman Report stated:

“We believe that the time is opportune for the aims of secondary education to be restated as applicable to all students for the whole of their secondary schooling” (EDWA, 1969, p. 54).

The other change was that the aims of education were to be expressed as behavioural objectives for all subjects taught and that “the evaluation of students should be made in terms of all of these objectives” in both the affective and the cognitive domain (EDWA, 1969, p. 65).

The major Recommendations to come out of the Dettman Report were that the Junior Certificate Examinations be discontinued in 1971 and that these should be replaced by the Achievement Certificate and that a Board of Secondary Education be established to oversee the secondary curriculum and to be responsible for the awarding of the Certificates based on internal school assessment.  The Board was also to be responsible for the moderation of standards among schools (EDWA, 1969).  An Interim Board was established in 1969 which oversaw the introduction of the Achievement Certificate Pilot Scheme in a number of schools in that year.  The Board of Secondary Education was established in 1970 by an Act of Parliament as an autonomous statutory body, separate from the Education Department.

By 1970 most Government schools and about three quarters of the non-government schools were working on the implementation of the Achievement Certificate (Board of Secondary Education [BSE], 1977).  The first Certificates were issued to three thousand students in the 27 pilot schools in 1972.  By 1976 all students in all schools had received theirs.

The Dettman Report did not make specific recommendations regarding the Curriculum other that that the Board would need to appoint committees to act in an advisory capacity in such matters.  However, the Dettman Report did make it clear that the practice of streaming in schools should be discontinued and that students should be allowed to make their way through the school curriculum at their own pace, recognizing that some students may progress more quickly than others.  The only exceptions were to be special courses to be offered for gifted students and students with handicaps (EDWA, 1969).  The Board in its first Annual Report (1977) made it clear that Curriculum matters were the responsibility of the schools, specific courses would not be recommended by the board, although schools had to submit new courses to the Board for approval.  The Board during its first seven years did find that most schools chose to follow the Education Department Curriculum and new courses only tended to proliferate in non-core areas.  The Board felt that the “system of approval was developed to give maximum flexibility for heads of schools to introduce courses relevant to the special needs of their students” (BSE, 1977, p. 13).

Teachers and change

All educational change involves some sense anxiety or struggle, especially by teachers (Hargreaves, 1994; Fullan & Stiegelbauer, 1991).  The Teachers Union, as cited above, was not in favour of the introduction of the Achievement Certificate, preferring the “external and impersonal measure of achievement” (quoted in Jones, 1970, p. 7) provided by the Junior Examinations.  However, a survey of teachers, conducted by the Board of Secondary Education in 1974, found that sixty percent of the teachers now preferred the certificate system.  Teachers commented that they thought it improved the learning possibilities for them, that it promoted professional discussions amongst teachers and that it provided for more realistic internal assessments (BSE, 1977).  The Board found that teachers were using the “greater freedom offered by the Achievement Certificate system for school based curriculum development” (BSE, 1977, p. 8).  However, twelve percent of teachers surveyed continued to oppose the system.    Marsh (1990) in his study of teachers response to school change, found that of all the teachers that make up a school, some, a small percentage, could be classed as innovators, some as early adopters, the great majority as late adopters, and a small number who were either indifferent to yet another school change or resisted the change entirely.  And although many teachers stated in the Board of Secondary Education survey that they were in favour of the changes brought about by the Achievement Certificate, a study completed by Martin in 1980 found that many schools were using the Board of Secondary Education’s Comparability Tests to shape their curriculums (EDWA, 1981).

The Dettman Report (1969) had recommended that moderation be conducted by the Board of Secondary Education.  Part of the Board’s function was “to ensure comparability of assessments between schools and in this respect adopt an advisory and consultative role (through) the regional meeting programme, the school visit programme and comparability tests” (BSE, 1977, p. 11).  The number of tests used were rapidly dropped to one, especially once the Board became aware of the tendency of schools to use the tests to set their curriculums, however, the tests were still available on an optional basis and the 1980 study found that many schools continued to administer all of them, and grade students accordingly.  This meant that “in practice, the freedom expected of the Achievement Certificate has proved illusory” (Martin, 1980, quoted in EDWA, 1981).

The 1967 Committee members were “disturbed” to find that there had been little progress made in the implementation of the recommendations of the 1958 Report (p. 55).  They identified two factors they thought contributed to this failure, the first was that the aims stated in the 1958 Report were too generalized and secondly teaching was being dominated by the requirements of external examinations.  Fullan (1998) in his exploration of the Implementation Decade blames the failures of implementation of innovations during this time and previous, on the limited role which teachers had in the implementation process.  This was also the finding by the Martin study (EDWA, 1981) which found that when the Achievement Certificate was implemented into schools, it replaced a very highly structured curriculum with a very open-ended guide for teachers to device their own curricula, assessment and evaluation procedures, for which many teachers were unprepared and untrained.  As a result, teachers found they were unable to implement these changes and therefore continued to structure their teaching based firstly on the Junior Certificate model and later on the Comparability Test requirements (EDWA, 1981).

The Priest Report, 1981

In February of 1980 the then Minister for Education, the Hon. P. Jones, appointed a panel to review educational standards in lower-secondary schools in Western Australia.  It had been ten years since the implementation of the Achievement Certificate and the panel reviewed how the Certificate was working, particularly in schools, and how the Board of Secondary Education was monitoring the standards of education in schools.  The panel was not to be a formal committee of inquiry (EDWA, 1981, p. 2) and worked mostly from invited submissions, the Boards’ annual reports and a number of visits to schools.  The panel presented its report in 1981 (hereafter the Priest Report).

The Priest Report noted that although the Achievement Certificate had been implemented now for ten years, that it was not working as effectively as it might.  It found that the use of comparability testing imposed many constraints on school organization, student mobility, and on student motivation (EDWA, 1981).  The Priest Report recommended that the use of the Tests be discontinued and the Achievement Certificate be based fully on internal school assessment.  It was the Panel’s view that schools and teachers were by now fully able to make the judgments about student’s abilities, without the need for the Tests.  Moderation for standards could be achieved through the Board of Secondary Education’ moderators visiting the school.  The Priest Report also made the observation that as the retention rates for Year eleven increased, the Board of Secondary Education may indeed “come to the view that the Achievement Certificate has outlived its usefulness” (EDWA, 1981, p. 34).

The Board of Secondary Education responded by dropping comparability tests for all but year nines.  In its decision the Board affirmed that it had increased confidence in schools to make their own assessments and felt that teachers were in the best position to make judgments about their students.  The Board also believed changes were needed in the procedures of assessing the Achievement Certificate (BSE, 1983).  The Review Panel completed its report by making the suggestion to the then Minister of Education, the Hon. W. Grayden, that another Committee of Inquiry be established to advise him more fully on broad curriculum matters for the next decade (EDWA, 1981).

The Beazley Report – 1984

The Beazley Committee was established not as a result of the recommendations of the Priest Report but for political reasons, as part of a pre-election promise, in 1983, by the new premier Mr Brian Burke.  It was to be a very wide ranging inquiry looking at a number of key educational issues, but particularly at the secondary school level. The Committee called for submissions and received some 2000 from interested individuals and groups.  The Report (hereafter the Beazley Report) was published in 1984 and appeared to contain something for everyone; its price tag exceeded $100,000,000! (Leinster‑Mackay & Schmitz, 1985).  The main recommendation of the Beazley Report concerned the doing away with the Achievement Certificate system, to be replaced with a unit system of seven major curriculum areas (Beazley Report, 1984).  The unit system would allow students to pick and choose units from all areas of the education map, from year 8 to year 12, and would solve such problems as status subjects, constant failures, gender inequity, migrant students with language difficulties, and so on.

Initially the Beazley Report was well received, both in the schools and in the wider community.  In 1987 seven pilot schools were set up, five government and two non-government schools, in order to trial the new unit system.  The pilot study was completed in one year and the following year, 1988, the Unit Curriculum was implemented into the rest of West Australian high schools, though only to year 10.  Some private schools decided not to implement the new system.

Halfway through 1988 the first problems were identified.  The then Minister for Education, the Hon. Dr. C. Lawrence admitted that there had been some problems with the implementation of the Unit Curriculum (Ministry of Education, 1988). One concern was that some students were choosing not to study some subjects at all.  This was of particular concern with girls not wishing to study Maths and Science.  However, an Education Department directive recommended to all schools that students study not less than 4 units each of Maths, Science and English and not less than three units of Social Studies in each year (Johnston & Rennie, 1990).

The implementation of the Unit Curriculum is probably one of the best examples of a power-coercive change as described by Chin & Benne (1985).  Power-coercive change is based on the application of power in some form, political or other.  The process of change is one of compliance, of the less powerful to the plans or directions from those with more power.  Usually the power is in the form of a legitimate authority (Chin & Benne, 1985).   The Unit Curriculum, a recommendation of the Beazley Report, was introduced into all state schools in 1988.  There appeared to be no implementation strategy.  Schools were given the “relevant” information, glossy brochures, a copy of the report and draft units, and were required to implement the new system.  The level of support that had been given during the pilot study was not maintained during the implementation process in all secondary schools (Marsh, 1987).  There was also at this point general disquiet about the pace of implementation and the resultant pressures upon teachers, students and parents (Marsh, 1987).

Sarason (1971, p. 2) made the statement that “the more things change the more they remain the same”.  He was talking about the New Maths introduced into American high schools in the sixties. Von Bertalanffy, (1968), described a system as a stable entity, continually in equilibrium with itself.  When change is made in one area of a system, the whole of the system changes, or not.  Sometimes the system rejects the change, or at best it adepts the change to suit itself.  The basic tendency of schools is towards the preservation of established practice and schools are fundamentally resistant to change (Reid, 1987).  This is what has happened with the implementation of the Unit Curriculum; the lower school system adapted it to suit itself.  Students’ selection of units remained very much a myth; some schools favoured wide student choices, and a vertical timetabling system, whereas others followed a more traditional approach and permitted only a narrow choice of units (Marsh, 1988).  In the four core curriculum areas, students were counselled and placed according to their final primary school performance (Johnston & Rennie, 1990).

Fullan (Fullan & Stiegelbauer, 1991; Fullan, 1998) described the decade of the eighties as the Meaning Decade a time of intensification and restructuring, as well as allowing participants in change to find meaning concerning the change.  Intensification was the changing of schools with increasing legislative force and included increased definition of the curriculum, specification of teaching and administrative methods, and monitoring of the teaching process.  Intensification is how we can best describe the implementation of the Unit Curriculum, which was a very narrowly defined curriculum, to be moderated no longer by the Secondary Education Authority (previously the Board of Secondary Education[5]) but by the Ministry of Education (SEA, 1985).  Restructuring involved school based management (Fullan & Stiegelbauer, 1991).  This was brought about in Western Australian secondary schools by the introduction of the Better Schools programme, which was based on a number of the recommendations of the Beazley Report (Beazley Report, 1984).  The Better Schools Programme (Ministry of Education, 1987) was the introduction of the gradual devolution of responsibility to schools of decisions regarding the management of the school site.

At the systems level the Secondary Education Authority was now delegating most of its lower secondary responsibility directly to the Ministry of Education (SEA, 1989).  In 1986 the final Achievement Certificate was issued.  An interim Certificate of Lower Secondary Studies replaced the Achievement Certificate in 1987. The primary focus of the SEA was now directed at upper secondary schools.

“This emphasis is consistent with the escalating retention of students form Year Ten into Year Eleven (estimated at over 80 percent in 1989) and the consequent decrease in importance of a lower secondary certificate.”  (SEA, 1989, p. 12)

The last Certificate of Lower Secondary Studies was issued by the Secondary Education Authority in 1993.


Sarason (1998) stated that the purpose of schooling was “to create those contexts of productive learning in which the energies, motivations, and goals of students and teachers are developed to produce a sense of personal and intellectual growth” (p. 39). Fullan (1998) in his reflections on educational change states that we need to change schools “as they are not now learning organizations” (p.226).  This essay has shown that these two statements could well describe the driving forces behind the many attempts at change in the Western Australian lower secondary education system.  Each Report found that the education system was failing in its purpose of providing purposeful and relevant schooling for its students.  And each report came up with a new and brighter way of meeting these needs, changing the system to make it a ‘learning organization’.  That each new innovation failed was evidenced in the subsequent Report and descriptions for a yet another system.

This study of the nature and history of educational changes as they happened in the Western Australian lower secondary education system also allows us to stand back and see that what was happening was not occurring in isolation, but was being replicated in other countries in the world.  And come to the conclusion that there is no education system which is able to cater successfully for all of its students.  The subsequent introduction of the Curriculum Framework, and finally the National Curriculum made for yet further systems changes in secondary schools across Western Australia.  One hesitates to say on the basis of history that these too will not completely meet the need of all the students.

Fullan (1998) concludes his reflections that schools over the last several decades have changed so much that they are very different from the past.  Ewers (1949) found that his school, the Perth Modern School, had not changed significantly over the thirty years from when he was boy up till his return in 1947.  One wonders what his reaction would be if he were to visit now?


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[1] See for example the prediction by Benjamin Willis in Miles (1964b) who predicted the wide spread use of closed-circuit television to be used between schools allowing for the best teaching talent of the connected schools to be presented on television, combining the strengths of staffs across schools.  Or the prediction quoted in Reil (1990) that virtual classrooms would soon be replacing teachers.

[2] An example of the unchanging and prescriptive curriculum for this time is the Education Department of Western Australia school curricula: examples of early curricula compiled by the Education Department for use by the government schools in Western Australia. Perth, W.A.: Government Printer, 1908-1936. These curriculums included a recommended timetable for schools to follow.

[3] There were a number of single sex state secondary high schools, such as Perth Boys’ School, Fremantle Boys’ School, Perth Girls’ School and Princess May School for Girls (EDWA, 1963; Ewers, 1947).

[4] Attainment at this time referred to the completion of the primary course.  At this time a student who had not qualified by completing the primary course could not attempt secondary education (EDWA, 1963).

[5] The Board of Secondary Education was replaced by an Act of Parliament in 1984 and started its functions in February 1985 (SEA, 1985).


© 1999 Karin Oerlemans – reprinted 2016