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Australasian Curriculum Assessment & Certification Authorities Annual Conference - 2006

Speech by the Honourable Chief Justice Peter Underwood AO, in his capacity as Lieutenant Governor of the State of Tasmania, on 27 July 2006

It is my very great pleasure to see you all again this morning ready for the start of the 2006 Australasian Curriculum Assessment and Certification Authorities Annual Conference.

May I extend a welcome to all the delegates who have not only come from all parts of Australia, but also from New Zealand, Nauru, Tonga, Samoa, and Kiribati. Those of you who are from the Pacific Islands are particularly welcome for I am a firm believer in Australia building strong ties with all the Pacific nations. In this context I should tell you that one of the judges of my Court is presently serving on the Supreme Court of Samoa to resolve some electoral petitions that have been lodged there. It appears that all the judges of Samoa are related, or in some way connected with the petitioners or their witnesses, so the Chief Justice of Samoa approached Ausaid with the request that it find funds to enable serving judges from Australia to go over to Samoa and provide the impartiality necessary for the proper resolution of these important constitutional disputes. Ausaid agreed to do this, and so a Supreme Court judge from Tasmania and a Supreme Court judge from Queensland have been working there for the last two months or so. A strong independent judiciary will make for a strong independent country and that is why I support this project and the strengthening of ties with Australia generally. Of course, we will make him work twice as hard when he gets back in order to catch up!

Education is very much in the news in recent times. In a way it is like running a restaurant. Everybody thinks that they know how to do it better than everybody else! In Australia the federal government believes it can do it better than the state governments and seems to be making a determined move to take charge of education by tying the grants to projects it wants to put in place, like the teaching of Australian history, and by setting up new colleges run by the federal education department. I am led to believe that now, a school's receipt of federal grants is even dependent upon the school erecting a flagpole in its grounds. These moves are resisted by the State governments who believe that education is best delivered by catering to local needs, albeit acknowledging the need to establish and maintain certain national standards.

I appreciate of course, that your brief is not the design and the delivery of school curriculum, but its certification. However, I understand that the debate between a regionalised approach and a centralised approach to this seems to be well underway in your association. I had the privilege of reading a most interesting paper entitled "When, if ever, should we take a regionalised approach to curriculum assessment and certification?" The author is a modest person – so modest that he or she did not append his or her name to the paper. However, some astute detective work revealed your Chief Executive Officer, Dr Reg Allen, as the most likely suspect. In my respectful view, the paper makes a valuable contribution to this debate. At the outset, the author asks the fundamental question, "What is the purpose of curriculum certification and assessment?" Is it "to increase participation and achievement by students in the most important and central learnings – skills and knowledges that will help improve their and our future?" Or is it to provide reports to let people know what has happened and to enable students to seamlessly slip from one school to another. The author acknowledges the importance of reports and setting of standards, but strongly argues for a regionalised approach to curriculum certification and assessment. The argument is based upon the proposition that curriculum certification and assessment should focus on enhancing teacher practices and enacted standards. Attention should concentrate on what happens rather than on statements of intention in curriculum documents and management of objectives measured through standardised tests.

Well, this is your field, not mine and obviously, I am no expert, but it seems to me that any curriculum certification and assessment that concentrates only on centralised testing of curriculum and measurement of objectives through standardised testing will not achieve its purpose for the successful delivery of education is entirely dependent upon the teacher and his or her practices.

I understand this to be a central aim of your association namely; facilitating the development of the knowledge and the skills of young learners. Indeed, the theme of this conference proceeds upon the principle that your work should be driven by the value that is placed upon contributing to more learning, more knowledge and more skills for young people. Central to this work must be the teacher. Linked to this area is the recent idea floated by the Federal Minister for Education to reward good teachers by making them Leading Teachers just as leading barristers are appointed Senior Counsel with resultant increase in income. I understand that this idea has the support of Andrew Leigh, an economist at the ANU, who argues that teacher performance should be measured by students' results after taking into account the demographic and socio-economic standing of each school. Not unexpectedly the idea has already received a cool reception from the Australian teachers Union. I expect that the members of your Association have views on this idea.

Another topic that interests me greatly is the South Australian project to recognise and report on community, or informal learning programmes. I have to confess that until I read Dr Keightley's paper, the importance of doing that had never occurred to me. I see that Victoria has also done some work in this area and Dr Gunning and Ms Waitzer will speak about that tomorrow afternoon. Of great importance to all Australians is the work being done in New South Wales to improve the participation of Aboriginal communities in the education of their children. So, you will debate many interesting facets of your work during today and tomorrow. In fact, I have never seen such a busy conference for so few people. There are only sixty or so delegates yet over two days there are no less than 22 sessions, not counting the concluding summary at the end. You will be busy but I am sure you will also be enriched and rewarded by the exchange of new ideas and different views.

It all looks most interesting and I would like to be able to stay and listen to some of the papers that are to be presented, but alas, my obligation this morning is to attend to a criminal trial that awaits me just over the road from here. So, to our visitors I say again, a warm welcome to Tasmania. To all of you I wish you well in your work at this conference and now it gives me great pleasure to declare this 2006 Australian Curriculum Assessment Certification Authorities Annual Conference open.