The idea of a national curriculum in Australia: What do Susan Ryan, John Dawkins and Julia Gillard have in common?

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


What happens in classrooms may seem far away from the politics of Canberra, but since the early 1980s there have been concerted attempts on the part of successive Commonwealth governments to influence directly what happens in classrooms. The problem with this is that education in general was never intended to be a responsibility of Federal governments. In the division of roles and powers between different levels of government, the Australian constitution made it clear that education was reserved as a responsibility for State (and eventually Territory) governments. Thus what Commonwealth governments have tried to do over time is gradually shift this responsibility so at the very least it is regarded as shared. This shift has taken place gradually with Commonwealth governments inching their way forward making a little progress with each move. While the move has been supported by both major political parties, major strides were made by the Australian Labour Party with a succession of Minsters for whom "national" approaches to education had a particular attraction. Sometimes the motivation was equity, at other times it was about linking the curriculum to the economic needs of the nation, and for form; it was about efficiency in both the development and delivery of curriculum. These three motives have been present throughout the last four decades. This paper examines the evolution of what was initially conceived of as a "nationally consistent curriculum" then became a focus on "national curriculum" and eventually morphed into the Australian Curriculum. While this process is linked to three particular government Ministers – Susan Ryan, John Dawkins and Julia Gillard – it is a nation's story about the importance of learning and attempts to transform "the lucky country" into "the clever country". Copyright © 2019 Australian Curriculum Studies Association.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117-124
JournalCurriculum Perspectives
Issue number2
Early online dateJul 2019
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2019


Labour Party
Federal Government


Kennedy, K. (2019). The idea of a national curriculum in Australia: What do Susan Ryan, John Dawkins and Julia Gillard have in common? Curriculum Perspectives, 39(2), 117-124. doi: 10.1007/s41297-019-00081-5


  • National curriculum
  • Politics of education
  • Education policy