An introduction to the Australian Curriculum

In 2008 all Australian governments agreed that a national curriculum would have a key role in delivering quality education for young Australians. They committed to the development of a Foundation to Year 12 national curriculum, initially in the learning areas of English, Mathematics, Science and History. This commitment was restated by Australian education ministers in the Melbourne Declaration on Education Goals for Young Australians.

The Australian Curriculum is being developed progressively by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). The Foundation to Year 10 Australian Curriculum for English, Mathematics, Science and History has been developed over 2008 - 2010. The next phase will see the development of Geography, The Arts and Languages, followed by Information and Communication Technology, and Design and Technology, Health and Physical Education, Economics and Business, and Civics and Citizenship.

The structure of the Australian Curriculum

The Australian Curriculum has three dimensions:

  • learning areas
  • general capabilities
  • cross-curriculum priorities.

In combination, these three dimensions provide students with deep, rich learning opportunities.

For each learning area, the Australian Curriculum includes content descriptions and achievement standards. Content descriptions at each year level specify what teachers are expected to teach and students are expected to learn, and achievement standards indicate the quality of learning that students should typically demonstrate at particular points in their schooling.

Content elaborations have also been developed that illustrate the content descriptions to provide further guidance and support for teachers. Student work samples with annotations are being developed to illustrate expectations in the achievement standards.

The Australian Curriculum incorporates seven general capabilities and three cross-curriculum priorities (listed on page 2) that contribute to and are developed through learning-area content descriptions and elaborations.


ACARA and the Australian Curriculum website

The seven general capabilities are:

  • Literacy
  • Numeracy
  • Information and communication technology competence
  • Critical and creative thinking
  • Ethical behaviour
  • Personal and social competence
  • Intercultural understanding.

The three cross-curriculum priorities are:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures
  • Asia and Australia's engagement with Asia
  • Sustainability.

In the Australian Curriculum the general capabilities provide a set of skills, behaviours and dispositions that are developed and applied across subject-based content. For each of the general capabilities ACARA prepared a conceptual statement and continuum of learning to inform development of the Australian Curriculum: Foundation to Year 10 in English, Mathematics, Science and History, although these four areas do not cover every aspect of the capabilities. The continua will also inform future curriculum development in other learning areas.

Overviews that describe the nature, scope and significance of each general capability are published on the General capabilities section of the Australian Curriculum website. In addition, more detailed statements and continua are being prepared for publication in early 2011 to support teachers and schools who wish to use them in the development of their teaching and learning programs.

The cross-curriculum priorities are designed to ensure that the Australian Curriculum is relevant to the lives of students and addresses the contemporary issues they face.

Implications and opportunities

Teacher librarians can make an important contribution to the introduction of the Australian Curriculum. Their role will be crucial for schools, and class and learning area teachers as they familiarise themselves with new tools, skills and content within the curriculum.

New tools

The Australian Curriculum is published online at This represents a departure from practice in most states and territories, where the curriculum has been published in hard copy as well as electronically. It reflects an increasing expectation for all teachers to access a growing range of education resources digitally. Teacher librarians offer a bridge into the digital world for many teachers, in assisting them to access the Australian Curriculum and online resources integral to its delivery. This may include the provision of web links to online archives of primary sources in History, accessing information and data for analysis in Mathematics, the creation of multimodal texts in Science or the location of interactive texts in English.

New skills

One of the innovative features of the Australian Curriculum is the embedding of general capabilities in learning area content.

The application of the general capabilities in the learning areas offers many opportunities for teacher librarians to collaborate with learning-area teachers. For example, one of the capabilities most strongly represented across all learning areas is Critical and creative thinking. It draws on many of the skills and processes teacher librarians would recognise as integral to information literacy, including:

  • posing insightful and purposeful questions
  • suspending judgement about a situation to consider the big picture and alternative pathways
  • generating and developing ideas and possibilities
  • analysing information logically and making reasoned judgements
  • evaluating ideas, creating solutions and drawing conclusions
  • assessing the feasibility, possible risks and benefits in the implementation of their ideas
  • reflecting on thinking, actions and processes
  • transferring their knowledge to new situations.

These skills and processes are essential learning in all four learning areas, being most evident in the Literacy strand of English, the Historical skills strand of History, the Inquiry skills strand of Science and the problem-solving and reasoning skills of Mathematics. Teacher librarians are in a strong position to support class and learning-area teachers in addressing the critical and creative thinking demands of learning-area content.

New content

While teachers will recognise much of the content in the Australian Curriculum there are several features that may be new to many.

The three cross-curriculum priorities receive particular attention in the Australian Curriculum, which will have implications for the range of resources that teachers will be seeking. Teacher librarians will be an important source of information and support for classroom teachers. In English, for example, the range of literary texts for Foundation to Year 10 comprises Australian literature, including inscriptional and oral narrative traditions of Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islander people, as well as the contemporary literature of these two cultural groups; and classic and contemporary world literature, including texts from and about Asia.

In Science, the strand Science as human endeavour offers opportunities for collaborative work with Science teachers as students will need to access media reports and other online resources when investigating contemporary applications of science and undertaking research into its development, including the stories of a range of people who have contributed to advances in science.

In the primary school, the History curriculum and the Literature strand in English will have implications for library resources and will call on teacher librarians’ expertise. In Year 3 History, for example, students investigate the history of their local community using sources such as photographs, newspapers, oral histories, diaries and letters. Teacher librarians are well placed to assist classroom teachers both with resources and with the processes of conducting an investigation.

The introduction of the Australian Curriculum offers opportunities for teacher librarians on a number of fronts. As a first step, they should become familiar with the curriculum for English, Mathematics, Science and History and encourage other teachers to do the same. The Australian Curriculum: Foundation to Year 10 is available online at:

Dr Grette Toner
Senior Project Officer, Cross Curriculum Australian Curriculum
Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA)