Compressed curriculum

This evaluation was originally published 28 April 2022.

Summary

Background to the compressed curriculum delivery model evaluation

In NSW, most senior secondary courses (Stage 6: Years 11 and 12) are completed over a 24-month period, with students typically taking 6 courses across 24 months of senior study. This is known as the traditional delivery model. Alternatively, senior secondary courses can be completed in a single 12-month period. Here, students focus on completing half the number of their Stage 6 courses in the first 12-month period of senior study and the remaining courses in the second 12-month period. This is referred to as the compressed curriculum delivery model (‘the compressed curriculum model’).

Use of the compressed curriculum model developed gradually and organically in government and non-government schools in NSW, particularly in rural and remote schools, as they sought to deliver Stage 6 courses in a way that suited their particular context. As such, there was little central coordination or oversight of the model and its use.

The objective of our evaluation was to provide evidence for government and non-government school principals and school communities to make informed decisions about whether the compressed curriculum model is a suitable way to deliver Stage 6 courses in their schools.

Summary of findings

We now have a better understanding of how students and schools have used the compressed curriculum model over the last decade.

Implementing a compressed curriculum model

  • A small number of NSW Government schools have used the compressed curriculum model to deliver a fully compressed curriculum to their students. These schools tended to be smaller and were more likely to be located in outer regional areas. These schools were also more likely to be central schools and tended to have lower levels of socio-educational advantage. However, there is also a substantial proportion of students who have used the compressed curriculum model for one course only, and that course has most often been a vocational education and training (VET) course.
  • Schools primarily chose to operate a compressed curriculum model to broaden the Stage 6 curriculum available to students, particularly small and regional schools. They also chose the model to provide a learning format that was tailored to their school’s needs, and in an effort to provide a more suitable model for their highly capable students or students who required additional support.
  • Factors that aided the effective implementation of the compressed curriculum model for schools included extensive preparation work. This included researching the model, discussion with other schools, community consultation and securing staff commitment to the model. The greatest source of support for schools adopting the compressed curriculum model was other schools already offering the model.

Impact on student HSC outcomes

  • It is unlikely that offering a fully compressed model has a substantial impact on HSC completion rates, ATAR eligibility rates or HSC results. However, due to the limitations of our data, we cannot rule out that it may have weak to strong positive or negative effects.

Perceptions of the compressed curriculum model

  • School staff provided a wide range of positive and negative views about the perceived impacts of the compressed curriculum model on schools, students and teachers. Some common views were:
    • The model enabled schools to implement a greater range of courses and resulted in greater student engagement throughout the year. However, it was difficult to enrol new students and to manage complex timetabling. There was also less downtime throughout the year.
    • Staff observed students developing positive relationships with teachers and peers, as well as improvements in learning behaviours. However, the high workload and fast pace of learning, commonly perceived by staff as being characteristic of the compressed curriculum model, was a challenge for some students. Another shared perception was that there was limited time available for co-curricular activities, which staff felt significantly impacted students.1
    • Some teachers felt that they were able to teach in greater depth and with more continuity, which also helped with teaching practice and student engagement.
    • The increased frequency of assessment tasks and associated time constraints with marking was particularly challenging for teachers.

Key considerations

Schools may or may not have a positive experience when using the compressed curriculum model. However, the model provides the flexibility for schools to choose a learning structure that is most suitable for their students’ needs. Results from the analysis of government school students suggest it is unlikely that using a fully compressed curriculum has a substantial impact on HSC outcomes. The compressed curriculum format may be an appropriate way to offer courses that schools would not otherwise be able to offer. Findings from our qualitative analysis suggest that the model may also improve levels of engagement with particular student groups. Schools reported that other schools that were already offering the model were their greatest source of support in implementing the model.

1 While school staff perceived there to be a higher workload and faster pace of learning under the compressed curriculum model, there should be no difference in the study time commitment between the traditional and compressed curriculum models.

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