Is the NESA Syllabus different from the Australian Curriculum?

NSW Curriculum and Nesa syllabus differences

Is the NESA Syllabus different from the Australian Curriculum?

  • BOSTES has changed its name to NESA

If you are getting registered to homeschool in NSW then you know that the NESA Home Schooling package requires your educational program to be based on the relevant board of studies syllabus and content.

I have often suggested that you can use the Australian Curriculum or the NSW syllabus for planning. Recently I was contacted by a homeschooler who told me at her registration visit that their homeschool NESA assessor said they must use the NSW Curriculum and not the Australian Curriculum to plan.

Whilst I knew this perception was prevalent it got me thinking – what is the actual difference between the two and would a NESA assessor even know if I planned according to the Australian Curriculum or the  NESA syllabus?  

This led me on a search to find out what the actual differences were. Here is what I found out.

What’s the Difference Between the Terms ‘Curriculum’ and ‘Syllabus’

‘Curriculum’ refers to the overall content that is presented – the big picture. In this case everything taught in all subjects from Foundation to the end of high school along with teaching ideas and goals.

A ‘syllabus’ is more specific referring to particular subjects and it’s usually more descriptive – the details.

The NESA syllabus has much more information to absorb than the Australian Curriculum.

The Content of the NSW Syllabus & the Australian Curriculum is Similar

There is not a lot of difference in the content of the NESA Syllabus and the Australian Curriculum. The NSW NESA Syllabus and the Australian Curriculum were written for school teachers and academics.

Within the NESA syllabus each Australian Curriculum code is referenced and matched with each of the outcomes.

For example the NESA Syllabus for English Key shows how they reference the Australian Curriculum content codes and the NESA Syllabus codes.

Australian Curriculum and NESA Syllabus Key


Difference is the Outcomes & Extras & Order


The NESA syllabus is an outcome based syllabus. Outcome based curricula are the new favourite catch phrase in education, another way to phrase it would be educational goals or objectives. They talk about what you want to achieve rather than focusing on what is taught.

In most cases the Australian Curriculum’s learning content has been rephrased into an assessable NESA Syllabus outcome by adding a verb to the content statement like: identifies, describes, explains or demonstrates. This slight difference is a philosophical one about children being tested on their knowledge rather than a teacher just making sure she taught it – this theoretical debate is one for academics and teachers and home educators needn’t worry about it.

Here is an example shown from NESA Syllabus Science Stage 2 – Physical World

NSW Outcome Syllabus – Code ST2-7PW

  • identifies ways heat is produced and that heat moves from one object to another

Australian Curriculum Content – Code ACSSU049

  • Heat can be produced in many ways and can move from one object to another.

See how the difference is just in the phrasing.


There is also an addition of Technology and Design to the science curriculum.


Apparently in the math curriculum there is also a difference in the higher grades on where certain concepts i.e. when simultaneous equations are taught.

The Australian Curriculum and NSW Syllabus Stages Are Different

The Australian Curriculum is divided into four general stages whereas NSW is divided into six stages:

  • Foundation to Year 2 (which is Stage 1 NSW)
  • Year 3 to Year 6 (which is Stage 2 and 3 in NSW)
  • Year 7 to Year 10 (which is Stage 4 and 5 in NSW)
  • Year 11 and Year 12 (which is Stage 6 in NSW)

The Australian Curriculum is written in grades/years even though the curriculum is actually still based on the concept of teaching students in stages. This means that the Australian Curriculum will often list the same content in both grades/years whereas the NESA Syllabus will only list the Australian Curriculum content once for each stage.

At times one outcome can meet a few content requirements.

For example in the English Year 3-4:

  • uses effective handwriting and publishes texts using digital technologies (NSW Syllabus Code EN2 -3A) meets four codes in the Australian Curriculum:

Year 3

  • ACELY1684 – Write using joined letters that are clearly formed and consistent in size (or begins cursive)
  • ACELY1685 – Use software including word processing programs with growing speed and efficiency to construct and edit texts featuring visual, print and audio elements

Year 4

  • ACELY1696 – Write using clearly-formed joined letters, and develop increased fluency and automaticity (or becomes confident with cursive)
  • ACELY1697 – Use a range of software including word processing programs to construct, edit and publish written text, and select, edit and place visual, print and audio elements

NSW Stage Statements and Australian Curriculum Achievement Standards

The Australian Curriculum Achievement Standards are almost the same as the NESA Stage Statements. They both use the same content and both have an outcome based approach that describes the learning expected in each subject’s stage or year. However the Australian Curriculum gives a little more instruction on the content.

When comparing the Australian Curriculum Year 3-4 and Stage 2 of the NESA syllabus for English, the outcomes could be matched but the Australian Curriculum added that Australian literature, classics, contemporary and poetry should also be a part of the content. In the NSW Syllabus you had to go to separate section looking for suggested texts.

The Australian Curriculum has general stage statements for each stage; this is not the same as the NSW stage statements.

More Explanations in the NSW Syllabus

The NSW Syllabus spends more time explaining the depth to which content is to be covered. Whilst these can be helpful, if you need clarification, you are not required to use these elaborations when planning.

Here is another example taken from the NSW Science Stage 2 NSW BOSTES Syllabus.

Australian Curriculum Content – Code ACSSU076

  • Forces can be exerted by one object on another through direct contact or from a distance.

NESA Outcome—Code ST2-6PW

  • describes everyday interactions between objects that result from contact and non-contact forces

Additional Explanation of Student Assessment:

  • investigate the effect of forces on the behaviour of objects, eg dropping, bouncing or rolling objects
  • observe the way the force of gravity pulls objects towards the Earth, eg dropping objects from different heights
  • observe everyday situations where the direct contact force (friction) affects the movement of objects on different surfaces, eg a bike or skateboard
  • carry out tests to investigate the forces of attraction and repulsion between magnets.

Should I Use The Australian Curriculum or The NESA SyllabusTo Plan?

When documenting your plan for registration NESA Home Schooling package  states, “the educational program is BASED ON, and taught in accordance with the relevant Board of Studies syllabus… the syllabus stage statements or syllabus content [can be used]to demonstrate your program is BASED ON the NSW BOSTES syllabus.”

Based ON are the key words here. You don’t need to follow it identically. It needs only to be BASED ON the state syllabus, so if you find the Australian Curriculum easier to read than your state syllabus that is fine.

Therefore you can use either when planning your documentation for registration because the NSW BOSTES syllabus and the Australian Curriculum have the same content. The Stage Statement and Achievement statements are also very similar.

I like using the Australian curriculum for planning. Here’s why:

Understanding the Australian Curriculum will help tick the boxes with regards to NSW homeschool registration but it is my hope that you will also be inspired to provide a generous curriculum—one that is broad in its content, generous in its substance and not limited by the constraints of a set syllabus.

So next time someone tells you that you can’t plan using the Australian Curriculum you will be able to politely tell them that they are incorrect.

You can say your homeschool plan is based on the NSW Syllabus because the Australian Curriculum is what the NSW Syllabus is based on.

Knowledge is power!

If you are interested in the Victorian Curriculum and Australian Curriculum Differences here is an article to help you.

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  1. Natasa  January 13, 2018

    Hi Michelle,

    Very interesting information. I am wondering if you have any knowledge of the CCP (cross-curriculum priorities) and if NSW curriculum (NESA) provide sufficient illustration, resources and support for the three CCP to be incorporated in all learning areas? I have an essay for uni that I need to complete based around this and am struggling to find information on it. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

    Natasa 🙂

    • MR Morrow  January 14, 2018

      I’ve not read any specific references to them but as far as I can tell it doesn’t say “how” much you have to include them.

  2. Elizabeth  January 13, 2017

    Thanks so much for all this information. I have been wondering about this very topic recently as we have a review coming up. My approach is going to be to make a new plan at the beginning of each year for each of my children so I can reflect on where they were, where they are and where we want to go.
    This information was very helpful in giving me a clear understanding of how I might best cross reference our plan with the appropriate syllabus / curriculum outcomes to ensure our reviews will go well.
    I love your website – it helped me get started about 9-10 months ago with my first child that “crossed over” from mainstream to home education.
    Well done to you and God bless you xoxo

    • Michelle  January 13, 2017

      Thanks so much Elizabeth. Your comment is very encouraging. Smiles Michelle

  3. Claire  September 6, 2016

    This is really useful info! Thank you for taking the time to compare the AC with the NSW Syllabus and then set it out in a way that’s easy to understand. I’ve always wondered what the two looked like side by side and how they fit with one another.

  4. Merle  September 6, 2016

    Very informative, given I’m about to start the re-registration process. The NSW Syllabus is just so darn wordy and scary. The way I approached it was to work out where I wanted my kids to be at the end of the semester/year, what we’d need to work on to get there, and then listed which outcome codes we’d be covering. Good thing the AP wasn’t too invested in our actual ‘plan’ as right now HS is evolving for us on a daily basis as we find ways to overcome different obstacles – this is our first term, hopefully by the end of the year it will become much more streamlined.

    • Michelle  September 6, 2016

      I think the more you home school the more you become comfortable departing from the syllabus. You become more confident blazing your own trial and then tacking the syllabus on the end.

  5. Vivienne  September 5, 2016

    Hi Michelle
    Your comments are very helpful.
    I just have two points.
    1) in NSW we don’t need to follow the scope and sequence or content of the NSW syllabus. And we don’t need to use outcomes.’Based on and taught in accordance with’ is really broad.
    2) APs are extremely inconsistent. They also aren’t that well trained.
    Because of these two points, it is easy to plan to whatever we like, using Australian Curriculum or Sonlight or anything we choose, and resources from anywhere including Singapore, Steiner, or natural learning, simply add in the NSW syllabus Stage Statements and then we can ‘tick the boxes’. Those who are confident may be able to mount a case for using Australian Curriculum, or no curriculum at all, but those who aren’t are best off simply ‘ticking the boxes’ to get maximum time, and then doing what works. Record keeping needn’t be to the outcomes or anything of the NSW syllabus, but just a record of learning opportunities.

    • Michelle  September 6, 2016

      Thanks Vivienne for contributing to this discussion. I think the BOSTES do expect us to at least give lip-service to the BOSTES curriculum but as you say there is no need to put outcomes in our plan. Personally the stage statements are pretty convoluted IMHO. Tacking the Stage Statements on at the end is a hoop jumping exercise but it is good to understand what it says.In my opinion people probably get a better idea of what is expected looking at the content in the Australian Curriculum. It’s true all curriculums can be slotted in to the Australian Curriculum or BOSTES syllabus but it usually takes a newbie a while to get confident doing this.

  6. deborah  September 5, 2016

    Thank you. :o) I am sure that this will be very helpful to a lot of homeschoolers.


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