Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
School of Education
Dr Bill Allen
Dr Donna Barwood
Humanities and Social Sciences (HASS) is one of eight mandated learning areas in the Australian Curriculum and its adaptation for Western Australian (WA) schools, the Western Australian Curriculum and Assessment Outline. This learning area has undergone considerable change over the past 20 years, with little accompanying research. In 2000, a single case study examined lower secondary students’ (Year 8 to Year 10) attitudes to a previous version of the curriculum that used different nomenclature, Social Studies, in one metropolitan co-educational Catholic Education Western Australia (CEWA) school (Thiveos, 2000). The results of that research established that students valued and were moderately positive towards Social Studies; however, their liking for the subject area declined by 13.3% over the course of lower secondary schooling. At that time, Social Studies was ranked eleventh out of 14 school subjects and its low status was attributed to teacher-centred delivery of the curriculum and limited learning activities (Thiveos, 2000). Those results are now outdated and do not take into account the multitude of curricular, pedagogical and assessment developments over the two decades since, therefore motivating the current research.
This mixed methods research investigated lower secondary students’ (Year 7 to Year 10) perspectives towards the HASS learning area and identified the factors influencing those perspectives at three metropolitan co-educational CEWA schools. One of the participating schools was also the original case study in the historical research, allowing for comparisons with the current research. The two other schools enlarged the sample of students that enabled generalisation of the findings to other, similar CEWA schools.
A survey of 1,425 lower secondary students involved the completion of a Student Perspectives of Humanities and Social Sciences (SPHASS) questionnaire that measured their perspectives of teaching and learning in HASS, the frequency of learning activities in HASS and the status of HASS and other school subjects by means of subsequent descriptive and inferential statistical analysis. Students’ feedback in semistructured focus group interviews with each year level at the three sample schools, in combination with their responses to two open-ended questions in the SPHASS questionnaire, were coded to identify emergent themes in the data. Analysis of the quantitative and qualitative data measured overall responses across the three CEWA schools, with a particular focus on gender (male and female) and age (year level) differences.
The findings revealed a positive perspective towards teaching and learning in HASS at the three CEWA schools; however, this declined by 3.8% from Year 7 to Year 10. HASS was ranked the eighth most popular subject out of 15 surveyed, and of the four mandated HASS subjects (Civics and Citizenship, Economics and Business, Geography and History), History was the most preferred and Civics and Citizenship the least preferred, with students signifying a negative view of the subject. Furthermore, there were significant differences in students’ liking for HASS based on gender (male and female) and age (year level), with males and Year 8 students the most positive, and Year 9 students the least positive. The inclusion of Year 7 students in secondary school had a positive impact on students’ perspectives of HASS, contradicting the findings of earlier research (Moroz, 1995) and signalling a much-improved status for the HASS learning area.
Students considered the HASS classroom a positive learning environment; valued and considered HASS useful; were positive about their abilities and success in HASS; and indicated strong parental support for the learning area. The centrality of the teacher was a major finding of this research. Students had positive views of their HASS teachers; however, were more enthusiastic about interactive, collaborative and studentcentred pedagogical approaches in lessons.
Despite recent reforms to the HASS curriculum, advancements in digital technology and the endorsement of 21st century pedagogical practices, teachers at the three CEWA schools appeared to rely upon teacher-centred pedagogical practices, particularly the use of textbooks. Although the integration of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) was more prevalent in HASS classrooms compared to two decades ago, it became evident that teachers missed opportunities to integrate digital technology effectively and meaningfully into student learning.
This research concluded that curriculum, teachers, the learning environment, students and parents were all factors that influenced students’ perspective of HASS at the three CEWA schools. The insights gained have significant implications for administrators and teachers at these schools and beyond, to decision makers in other education sectors and school contexts. To impact and improve students’ perspectives of HASS further, this research found that teacher practice, and particularly the choice of student-centred teaching and learning activities, is necessary.
Thiveos, E. (2020). Lower secondary students’ perspectives towards Humanities and Social Sciences (HASS) at three Catholic Education Western Australia (CEWA) schools. https://ro.ecu.edu.au/theses/2357
Available for download on Sunday, October 19, 2025