Integrative approaches to curriculum design are essentially student-centred, whereas disciplines-based approaches are teacher-centred. The project team adopted Drake’s (2012) four forms of curriculum integration:

  • Intra-disciplinary where a particular theme or topic is fused with an existing subject-based curriculum e.g. environmental sustainability in one or more discrete learning areas.
  • Multidisciplinary integration where deliberate connections are made, when appropriate, between distinct subject disciplines e.g. Study of Society and Environment in Australia.
  • Interdisciplinary integration where common themes are identified, prioritized and explicated across existing learning areas. The general capabilities in the Australian Curriculum (ACARA, 2012) have the capacity to play such a role.
  • Transdisciplinary integration, starting from students’ authentic interests and questions, reminiscent of John Dewey’s dictum that “the sources of curriculum ought to be problems, issues, and concerns posed by life itself”.

It is noteworthy that an interdisciplinary approach to knowledge is favoured by the Congregation for Catholic Education (CEC) and various Catholic authors.

Each discipline is not an island inhabited by a form of knowledge that is distinct and ring fenced; rather, it is in a dynamic relationship with all other forms of knowledge, each of which expresses something about the human person and touches upon some truth (CEC, 2014).

Education should lead to the integration of what is learned, breaking down traditional subject demarcations, overcoming fragmentation and encouraging dialogue between disciplines… address[ing] the integral development of the person: aesthetic, creative, critical, cultural, emotional, intellectual, moral, physical, political, social and spiritual (Murray 1991).

RE alone does not make the Catholic school…The Catholic school seeks to integrate the curriculum, to unify faith and culture, and to bring together the different pieces of the school programme into a higher synthesis that influences the social and spiritual formation of pupils (Lane 1991).

Grace (2010, 2013) argues that Catholic social teaching (CST) should permeate the Catholic secondary school curriculum across

  • religious, moral and cultural
  • social, environmental and political

CST emerged in the late nineteenth century out of concern for the rights of workers and societal inequalities and injustices associated with the excesses of capitalism. Grounded in a theological and philosophical anthropology of the human person, it draws on the rich justice teachings of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. The 1963 papal encyclical, Pacem in Terris, affirmed that every human being has universal and inviolable rights and duties. Most recently, Pope Francis has promulgated his broad-ranging and well-publicised Laudato ‘Si focusing on care for hour common home, the ecological crisis and ecological education.

The Ontario Institute for Catholic Education views curriculum as holistic and transformative and draws a useful distinction between curriculum separation (Religious Education), curriculum permeation (school ethos/culture) and curriculum integration.

[Curriculum is a] vehicle for personal and social change based on principles of justice and the view of the learner as agent-of-change… an interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary experience… [that] demonstrates the Catholic character of learning [and] bring[s] about a critical perspective on social and global issues (Institute for Catholic Education, 1996, p. 26).

The Institute warns against making superficial and trivial links where religious concepts and ideas are forcefully imposed on learning areas in the name of integration. Their initial approach involved the fusion of their Graduate Expectations (Institute for Catholic Education, 1998) with the Ontario Ministry of Education’s expected learning outcomes for specific subjects. More recently their focus has shifted to the integration of CST and critical literacy across the curriculum. The Ontario approach, involving key themes and essential questions, would appear to represent a combination of Drake’s (2012) transformative and interdisciplinary models in a manner that is consistent with State requirements.

  • Congregation for Catholic Education. (2014). Educating today and tomorrow, a renewing passion, Instrumentum Laboris. London: Catholic Truth Society.
  • Drake, S. (2012). Creating standards-based integrated curriculum. Thousand Oaks: Corwin.
  • Grace, G. (2010). Renewing spiritual capital: An urgent priority for the future of Catholic education internationally. International Studies in Catholic Education, 2(2), 117–128.
  • Grace, G. (2013). Catholic social teaching should permeate the Catholic secondary school curriculum. An agenda for reform. International Studies in Catholic Education, 5(1), 99–109.
  • Institute for Catholic Education. (1996). Curriculum matters: A resource for Catholic educators. Toronto: Institute for Catholic Education.
  • Institute for Catholic Education. (1998). Graduate expectations. Toronto: Institute for Catholic Education.
  • Lane, D. A. (1991). Catholic education and the school. Some theological reflections. Dublin: Veritas.
  • Murray, D. (1991). A special concern. Dublin: Veritas.


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