Across the border in England, the DfE are in the throes of an enquiry into primary assessment following the removal of National Curriculum Levels. Meanwhile, Welsh education is undergoing an exciting and challenging transition. Education practitioners are faced with a unique opportunity to build an entirely new curriculum from the ground up - the challenge right now is the implementation of this ambitious project.
Moving Forward Together
We were excited to attend the recent Central South Consortium conference “Moving Forward Together”, where we heard from Pioneer and non-Pioneer schools about their engagement with Graham Donaldson’s proposals in his review of the current Welsh curriculum. It was encouraging to see widespread enthusiasm for the “four curriculum purposes” and the “pedagogical principles” outlined in Successful Futures. Equally heartening to hear, were stories about the creative ways schools have been embedding digital competence as a cross-curriculum responsibility.
What was noticeably absent from the conference was an update from the curriculum Pioneer schools about progress on the development of the Areas of Learning and Experience (AoLEs) and the assessment framework(s) for the new curriculum. This is unsurprising in light of the recent findings of the Children, Young People and Education Committee’s (CYPE) enquiry into the implementation of Successful Futures.
The CYPE Committee met between November 2016 and January this year to scrutinise the progress of the Donaldson reforms. They heard evidence from Donaldson himself, various Pioneer schools, the Regional Consortia, teachers’ unions and the Education Secretary, amongst other stakeholders. Arguably the most pressing issue was the delay of Strand 2 of Welsh Government’s schedule for implementation – the “design of [the] framework and principles for each AoLE, including progression reference points and achievement outcomes” – reflected in the committee’s concluding judgement that “some aspects of the implementation of Successful Futures are not progressing as well as we would expect”. Due to begin in September 2016, the Committee heard that the initial meetings for Strand 2 were due to commence at the end of January.
In their evidence submitted to the CYPE Committee, the NAHT, NUT and NASUWT all raised concerns about there being insufficient clarity amongst Pioneer schools about exactly what they had been tasked with. This lack of understanding has led to frustrations for some Pioneers with the reform process generally, as was acknowledged in the report from the Regional Consortia. The challenge will now be for the groups responsible for the strategic oversight of the reforms (the Independent Advisory Group, Change Board, Strategic Stakeholder Group and the recently coined “Programme Board”) to facilitate more effective communication with and between Pioneer schools, in addition to coordinating the development of the new curriculum content.
Teachers’ unions also expressed anxieties about the threat of tribalism emerging from the divide between Pioneer and non-Pioneer schools. The need for unified engagement from the whole sector was a key emphasis of the CSC conference, and is undoubtedly a consideration of the joint proposal the Consortia have put to Welsh Government. In this they “offer a strong, focused and detailed structure for realising the recommendations” of the review. Kirsty Williams has also promised a review of the Pioneer school model itself, due to be published at the end of 2017.
A Demanding Timescale
Whilst the CYPE Committee affirmed the partnership model for curriculum development, they also echoed the NAHT’s concerns that the quality of the work could be compromised by an increasingly demanding timescale – “it must be about getting this right for pupils and not rushing in change to meet a deadline”. The DfES had originally been considering a timescale of 8-10 years, based on the Scottish experience of curriculum reform, but the turnaround was subsequently fixed at three years from the beginning of the Pioneer schools’ work. However, the missed deadline for Strand 1 means the AoLE design work in Strand 2 has to be completed in a considerably smaller window (something the Minister conceded to the Committee). This was confirmed at the beginning of February by the appearance of the third version of the department’s “Plan for curriculum and assessment design and development” on their website, dated “November 2016”. In light of the timescale issues experienced thus far, the Committee proposed that Welsh Government undertake contingency planning in case the Pioneer model fails to deliver the desired output in time.
The DfES released the fourth curriculum “Stakeholder Newsletter” at the end of January, in which they summarise the preliminary output and announce that the first incarnation of the AoLEs should appear by June 2017. The recommendations from the various curriculum working groups are largely constructive and encouraging. In the meantime the Kirsty Williams' response to the Committee’s findings is due any day, following her announcement that the “refreshed” Welsh Government strategic delivery plan (“Qualified for life: A curriculum for Wales – a curriculum for life”) will be released in the spring. The Committee acknowledged the challenge of translating the conceptual Donaldson Review into concrete proposals that would be understood on the ground. Let’s hope the department accepts the Committee’s recommendations and commits to maintaining tangible ways in which this unique and exciting partnership model can move forward.
We should be encouraged by the Education Secretary's determination to "keep the child at the centre and develop a broad, balanced, inclusive and challenging curriculum". The current mandate for reform has the potential to deliver an education system that will enable children and young people in Wales to flourish in the modern world - an agenda we can all get behind.
Find out more - key strategic documents