How have schools engaged with Successful Futures so far?
It’s been encouraging to hear the diverse ways in which Successful Futures’ philosophy is already impacting teaching and learning. Some schools talked about developing ‘rich tasks’ and embedding the three ‘Cross-Curriculum Responsibilities’. Others emphasised aligning their teaching strategy with the ‘Four Purposes’ and ‘12 Pedagogical Principles’. Developing skills-led approaches was a recurring theme, along with applying Foundation Phase pedagogy through Key Stage 2. Some schools emphasised ‘pupil voice’, citing examples of pupil-led, project-based learning, whereas others talked in terms of delivering experiences – what Successful Futures calls ‘authentic contexts’. Several schools acknowledged the importance of self-directed learning, with one school trialling ‘learning passports’ that enable their pupils to assess themselves against the Four Purposes. All Pioneer Schools welcomed what they understood to be a decisive move away from a very rigid, structured approach to teaching based on a highly prescriptive curriculum.
How has the experience of the reform process been for Pioneer Schools?
There was a general consensus that Strand 1 of the development process lacked some clarity of purpose and was slow to get going. By contrast, reports about the progress of Strand 2 were more affirmative. This resonates with Kirsty Williams’ response to the Children and Young People’s Education committee review earlier this year.
Strand 1 of Successful Futures implementation focused on addressing the ‘big questions’ of overall curriculum design. Pioneer Schools were assigned to one of four working groups, each with different responsibilities (Assessment and Progression; Cross-curriculum Responsibilities; Enrichment and Experiences; and Welsh Dimension, International Perspective and Wider Skills). The level of engagement with this Strand ranged from full participation with significant contributions to the final report, through disillusionment with the focus of meetings to withdrawal from the phase altogether. Equally, across both Pioneer and non-Pioneer settings the groups’ final reports received mixed responses. Some schools felt they had consolidated the strategic trajectory for the reforms, whilst others expected them to contain more information about what the new curriculum will look like. Participants in the Cross-Curriculum Responsibilities group were initially dismayed that the form of the LNF and DCF wasn’t expected to change going forward, though their final report seems to suggest Welsh Government have relented on this point.
For Strand 2 the Pioneer Schools have been divided up into six working groups – one for each of the AoLEs. Schools we spoke to were generally in agreement that the momentum of Strand 2 has made a considerable advance on Strand 1. Using the working groups’ reports as a foundation, meetings have been more solution-focussed and clearer on expectations, providing schools with engaging homework to trial in their settings. All schools we spoke to felt confident of this process and excited about the results. As one Headteacher put it, having specifically appointed class teachers as ‘Pioneer Practitioners’ has lent credibility to the development process, because staff are receiving direction from peers who share their workload concerns.
Do schools feel informed about Successful Futures’ implementation?
Feedback from both Pioneer and non-Pioneer schools around communication was largely determined by the configuration of their local clusters, the level of input from their LA or Consortium and how proactive they’ve been as a school. One Pioneer School told us there hadn’t been enough school-to-school networking around Successful Futures, and that schools hadn’t engaged during the first year because no one was particularly clear on the development process. Conversely, another school told us how they had helped organise a conference with Graham Donaldson to bring Swansea and Neath Port Talbot schools up-to-date, with a focus on informing non-Pioneer Schools.
Some schools praised the proactivity of their Consortium and spoke particularly highly of their interactions with the AoLE leads. By contrast, others felt their Consortia had not communicated information very effectively at all. However, a recurring message we received emphasised the fact that the information is available, it’s just that the onus is on schools and their staff to take responsibility for accessing it. For example, one non-Pioneer Headteacher explained how between the Dsyg newsletter, HwB, social media and various initiatives run by their Consortium, information about Successful Futures was rife.
Where is the curriculum development process at now?
Earlier this year Kirsty Williams conceded that Strand 2 of the curriculum development, originally scheduled to begin in September 2016, had been delayed until January. In spite of this, Welsh Government were intent on keeping to their original June deadline for the second phase, meaning schools would have only six months to work on the development of the AoLEs. Most of the Pioneer Schools we spoke with felt this timescale was highly ambitious, although one school did tell us their AoLE group had completed their Strand 2 report on time. However, the timeline for development recently disappeared from the Welsh Government’s website unannounced, and Kirsty Williams’ ‘refreshed’ edition of her department’s implementation plans promised this spring is yet to appear. Whether the draft AoLEs will materialise imminently, as originally scheduled remains to be seen. Reflecting on the fact the Donaldson-led Curriculum for Excellence took a decade to establish in Scotland, education commentator Philip Dixon forecasts that we should ‘Expect to see slippage in terms of delivery dates’. However, it’s undoubtedly more important to get the curriculum reforms right than to compromise on quality for the sake of meeting a deadline.
Putting questions of timescale aside, it was encouraging to hear how the AoLEs are taking shape and being trialled in Pioneer Schools. Now that their development is underway a clear theme seems to be emerging around a much less prescriptive curriculum with a focus on specifying skills over content. In particular it looks like the specification in the AoLEs will be generic enough to apply across the range of disciplines each area encompasses. A recent blog post from the Chairs of the Humanities AoLE group seems to confirm this trajectory:
Within each Area of Learning and Experience a number of ‘traditional’ academic disciplines are being brought together under an overarching umbrella, but what does this mean for these once discretely taught subject disciplines? Without wishing to pre-empt the ongoing development process, it’s likely that within and across the AoLEs the new curriculum will promote interdisciplinarity across subject areas to deepen pupils understanding.
Whilst the feedback on the work of Strand 2 has been positive overall, some schools did raise concerns about how the work of the various groups will be coordinated, given how the six working groups are operating largely independently. There seemed to be a consensus amongst the schools we spoke to that this is yet to be fully ironed out – hopefully Strand 3 will resolve this going forward.
How are the assessment arrangements for the new curriculum progressing?
A key strategic element of the Welsh Government’s plan for implementing the new curriculum is the development of a new ‘Assessment and Evaluation Framework’. In line with the recommendations of the OECD, Donaldson proposed a framework that would ‘define the various roles of pupil assessment and school evaluation’ and ‘align curriculum, teaching and assessment around key learning goals’. Accordingly, the framework should mitigate the confusion surrounding existing assessment and evaluation policies. Whilst work was due to begin on this document from December 2015 in consultation with Pioneer Schools, none of the Pioneers we spoke to were aware of the framework’s existence as a discrete entity.
In her response to the CYPE committee findings, Kirsty Williams emphasised her commitment to ‘carrying out reform of the curriculum and our assessment arrangements in tandem’. At present, all we know about the development of the ‘Progression Steps’ and ‘Achievement Outcomes’ envisioned by Donaldson is that the universities of Wales Trinity Saint David and Glasgow have been handed this responsibility. Whilst it’s understood that experts from these institutions will be working alongside Pioneer Schools to develop the new assessment criteria, curriculum Pioneers we heard from had not been part of these discussions to date. Moreover, the EAS blog referred to this work as still ‘in its exploratory stages’, so perhaps this is to be expected.
It’s been exciting for us to hear from schools across Wales about the various imaginative ways they’ve been engaging with the proposals set out in Successful Futures. The collaborative work of both Pioneer and non-Pioneer Schools has been particularly inspiring. It’s fantastic that all the schools we spoke with are so passionately engaged with delivering the best possible learning experience for their pupils. On the whole, the work of Pioneer Schools on the AoLEs seems to be progressing well, though questions remain as to how the practical issues surrounding the silo-structure of the working groups will be resolved.
At the Assessment Foundation, we remain committed to keeping schools informed and supporting them through changes to curriculum and assessment policy. We also encourage practitioners to take advantage of the information available through the Curriculum for Wales blog, HwB, the Dsyg Newsletter and Consortia updates. We’re also very passionate about hearing your views, so if you have any reflections on the reform process that you would like to share, please do get in touch.
Jane Miller and Finola Wilson (Directors of Impact School Improvement) are delivering Are you ready for Successful Futures? Practical implications of the Donaldson Review at our annual Leadership Conference in Cardiff on Friday 14th July. They’ll pinpoint some key preparation actions that schools should be taking now, ready for the delivery of the new curriculum documents in September 2018. You can check out all the details and book tickets at: