A New Curriculum for Wales

What does it mean for teachers & schools across Wales?

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The Story so far.....but what does it mean?

Since Successful Futures the review of the current curriculum in Wales by Professor Graham Donaldson was published in February 2015, schools have been wondering what the 68 recommendations from that review will look like for pupils and teachers in Wales. Welsh Government have been sharing the progress the Pioneer Groups have been making towards a finished curriculum. The latest set of updates can be found in the August edition of Welsh Government’s Curriculum for Wales newsletter here.

This newsletter is not the only source of information available on current progress. As well as films of key sessions from the recent Curriculum Reform Conference in North Wales, there is also Senedd TV, specifically the Children, Young People & Education Committee’s scrutiny of work carried out by the education department, news from the four Regional Consortia, news directly from the pioneer schools themselves and information shared by academics working on the expert panels as part of the curriculum reform process. In fact, there is far more information out there on Curriculum for Wales than most people think, you just have to dig around a little bit for it.

The biggest concern of most schools and staff who are not one of the 126 pioneer schools, is “what does the new curriculum mean for us?” Alongside this is the concern that there are actions that schools could and should be taking now that would allow them to prepare themselves for the introduction of the curriculum documents, due to be shared in just 12 months’ time.

We understand every head teacher’s desire to get started on the preparation journey. We understand that head teachers and senior leaders in schools don’t want to wait until the curriculum documents are here, if there are things they can be doing now that will benefit their pupils and the school as a learning organisation. That is why we have gathered all of the information relating to the new curriculum for Wales development process together. It is why we have spent literally hours watching Senedd TV, reading the fine detail of related research documents and analysed and deconstructed WG documents, in order to answer the most important questions for schools, teachers and pupils across Wales.

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1. What do we know about the structure and content of the new curriculum so far?

We know that there will be far less in the new curriculum. We know there will be as the AoLE development groups state “a low level of specificity to allow schools to autonomously shape their curriculum.” This is reiterated by all of the AoLE groups in various forms. We also know that all of the AoLE groups are deciding on “what matters” in each of their areas. They are deciding on key concepts for each AoLE in line with Wynne Harlen et al’s “Working with the Big Ideas in Science Education”, which is mentioned by nearly every AoLE group by name. AoLE Groups are also looking for the commonalities between subjects within the AoLE in terms both of skills and knowledge.

What we don’t yet know, is how this information will be presented. If you dissect the AoLE Executive Summary documents in their latest update, as we have, you will see six very different approaches that all cover very similar ground, but start from a different perspective and inevitably result in a different structure.

The key pieces of information at this early stage that schools should be focussing on, is that the curriculum will be underpinned by key concepts for each AoLE, these key concepts will be underpinned by common skills and knowledge for all subjects sitting within the AoLE and finally that there will be far less specificity and prescription in the curriculum documents delivered to schools in September 2018.

2. What does this mean in terms of the kind of professional learning teachers and other staff will need?

There has been some disquiet on social media about whether in fact it is possible to prepare for a curriculum that has not yet been written. We would agree that any promotional material that suggests it will enable you to implement the new curriculum, should be treated with caution. Implementation should not be the current focus of any setting. However, readiness should be a whole school development priority. So what is the difference? For example, in the report from the Mathematics and Science & Tech AoLEs, the 4 Purposes are described as driving pedagogy across the AoLE. Driving pedagogy in a way that is highly specific to the AoLE. What does risk taking look like in Mathematics and Numeracy is it the same as in Science and Technology? How ready are your staff to develop risk taking, for example, across a variety of contexts in a consistent, appropriate and robust manner? Staff will need to know which of the 4 purposes is most relevant and required by their pupils, they will also need to know how best to develop those purposes and how it will look in each of the AoLE that they are involved in teaching.

As we know the pioneer groups are looking at the key concepts for each AoLE and the commonalities between the different subjects within each AoLE. How much opportunity do you provide your staff to work together in AoLE and learn from each other? In future there will be one overarching document for each AoLE, outlining “what matters”, so teaching skills from areas such as MFL and English Literature, or Food Technology and Chemistry will have common expectations to work on. We also know that DCF and LNF will be embedded across all AoLE, where they are most appropriate. We already have a remit to be teaching the skills that are most appropriate to that subject. What kind of writing is required by Science? What Speaking and Listening skills are most useful in the Mathematics classroom? If staff are already asking themselves these questions and working together to find the answers then shifting to a curriculum that requires them to create a school curriculum on key concepts for each AoLE, will be enormously more successful in terms of outcomes.

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3. What are the next development steps for the Pioneer AoLE Groups?

So far, the AoLE groups have been working separately. Their next step is to compare their progress so far between AoLE groups and ensure that the structure and presentation of these high level curriculum documents is consistent across and within all AoLE. They have also identified the need to look at how the Literacy Framework, the Numeracy Framework and the Digital Competency Framework can be embedded in each AoLE effectively. Several of the AoLE Groups also identified individual next steps that they felt needed to be completed. These included:

• A set of exemplification materials or case studies to outline progression within that AoLE.

• Information on possible whole-school approaches and Pedagogical models which may underpin learning for individual establishments in an AoLE.

• Embedding of the Welsh dimension, international perspectives and wider skills as well as the cross curricular responsibilities already mentioned.

• Identifying the sample materials schools would need in order to consistently teach the new curriculum.

• Identification of effective methods to record progress, experience and achievement, so that they are celebrated across the AoLE.

Obviously there is still much work that needs to be completed before the new curriculum is finished and ready for schools to begin using. Not least, the quality assurance and testing process that Welsh Government has assured Assembly members will happen at as many non-pioneer schools as possible.

4. What, if anything, should schools be doing between now and when the first curriculum documents are published in September 2018, just over 12 months away?

We would recommend the following actions to schools who wish to ready themselves, their pupils, their staff and the wider community for the better education heralded by the publication of Successful Futures.

  • Get staff engaging with the 4 purposes of the new curriculum in tangible, effective teaching and learning activities.
  • Use professional learning opportunities to explore the Big Ideas of each AoLE and the most relevant and appropriate LNF & DCF skills required by that AoLE
  • Provide professional learning for staff that develop key principles of Successful Futures such as, formative assessment to improve pupil outcomes, independent learning, taking measured risk or actively engaging pupils in their own learning in a tangible way.

For more information on how you can spend the next year completing simple key actions in order to make sure your school and staff are “Donaldson Ready” contact us at enquiries@impact.wales for a no obligation discussion about your school context.

Impact School Improvement Ltd

Who are we? - We are Finola & Jane, Literacy & Numeracy specialists, with 35+ years of teaching, training & leadership experience between us.

Can you trust us? - We have both worked for Welsh Government supporting schools & senior leaders across Wales. We have held senior leadership posts, delivered support to strategic education advisers, and published curriculum support guidance with Oxford University Publishing...but if you need to know more visit our website for testimonials from schools we've worked with.

Why should you attend our workshop? - Put simply, because we believe in impact. We do exactly what our name suggests. Our workshop keeps things simple and ensures school actions really work. Our focus is always on delivering measurable impact for pupils.