Cardiff High - #TalkCurriculum

We need to talk...

Open, Informed, Constructive Discussions

We need to talk… No, seriously we really need to talk! Talk about Curriculum for Wales 2022 and how we make it work.

This is exactly what the #TalkCurriculum event organised by James Wise at Cardiff High School on June 6th, did. More than 150 teachers from across South Wales came along after their normal school day to hear four fascinating speakers build the discussion about how to do what works, in the context of our draft curriculum documents.

As we’ve said before, we believe we all have a responsibility to ensure this new curriculum creates the best education for the children of Wales. We believe we should be looking for both excellence and areas where the curriculum may falter. We must prepare for the worst in order to create the best. So, we’d like to share with you some of the messages discussed from this ground-breaking event.

Teachers are being tasked with becoming curriculum makers and the discussion focussed on what this means and how it could happen. Dave Stacey, Senior Lecturer of ITE at Yr Athrofa, UWTSD, introduced the different levels of curriculum as outlined by Prof Mark Priestley, as a way for teachers and leaders to make sense of their role in the process. He also identified the potential pitfalls of using the ‘I can/I have’ statements of the Achievement Outcomes as surface level tick lists, rather than as a driver for planning. However, the pivotal comment of the evening articulated by Damian Benney, Deputy Head & science teacher at Penyrheol Comprehensive School was the reason teachers enter the profession, to ensure all pupils, no matter what their background have access to and can use the knowledge that is valued by society to make a success of their lives.

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Both Damian and Gareth Rein, headteacher at St Joseph’s RC Primary School shared how they have used cognitive science to build their curricula with a strong focus on improving the quality of learning and ultimately pupil outcomes. Gareth talked of how learning works, how we all remember new learning by making connections, or building schemata in our long-term memories. How, all understanding is based on what we already know about a subject. You can’t talk about a subject in any depth if you haven’t got any underpinning knowledge.

Teaching should strengthen pupils’ schema of knowledge by using effective learning strategies informed by cognitive science such as retrieval practice, or spaced learning. The curriculum at St Joseph’s RC Primary has been built through consultation with the whole community and developed to take account of the best evidence on what works. At Penyrheol, Damien has spent a number of years developing a curriculum informed by what we know about the science of learning, such as interleaving and spaced practice. Both had used extensive engagement with educational research in order to inform their curriculum planning process. Damien used a brilliant analogy to explain the concept of curriculum making; curriculum is like a box set, not a set of standalone episodes, but with a narrative thread running throughout. He urged schools to justify the structure and sequence of learning in their curricula.

What was particularly impressive about the Cardiff High event though was the range of the discussion. Kathryn Lewis, curriculum pioneer and strategic lead for Expressive Arts, Humanities and Health & Wellbeing at CSCJES, shared the journey her school, Nantygwyn 3-16, had taken towards interdisciplinary learning. How this meant exploration of thematic teaching, with specialists teaching across the AoLE and the demands and successes of that process. She also spoke of her involvement in the pioneer process and how action research had greatly developed her own expertise. The question and answer session demanded all four speakers explore issues such as the importance of cultural capital, thematic teaching, the role of qualifications in curriculum making and what one thing schools should be doing to start their journey towards 2022.

Professor Graham Donaldson rounded up the evening both with a reiteration of Damian & Gareth’s point that skills do not exist without knowledge and are highly context specific, but also a plea for teachers in Wales to keep talking, to make Curriculum for Wales 2022 a success.

We would like to congratulate Mr Wise, Cardiff High School all four speakers and all of the teachers and leaders who attended Thursday’s event. We sincerely hope this is the first of many. Let’s ensure we all follow Mr Wise’s lead and talk about Curriculum for Wales, seek out different viewpoints, explore what might go wrong as well as what we’ve already succeeded at, but above all let’s talk.

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