Common Purposes

Today we are excited to launch our report, Common Purposes, the implications of curriculum reform in Wales for further education, higher education, skills and business. This report identifies practical steps to ensure the implementation of the new curriculum in Wales is integrated with and supported by the further education, higher education, skills and business communities.

 

Back in 2014, Welsh Government asked Professor Graham Donaldson to review curriculum and assessment arrangements in schools in Wales. In response to this, Professor Donaldson published Successful Futures which made 68 recommendations, including that a new Curriculum for Wales be based on four purposes and structured around six Areas of Learning and Experience (AoLE). All of Donaldson’s recommendations were accepted by the Welsh Government.

 

In these initial stages of developing this new curriculum, work is largely being undertaken by the education community, including Pioneer Schools, and through the AoLE working groups. Given that the new curriculum is the biggest reform in Welsh education, the IWA Education Policy Group felt that it was important to do a piece of research that looked at the wider community beyond the school gates to identify steps that ensure the roll-out of the new curriculum is well integrated with other areas of policy, and to encourage a seamless pathway for learners as they progress on from compulsory education.

 

Consequently, with the generous support of the Learned Society of Wales and the Wales Institute of Social & Economic Research, Data & Methods (WISERD), we began the Common Purposes project. We undertook a perception audit between October 2018 and January 2019 with representatives of the further education, higher education, skills and business communities in Wales to understand their engagement with the new curriculum to date, as well as their hopes and fears for the future.

 

We also undertook a programme of engagement in Scotland in early December to learn from their recent experience of introducing Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), which Professor Donaldson also played a crucial role in developing.  

 

Conversations in Scotland

During our visit in Scotland, we interviewed representatives about the implementation of CfE and took away a couple of key messages.The first was that through the complexities of developing and implementing Scotland’s new curriculum, individuals felt that sometimes the core purposes of CfE was lost. For examples, individuals told us that they felt the skills element of CfE was pushed aside with the introduction of the new qualifications and more importantly we heard that the original reasons as to why the qualifications were introduced and the role they were intended to play within the bigger picture of CfE was forgotten.

 

We were surprised to also hear that, despite the national conversation taking place in 2002, which engaged a wide cross-section of society in the idea of curriculum reform, implementation of CfE only began in 2010.The scale of this type of change, the complexity and time involved should not be underestimated and, critically, should be clearly articulated to all involved.

 

Individuals we spoke to also reflected on gaps they thought were present during the design and implementation of CfE, and through these conversations we were able to learn the importance of having a clear, unifying long-term plan that includes and reaches beyond the compulsory education community.  For example, we heard that some areas of the business community felt that they were not given the opportunity to co-develop the new curriculum, whilst others felt that CfE missed the opportunity to embed skills into the curriculum.

 

Conversations in Wales

To form an assessment of how curriculum reform is perceived amongst the four communities in Wales, we interviewed individuals to understand their current involvement with curriculum development and also gathered their perspectives on how they felt the progress of curriculum development was going so far.

 

Almost all people we spoke to in Wales spoke positively about what the new curriculum was trying to achieve, and recognised the potential it could have for young learners. The most popular hope we heard was that the new curriculum will bring equal opportunities for all learners due to its flexible nature.

 

It was interesting to hear that although some people felt informed and engaged about curriculum development, this was not the case for everyone, even within the same sectors, illustrating that communication and space for engagement remains a key challenge. For example, within the further education sector, only those that sat on the AoLE groups tended to report they felt more engaged and informed whereas the rest of the further education sector reported feeling less so.  

 

Everyone we spoke to felt that they had knowledge, experiences and contacts that could benefit the development and delivery of the new curriculum but did not always feel they had the opportunity to contribute. They did however point out that capacity is a real issue, and that any ask has to be clearly articulated and realistic.

 

People we spoke were also aware of some of the big challenges that could arise during this reform, with the most common being around the introduction of any new qualifications and implications it could have on young people in Wales, particularly cautious of not wanting to face similar issues that were encountered during the introduction of the Welsh Baccalaureate. Other concerns included the progression to skills-based learning and the impact future PISA results could have on the trajectory of the new curriculum.

 

Next Steps

Reflecting on the conversations in Scotland and Wales, we have made eight recommendations to help ensure the further education, higher education, skills and business communities are involved during the design and implementation of Wales’ new curriculum.

 

They are:

  1. The Welsh Government should ensure the next phase of development of the curriculum in Pioneer Schools should require the exploration of links and engagement with local community partners.  
  2. The Welsh Government should develop a programme of communication and engagement with each interested sector, communicating a shared narrative in a meaningful and accessible format.
  3. The Welsh Government and sector representatives need to communicate actively with the further education, higher education, skills and business communities during both the design and implementation of the new curriculum, to ensure the scale and pace of reform is well understood.
  4. Further education, higher education, skills and business communities need to be empowered to share the conversations they are having with regard to curriculum development, and this may require additional resource from the Welsh Government.
  5. The Welsh Government should ensure that a refreshed accountability framework is in place for the period of implementation which measures the success of the new curriculum against its four key purposes, whilst taking account of the continued demands of schools to deliver an existing programme.
  6. Welsh Government should ensure it has the resource and capacity to provide strategic leadership and support communications which allow schools and other partners to deliver the ambitions of the new curriculum in practice.
  7. The Welsh Government should ensure that effective, meaningful engagement with children, young people and parents is a continuous feature of both curriculum design and implementation.
  8. The Welsh Government should ensure that its proposals are accessible to a broad range of interested parties, including children, young people and parents, and professionals outside the compulsory education sector.

 

We hope that our report’s findings and today’s launch event is only the start of a much wider conversation and will increase the involvement of those beyond the school gates with the biggest change to education we’re likely to see for a generation.

 

Photo by Thomas Kolnowski on Unsplash

 

Halima Begum is Policy & Communications Officer at the Institute of Welsh Affairs

4 thoughts on “Common Purposes

  1. .

    These comments refer to the full report entitled Common Purposes
    The implications of curriculum reform in Wales for further education, higher education, skills and business. Click on Wales (7.02.19) provided a summary of at the report’s launch on 7.02.19

    A title of a report whether it be on education, or other subjects, is often the spur to sit down and begin reading in anticipation of learning something new or being brought up-to-date. So it was with the title of this report with specific reference to the various progression routes for young people post-compulsory education. The report is interesting and helpful, though there are those experienced in the world of education who may view the report as restating familiar practices, successful or otherwise. This is not necessarily a criticism; it is always useful to reflect on the degree of implementation of earlier Welsh Government initiatives.

    It’s just a thought, though, whether the report’s recommendations will have greater substantial influence on respective Welsh Government personnel if more of those consulted were working in an FE college. Of the 60 listed as being consulted, in the appendices, just 4 are working in an FE college (Wales). Not one of the 18 consulted in Scotland was an FE practitioner. I can understand the need to consult with those in senior positions and policy makers, but of course FE teachers and managers will have similar and other perspective on curriculum change, implementation and consolidation to those not employed by FE colleges. I acknowledge though that others were consulted in addition to those listed.

    In support of the above comment, amongst the main interface and progression for students immediately post-compulsory education is further education; this includes full-time and part-time day attendance, apprentices and those beginning their A levels or vocational courses in a college of further education

    On other matters the report in the Foreword begins with ‘Curriculum reform is something that typically only occurs once every generation, which means there is no simple blueprint to follow or very little expertise in how curriculum reform should be undertaken’. This assertion might be readily accepted, and I do in part, in respect of the essence of substantive curriculum reform, but to follow through on the assertion… very little expertise in how curriculum reform should be undertaken’ is a moot point. There is considerable curriculum reform expertise within FE, though not as extensive, I agree, as that needed to implement successfully the recommendations of this report as they relate to Successful Futures by Professor Graham Donaldson; but the expertise I refer to in FE is gained from implementing, close on, 20 Welsh Government related further education curriculum policy reports, since the creation of the Assembly.

    You note that the ‘technical language often used within curriculum reform was seen as a significant barrier to businesses understanding what curriculum reform meant for them and how they could contribute.’ Perhaps the following sentence is what you mean as an example of ‘… technical language…’ Any new accountability framework will be subject to challenge and critique, and it is vital that it is developed in a transparent, collaborative manner that is accessible to all partners, not just those involved in compulsory education. It needs to build a shared understanding of the nature of the journey that implementation will take and what meaningful progress looks like.

    Notwithstanding my remarks, those experienced in the world of education ( all sectors, management, policies, teaching…) I’m sure will find the report useful, for it is always helpful to be reminded of lessons learned from the past along with new insights in the context of current Welsh Government priorities.

    However in ending this commentary, it is revealing to note your finding that, ‘It was interesting to hear that although some people felt informed and engaged about curriculum development, this was not the case for everyone, even within the same sectors, illustrating that communication and space for engagement remains a key challenge. For example, within the further education sector, only those that sat on the AoLE (your acronym) groups tended to report they felt more engaged and informed whereas the rest of the further education sector reported feeling less so.’ This is a most crucial remark in respect of previous Welsh Government curriculum initiatives and reinforces directly several of the report’s recommendations.

    Former FE college vice principal, lecturer UCC, AoC Beacon Award Assessor, Governor of secondary school. Currently Chair of Welsh medium primary school, co-opted governor of Cardiff and Vale College, Reader of Queen’s Awards FHE, Director of Agored Cymru

  2. Hello Brenig, thank you for your comment and detailed read of our report. You’re absolutely right – our report targets the further education, higher education, skills and business communities, along with Welsh Government, and so part of our approach was to present information which will already be very familiar to those in the education community to a different audience. We hope that it brings all these sectors up to speed with what is happening and encourages debate.

    We acknowledge that there are many other voices that need to be heard, beyond those that we spoke to. However, the resources available to the project – time, staff, and money – meant we had to make tough choices and so prioritised speaking to those listed in the report. As you mentioned in your comment, and as we highlighted in our report, we recognise that all these communities, including the further education sector have a lot of expertise and experience to offer towards the development of Wales’ new curriculum and hope that this project catalyses these discussions. We offer the report in that spirit – that it’s the start of a much wider conversation across Wales.

  3. Thank you Halima for writing to me. Explaining your intention, the purpose of the project and recommendations, provides a necessary critical prompt to review my comments in a fresh policy context. It serves to be reminded that I retired from full-time FE 11 years ago.

    I wish you well, and others, in assisting the further development and implementation of the curriculum reforms through the report’s recommendations.

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