Wales’ new curriculum and qualifications

Kirsty Williams urges people to get involved with the new curriculum and future qualifications

Keeping it simple, strategic and focused on standards – three important reminders from the IWA’s curriculum reform event a fortnight ago.


Keir Bloomer’s speech at the launch of the IWA’s Common Purposes report was clear about the pitfalls and successes of Scotland’s curriculum journey.


Of course, my officials and many others within our system have had regular discussions with our friends in Scotland.


And of course our engagement has gone much further than that, working with New Zealand, the Netherlands, provinces and states in North America, Ireland, and of course not forgetting colleagues from across the Severn Bridge.


As Mark Priestley, Professor of Education at Stirling University and sometime critic of the Scottish experience, has put it:

“Wales is heeding the lessons from other countries…and have put in place principles and processes that address some of the criticisms… (with) the importance of knowledge foregrounded in the curriculum guidance.”


One of the most significant lessons for us to heed from Scotland is, as Keir pointed out, the problems that arose from introducing new examinations and qualifications too soon in the realisation of the new curriculum.


That’s why it’s so important for us to take the time to get this process right.


The independent regulator Qualifications Wales has now written to me to outlining how they will be considering the new curriculum and its implications.


Once the draft curriculum is made available in April, they will build on the co-construction approach that has been central to the development of the new curriculum – ensuring that teachers, students and others within the education sector play a central role in helping to shape future qualifications.


Employers, colleges and universities will also play a vital role in this process – reflecting how important qualifications are to progression into education and employment. I have made this clear to Qualifications Wales in my reply to their letter.


We saw earlier this month that the existence of GCSEs is being challenged in England, despite it being a recognised brand. Qualifications Wales have said that their “view is that the GCSE title offers substantial flexibility and could accommodate a wide range of different qualification design features to support alignment with the new curriculum”.


I accept this proposition, but in my reply to them I have been careful not to seek to limit the review to any sort of status-quo.  It’s important to add, however, that no decisions will be taken about the range of qualifications that will be needed or how they will be designed until extensive consultation has taken place.


Schools accountability along with qualifications, as we heard from the Common Purposes event, are significant drivers for secondary schools in particular. In order to change behaviour we also need to change mindsets – at government, local government and school level. This week I published more information about our approach to accountability moving more towards a system of self-evaluation for improvement and greater schools autonomy.  Estyn also announced how they will take forward the recommendations in ‘A Learning Inspectorate’ showing how, over the next few years, the work of the Inspectorate will evolve and change to support the embedding of the new curriculum and the new evaluation and improvement arrangements. All of this will be subject to extensive consultation to make sure parents in particular understand and have confidence in the new system.


So, over the coming period, we are entering an important phase of engagement and preparation – not just about qualifications but the new curriculum as a whole.


We’ve worked hard over the last couple of years to reach out, but I know that we must now re-double our efforts.


At the Commons Purposes event, I welcomed the IWA’s work in spotting the challenges ahead and giving me and officials recommendations on next steps.


I am now able to confirm that we will soon roll-out a new programme of engagement, going beyond the school system.


This builds on my regular Twitter Q&As, ongoing parental engagement, education is changing online campaign, podcasts and much more.


In the coming months, I will lead Our National Mission roadshow, engaging directly with non-school audiences and stakeholders.


This is not instead of working with schools and practitioners – it will build on that, run alongside and also involve them where relevant and appropriate.


We will do this face to face at events, but also digitally and online.


And I know that there is an audience across Wales keen to learn more and to offer ideas on our education reforms.


But this is not a job for me alone. The best advocates and presenters are those teachers who’ve been leading the way on these reforms.


I also realise that many of you reading this blog will be school governors, parents or engaged in different ways with your local schools.


Make sure you get involved and ask questions about the new curriculum, challenge us, get onto the website in April and see the full draft detail, encourage your colleagues and staff to do the same.


All articles published on Click on Wales are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.

Kirsty Williams is Wales' Education Minister

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