Finola Wilson considers the support teachers in Wales will need to become curriculum-makers
The stakes have never been higher for teachers across Wales. For months if not years, Curriculum for Wales 2022 has been heralded as the new curriculum for the profession by the profession. Indeed, those responsible for the development of the new curriculum, the pioneer schools, should be congratulated for all the hard work and focus they have shown throughout the process so far. It is, however, most definitely crunch-time now!
What has been left unsaid is, if the education reform process doesn’t yield the results we have been led to expect, then we can clearly see who will shoulder the blame… teachers. The pressure does not just belong to pioneer teachers. Kirsty Williams, Minister for Education, has exhorted all teachers and schools in Wales to become pioneers and as an education consultancy working to support schools in Wales, our focus is currently on supporting teachers to make sense of the new curriculum and do what works for pupils.
Schools have until July 19th, just 10 weeks, to digest and feedback on all 485 pages of the draft curriculum and assessment and evaluation proposals, alongside their day job. Once the refined version of the curriculum is published, they’ll have just 3 terms to innovate, trial, reflect and refine before Estyn starts inspecting their progress towards preparing for September 2022. This is without a doubt, a demanding expectation. So, what are the main changes for teachers in the way they work in the classroom and what should schools be doing now?
The draft document is a curriculum framework, not a “narrow, prescriptive curriculum”. Within the curriculum each of the 6 Areas of Learning & Experience (AoLE) are outlined by “What Matters Statements”, which describe the big ideas of each that all pupils should learn before they leave compulsory education. An example of a What Matters Statements for Language, Literacy and Communication is:
“Learners who listen and read effectively are prepared to learn throughout their lives.
Languages and literacy are fundamental to human communication. They enable us to make sense of what is heard, read and seen, and thus to develop understanding, empathy and the ability to respond effectively. The Languages, Literacy and Communication Area of Learning and Experience will provide learners with opportunities to experience spoken and written language as well as images in a range of forms and genres. The rich and varied nature of these experiences will be designed to improve learners’ ability to become creative and enterprising in their use of Welsh, English and international languages. They will also help learners to develop the skills to become unbiased and critically aware interpreters of what they hear, see and read in order to interact as capable citizens of Wales and the world.”
In practice though, it will be the Achievement Outcomes for each of these What Matters Statements that will drive planning. These are ‘I can’ and ‘I have’ statements written in teacher friendly, learner facing language, such as “I can use what I have read to engage with the wider world” for reading at broadly age 14. It is proposed that head teachers will set appropriate Achievement Outcomes at each Progression Step. In practice this may mean deciding how many pupils will achieve each age appropriate Achievement Outcome for each AoLE. So, it is crucial that teachers and school leaders understand in detail, how the draft Achievement Outcomes will work in real life.
In this crucial feedback phase, schools and teachers will need to develop their curriculum making expertise, by directly engaging with the draft documents and trialling a planning process at both a strategic and classroom level. This will ensure that they have a whole school strategic vision for their implementation process, but also that they are fully informed, ready to feedback to the pioneers for the next step in the co-construction process. Having worked with teachers in Scotland using the Curriculum for Excellence, as well as with schools in England using their knowledge-based curriculum, we recognise that removing the prescription from national curriculum documents must be balanced by a much greater level of professional learning support for teachers in all contexts and stages of development. The key question for everyone is how should this be done?
Since the introduction of the National Curriculum in 1988, the expectation for teachers has been that they should create learning that will allow them to deliver the components of the curriculum for learners. With Curriculum for Wales 2022, our teachers will be expected to identify and select the knowledge, skills and experiences that will create learners as prescribed in the 4 Purposes of our new curriculum, and then use their professional expertise to create a local school curriculum driven by the needs of their pupils and their potential to reach or surpass the Achievement Outcomes as set out in the draft curriculum.
This means identifying a canon of educational and cognitive science research that every teacher should know about, and showing teachers what this means for their pedagogical practice in the classroom. It means that all involved in supporting the planning of learning in schools need to discuss the concept of cultural capital as a catalyst to close the advantage gap. Teachers will need to understand the role knowledge plays in the ability to think critically. It means empowering teachers to take control of their own professional learning by expanding the opportunity to collaborate across Wales, the UK and beyond to see what works elsewhere and adapt it for their own context. Above all, this introduction in Wales of the teacher as curriculum maker means providing the time for teachers to learn about how to carry out this new role so that they are making a positive difference to learning.
The education reform journey for our teachers should be a professional development journey informed by research and focussed on doing what works to address the needs of their learners. Said like that, it may seem simple, but for many of our teachers, becoming a curriculum maker is a daunting new role. To make a success of our education reform process and avoid the drop in standards seen in Scotland since implementation of Curriculum for Excellence, we need to take the scale of professional learning required for our teachers seriously and provide the detailed, research-informed, focussed learning they will need over the coming decade in order to make a positive impact on the lives of the children of Wales.
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