Mary van den Heuvel assess the challenges and opportunities presented by the new Welsh curriculum.
The new Curriculum 2022 is filled with hope for the education profession. Will it provide a chance to deliver a great education for children and young people – the future generations – of Wales? With two days to go before the Welsh Government Consultation on the Curriculum closes, National Education Union (NEU) Cymru has had a bit of a chance to speak to our members, and find out what the opportunities and challenges look like.
Like many, we believe the principles behind the new Curriculum are welcome. With a focus on autonomy to shape the Curriculum to local circumstances, on recognising that all children are different and will learn at different paces, are hugely welcome.
Placing children and young people at the centre of everything a school does, with a real focus on learning, and ensuring assessment is linked to that learning sounds good too. And in that way, the Curriculum is very much in line with Professor Graham Donaldson’s vision, set out in ‘Successful Futures’.
A focus on pedagogy, on peer-to-peer learning for education professionals, and evidence-based practice, underpin the Four Purposes of the Curriculum 2022, which set out that children should be:
- Ambitious, capable learners who are ready to learn throughout their lives.
- Enterprising, creative contributors who are ready to play a full part in life and work.
- Ethical, informed citizens who are ready to be citizens of Wales and the world.
- Healthy, confident individuals who are ready to lead fulfilling lives as valued members of society.
Changes to Estyn go hand-in-hand with changes to the new Curriculum. The so-called ‘pause’ year is also hugely welcome. It would have been beneficial to see Estyn ‘paused’ for a longer period – to make sure the inspectorate too has a chance to learn and develop its new approach.
But there is much to welcome from Professor Graham Donaldson’s review of Estyn, and Estyn’s apparent embrace of the recommendations in “A learning Inspectorate”. The planned removal of ‘judgements’ on schools is also hugely helpful, as is a move towards school self-evaluation. And this goes some way towards the aspiration of removing a ‘high stakes’ accountability culture, which risks not focusing on true assessment for learning.
So, lots to welcome in principle. But of course, there are some aspects of the new Curriculum that education professionals – both teachers and support staff in schools – will need some support with to make this aspiration the reality we all want it to be. If children really are to be ambitious and capable learners, Welsh Government needs to make sure that the system is ready.
What more do education professionals need?
Whilst an extra INSET (In Service Training) day during the summer term for the next three years is welcomed, it is not enough in itself to ensure the new Curriculum will be successful. If Wales has anything to learn from the roll out of Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland, it is that it’s better to take the time to get this right.
So extra time is needed, beyond the additional INSET days. Teachers will take time to work with colleagues, learn from best practice and share expertise. Support staff should expect to be involved, and as valued professionals, should have access to time and training, to help contribute to their school’s plans.
As the Minister announced last year, Welsh Government has invested £24 million in training, which is not a small amount of money. But it is money which comes with high expectations from everyone involved in education, as there must be equitable access to professional training, matched to an individual’s development needs.
Assessment and accountability are key to getting the curriculum right – and a focus on formative assessment is welcome. Although this is an area of the consultation which could include more detail, as how children and young people are assessed will under-pin the whole structure of the Curriculum.
It would be remiss of me not to mention funding. Funding for the new Curriculum, as with the rest of the reform agenda, is critical. We know the Welsh Government has faced considerable challenge from the funding settlement, not least since the tightening of Westminster austerity.
Just last week the Children, Young People and Education Committee published a report into School Funding. The Report highlights the need to establish what it costs to educate a child in Wales – to establish a funding-floor, if you like. It says this must include the cost of the planned Curriculum. Because if we are serious then this needs to be a priority, not just for education, but for everyone in Wales.
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