It is an exciting time to be a teacher in Wales. The implementation of the new curriculum is an opportunity for change. This ‘shake up’ of education can seem completely overwhelming because of the extent of the change, but I am sure that many teachers and parents will agree that the current stress level of pupils and staff is at an unhealthy and unsustainable level and something substantial had to give.
As with the implementation of anything new, the challenges that this presents for schools, teachers and parents are numerous. These challenges range from time resource to the training of teachers. But let’s focus on three main things which are important for the new curriculum to be successful, and hopefully inspire at least a small amount of hope in us that this can work.
Teachers need to engage with the curriculum and dissect it
“How do you eat an elephant?” the old adage goes, “One bite at a time.” And that saying is certainly true in this case: the curriculum and the challenges it faces is far less daunting when it is broken down into small pieces. The pure length of the curriculum documentation calls for teachers to sit down and dedicate an hour or two to go through it. During the period that the curriculum is in draft form, it is important that teachers are given the opportunity to take time to reflect on the document and to ask probing questions of it. It’s well recognised that teachers are already time poor. A moment to reflect is a rare commodity in the teaching profession, which means that we often rely on skim reading or CPD courses to help us understand new ideas. For this sea-change to work to its maximum effect in Wales, we need to be more intentional than that.
Collaboration across departments within and outside of the ‘AoLEs’
One of the focal points of the new curriculum is the idea of an “integrated” or “interdisciplinary” approach. This is not a new idea in teaching, with many schools doing cross-curricular projects or thematic work. Hopefully the new curriculum builds on areas that we are already familiar with. That being said, what’s different here is that collaborative working across departments needs to be deeper than delivering the same overarching idea to pupils.
If pupils in Wales are to benefit from the possibilities of the innovative approach in the draft curriculum, we must look to pool resources between subject areas in order to create a cohesive and progressive scheme of work.This would be in stark contrast to the current ways of working and educating future generations in Wales providing a broader experience of the world and a deeper understanding of the context of the knowledge.
Teachers must become confident in designing schemes of work
In the delivery of any new idea in teaching (and there’s always something new!), schools and teachers face the challenge of private sector companies playing on the lack of confidence teachers sometimes feel and selling them products that may seem like a ‘quick fix’. One key benefit of the draft curriculum is the amount of freedom and flexibility that it allows in the design of schemes of work. This is a great opportunity if we are able to properly grasp it in our schools. Wales is a diverse nation and increasingly so. It is vital that we recognise the changing society that we are living in and respond to this within the classroom. For example, a city centre school’s context is vastly different to the context of a school in a rural area of Wales. Off the shelf schemes of work will be rigid and not appreciate the nuances of the context in which schools, teachers and pupils find themselves in communities all around Wales.
For the new curriculum to be successful, we will need to be mindful of not allowing companies to provide what may seem like an easy fix: pre-designed curriculums that we simply buy and implement. If we fall prey to this, then we risk missing out on the key benefits of the curriculum: to tailor the education that is provided in Wales to the unique cultural identity that we share and that will continue to develop over the coming years.
Finally, we should also realise that every year in Wales, a whole new cohort of teachers is trained in our universities. This offers us a unique opportunity to provide support to schools at a higher education level by ensuring that new teachers are well skilled in delivering on the aims of the new curriculum. As we’ve already seen, the potential for this new curriculum to have a profound impact on future generations is great. But will teachers have the space, creativity and confidence to deliver a radically different approach to education in Wales? Time will tell.
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