What does the future hold for Welsh education?
Having read Hollie Anderton’s post Wales: A Change For The Better about curriculum reform in Wales, I would like to respond to some of the points she makes.
Tread Your Own Path
There is no doubt that change has to happen in order for children and young people in Wales to be given the opportunities they deserve but, first and foremost, Wales is not, in any way, shape or form following England. In fact, the previous Welsh Education Minister, Huw Lewis stated almost a year ago, “We’re not emulating England, we’re emulating the best.”
The perception that ‘poor old Wales’ trots along holding on to England’s coat tail, is no longer helpful nor relevant. The most significant difference is that the Welsh Government and the overwhelming number of teachers are working together, with common purpose, and there is a collective will for these reforms to be successfully enacted.
We are seeking to learn from countries whose education systems are recognised as successful whilst creating a curriculum that works within our context. The OECD has provided welcome encouragement that we are on the right course, and helpful advice regarding areas needing further development.
The proposed changes are radical and exciting, not least because they are based on the concept of subsidiarity. Teachers in Wales have the unprecedented opportunity to shape the curriculum and this is being led by groups of Pioneer Schools. It is undeniable that there have been some recent rumblings from schools not directly involved at this stage, that they don’t know what is happening and feel they are being excluded.
There is a need for all teachers to engage with the process and to take some personal responsibility for doing so, as well as a need for leaders to facilitate professional discussion and activity within their own schools and across clusters. Pioneer Schools are also ready and willing to share their work with others.
I appreciate something new, that furthers my understanding, every time I go back to it.
I would also advise them to follow the Curriculum for Wales blog to keep up to date with developments.
Blend And Innovate
There isn’t a ‘right answer’ to the question about how we should be teaching; Donaldson’s section on pedagogy is clear that there is not one single way, but that effective teaching blends different approaches. Schools are encouraged to be innovative, applying the key principles of the Donaldson review, and ESTYN has clarified the stance it will take on this during the period prior to implementation.
For so long, teachers have been told exactly what to do (and in many instances, also how to do it) that it is, and will continue to be difficult to get used to the fact that the profession is to be trusted in a way that very few practising teachers will have experienced before.
However, I can already hear the cries of, “But what about consistency and accountability?” There is no doubt that the expectations of teachers will be raised. Look at this tweet from @ImpactWales which is a helpful sketchnote outlining the need for a ‘different type of teaching professional’ as described by the OECD’s Andreas Schleicher. The implications for initial teacher education and training in Wales are obvious and it is no coincidence that this too has undergone a review and is being reformed.
Teachers must also take responsibility for their own learning and need time for this. Read, research and reflect are my ‘3 Rs’ for teachers and I believe provision should be made for this within directed time.
Where accountability is concerned, Professor Donaldson again recommends some significant changes. He devotes a whole section to the subject in chapter 7 in which he outlines a rigorous model of accountability but one that is based around the four curriculum purposes. Test and teacher assessment data would also be included, with this caveat:
Assessment data must, of course, inform broader evaluations of how well a school is serving its children and young people. However, assessment data should inform such judgements in ways that minimise known distorting tendencies. It should also not be the sole source of evidence for evaluation but should contribute to a broader evidence base, reducing its prominence and minimising possible distorting effects. (p.102)
We are, I agree, in a slightly messy interim situation where levels are concerned, as we are currently marrying these with the age-related expectations in our revised programmes of study for English, Welsh and maths, but most teachers are managing well, knowing that this is only a temporary situation.
In Successful Futures, there is a complete chapter on assessment which outlines a vision of a progression continuum with achievement outcomes and progression steps at 5, 8, 11, 14 and 16. There is also a strong message about the place of national standardised testing and the use of data going forward. Professor Donaldson reassures that,
…there is scope to revise the current arrangements to reduce the negative impact of these tests while retaining their useful functions. (p.81).
So Hollie, and all other lovely colleagues in Wales, let’s keep the faith, work together and step up so we can seize this amazing opportunity to be part of something that has the potential to change the educational paradigm here.
Karen Beeby is a primary teacher with 25 years’ experience, currently seconded to the South East Wales regional school improvement service as a Teacher Adviser for English and literacy.
She completed her initial training at Exeter University where she specialised in English and Drama. Karen is currently studying for a Masters’ level Post-Graduate Certificate in Curriculum Development.
Her additional areas of interest include ALN and wellbeing.