BlogKirsty Williams

The Welsh Government has published its new national education plan. Here, writing exclusively for Yr Athrofa, Education Secretary Kirsty Williams presents her ambitious vision for education in Wales…

In Welsh education, we are building on strong foundations. The global experts on education performance, the OECD, recently recognised government and the sector are working closely together and there is a commitment to improvement “visible at all levels of the education system”.

Our action plan – Education in Wales: Our National Mission – is not a document that’s been cooked up in a government back-office. It’s the result of being open to ideas, feedback and review.

The international expert community, including the OECD, is helping to shape our leadership development, our focus on well-being and professional learning opportunities. Our pioneer schools are working in partnership on the curriculum and making huge strides in digital competency.

Our partners in Estyn, the unions, the consortia, Qualifications Wales and the Education Workforce Council are making crucial contributions to a genuine self-improving system.

Most importantly, parents and learners themselves, with teachers, demanding the very best from our education system. This is why we describe these education reforms as a national mission.

We have a collective responsibility to raise standards, reduce the attainment gap and deliver a system that is a source of genuine national pride and public confidence.

Schools have to prepare our young people for jobs that have not yet been created and challenges that we are yet to encounter. Quite frankly – at a learner, school and national level – education has never been more important.

This mission is about setting and achieving the very highest expectations for our young people, for our teaching profession and for our country. Already we have much to be proud of, but there is recognition that, together, we can be even better.

Our plan marks a crucial point on that journey. We’ve reflected on the OECD’s clear advice to us. Stay the course, but do more to communicate and clarify. Focus on leadership and deliver a new curriculum in a timely manner.

Our plan sets out the actions the Welsh Government will continue to take to keep improving the education system, including:

  • Reducing class sizes;
  • Reforming teacher training;
  • Strengthening support for learners with Additional Learning Needs;
  • Establishing a national approach to long-term career development for teachers;
  • Establishing a new National Academy for Educational Leadership;
  • Reducing unnecessary bureaucracy for teachers;
  • Investing £1.1bn to upgrade the quality of school buildings.

I know from my visits right across Wales that there is much shared optimism and much word-class practice. There is plenty we’re getting right.

I also know that there have also been some myths and misinformation about the new curriculum, our action plan is clear about the way forward.

I have taken the time to reflect on conversations with teachers, parents, educators and unions, and the challenge and advice from the scrutiny committee in the Assembly.

It is right that we roll-out the new curriculum rather than introduce it as a big bang overnight one September, we must also provide the right preparation time for schools and teachers.

Not time to stand still, but time to provide feedback, further engage with the new curriculum and be fully prepared for the new approach.

The new curriculum and assessment arrangements will be available for schools to feedback, test and refine in Easter 2019.

Following that period, all schools will have access to the final curriculum from 2020, allowing them to get fully ready and prepared for statutory roll-out in September 2022.

It will be introduced from nursery to Year 7 in 2022, rolling into Year 8 for 2023, Year 9 in 2024 and so on as each cohort moves through.

As the OECD said in its recent review: “To support the realisation of its education objectives and ultimately its vision of the Welsh learner, Wales should continue its curriculum reform… ensuring that its reform journey is comprehensive and effective.”

Together, we will deliver on our new curriculum, taking the time to get it absolutely right. Building in that extra time doesn’t mean slowing down.

Our plan sets out clear aims – Ensuring a high-quality education profession; Identifying and inspiring leaders to raise standards; Inclusive schools dedicated to excellence, equity and well-being; and Improved robust assessment, evaluation and accountability within a self-improving system.

Making sure each and every learner has the same chance to reach the highest standards is at the very heart of this mission.

We are supporting our pupils from the most disadvantaged backgrounds through the Pupil Development Grant, which we are increasing and extending.

We can always do more, but we are reducing the attainment gap and there are countless stories from parents and teachers about how the Pupil Development Grant has opened up transformative opportunities and experiences. Our action plan brings that same commitment to raising standards for all.

It is fundamental that we support a high-quality teaching profession, prioritising on-going professional learning and strong leadership, which sets and delivers on high expectations for our leaners, schools and whole system.

I’m confident that we are working together to address certain practices that lowered expectations and gamed the system. If we are always committed to putting the interest of the learner first – and ensuring they can reach their potential – then we won’t go far wrong.

Our national mission belongs to each and every learner, parent, teacher and leader in Wales. These are exciting times for education in Wales. A shared mission to inspire healthy, enterprising confident young people equipped with the knowledge and skills the need now and for the future.

It won’t always be easy. Satisfaction will come through even higher standards, better futures for our young people, and recognition from parents, business and the international community that Wales is leading the way.

Our innovative approach – and willingness to work and learn with the best in the world is already attracting attention. But we can achieve even more. We are learning from the best so that we can be even better.

There has never been a better time to be involved in Welsh education. Now is the time to make a difference, together we can achieve our national mission.

  • Kirsty Williams is Cabinet Secretary for Education