As Wales prepares for its biggest overhaul of the national curriculum in 30 years, Nick Rogers considers whether or not England should be following suit…
In 2022 (all being well and with no further setbacks), Wales will begin rolling out its new national curriculum to all state schools across the country.
The new curriculum, designed by Professor Graham Donaldson in collaboration with teachers and pioneer schools, represents an exciting step forward in Welsh education policy.
Moving away from traditional subjects to six Areas of Learning and Experience (AoLEs), the curriculum aims to equip young people better for life, allowing them to adapt more positively to changing situations and to educate them, perhaps for the first time in such detail, about the digital world.
On the face of it, the change seems hugely positive and progressive. So, should England be following suit?
Firstly, teachers across England would jump at the opportunity to be involved in curriculum design in a way that Welsh teachers have been.
I know from my own experience that not all teachers agree with everything they have to teach in the current English curriculum.
The opportunity to be involved in designing a curriculum for a subject that you love would be welcomed by most teachers, at least initially.
This opinion may change once teachers realise how much extra work this would add on top of their already busy lives, but the idea of having a say in England’s curriculum is an attractive one.
The new focus on digital competencies is certainly attractive too, with technology moving forward so quickly and becoming (if it has not already become) such an integral part of the way the world works
But just because teachers would welcome the opportunity to help forge a new curriculum doesn’t actually mean a new curriculum is required.
Let’s look at the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests, for example.
PISA tests are taken by many countries across the world as a way of comparing their education systems.
England’s results in the 2015 PISA tests were above the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) average score for maths, reading and science.
In the same year, Wales was below average in the same three tests.
Wales may have decided to reform its curriculum because it is not performing as well as the rest of the UK. Wales is below the OECD average in PISA tests and something must be done to rectify that.
If England is performing well in the PISA tests, then why should England even consider overhauling its curriculum?
The answer is this – England should not reform its curriculum… Yet.
If the reasoning behind the reforms in Welsh education is to prevent Wales slipping further behind the rest of the UK, then the rest of the UK should sit and wait to see what happens.
The new Welsh curriculum is quite radical in terms of its development and content (although it does follow an international trend in curriculum reform), and the outcomes of such radical reform should be watched with a close eye by the rest of the UK.
For example, the development of six AoLEs, including one focused on expressive arts, seems to give all subjects equal importance and greatly interests me (which represents a stark contrast to the Progress 8 measure brought in by the UK Government which gives maths and English the mantle of the most important subjects in English schools).
But just because it looks attractive doesn’t mean England should rush to copy the Welsh reform immediately.
The only real yardstick we have to measure one country’s education system against another is the PISA tests. Therefore, policymakers in England should keep watch to see if Wales improves its PISA scores once its new curriculum has had time to settle in.
This may mean waiting for 10 years or longer before judging if the new curriculum in Wales is deemed to have been successful, but as England is performing well at the moment, we can afford to wait.
It may also give policymakers in England the chance to identify specific areas of the new Welsh curriculum that are working well and can be incorporated into the English system, while leaving behind changes that are less effective.
I would argue that any change that improves a curriculum is a positive change, so England should always consider changing its curriculum if there is a possibility that it can be improved.
However, change is not always good, and England can wait.
- Nick Rogers is a music teacher at a secondary school in London. He is also a first-year student on Yr Athrofa’s Doctorate in Education programme