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The blueprint for Wales’ new national curriculum is nearing completion, and with it comes the hope of an exciting new era for the nation’s education system. Here, in the first instalment of a two-part blog, Ty Golding explores the challenges and opportunities presented by the innovative new approach to education in Wales…

It’s 2020 and there is now a direct line of sight to Tuesday, January 28, and the publication of our new curriculum – A Curriculum for Wales.

In my experience, the wider education landform that we see emerging before our very eyes, here in Wales, is one that has been moulded and shaped heavily by numbers.

Some of the headline numbers include its five years in the making with millions of pounds of investment, thousands of practitioners, hundreds of wider stakeholders, scores of academics, dozens of education organisations, a raft of policy leads, several secondees from schools four purposes and arguably, three ministers for education and two years left to prepare. However, there still remains a number of unanswered questions.

What will be the product of all those numbers? Will the final product be enough to meet the ambition, and most importantly, the needs of our national education system? Will the profession be supported in understanding the new curriculum algorithm and most importantly, will they be ready to realise it? Let us consider each of these in turn. 

What will be the product of all those numbers?

The numbers will deliver more than just a curriculum, of that there can be no doubt. For the positive and optimistic amongst us, this reform is an opportunity to ensure that the monumental investment of energy, intellect and finances will be truly greater than the sum of its parts.

Curriculum may be the lens through which the majority of my teacher colleagues elect to view the spectrum of reform but it isn’t the only lens. Much like a jigsaw, the enormity and potential of this reform is only truly visible when we stop focussing on the individual pieces and their minutiae, take a step back and try to see the connection and relationships of its constituent parts. 

The most notable components of the reform span an appreciable timescale, the tendrils of which are far reaching throughout the Welsh education system, beginning in 2016 with the advent of the Digital Competence Framework (DCF). Subsequently, we have witnessed the articulation of a national vision in 2017 with Education in Wales: Our National Mission, the arrival of revised ‘professional standards’, the new Additional Learning Needs (ALN) Act, the National Approach to Professional Learning (the latter three coming in 2018) and a draft version of the curriculum in April 2019.

Our reimagined Evaluation and Improvement Arrangements are still very much beyond the horizon. Hopefully, their current elusiveness remains the only thing that they and their fortunes have in common with the Eugene O’Neill play of that name.  

Will the final product be enough to meet the ambition, and most importantly, the needs of our national educational system?

In my opinion, it has been easy to identify through early sight of the curriculum, public commentary and the official feedback that there remains a recurring risk, one present throughout the process. The risk being that the profession, and those with a wider stake in education, need to thoroughly understand and know about this curriculum in order to be able to, and even want to enact this curriculum successfully.

The definition of success is very much yet to be fully explored, debated and agreed – made all the more challenging by the sheer volume of stakeholders with often conflicting agendas.

Seeing isn’t always believing. I have numerous personal experiences and listened to countless anecdotes from colleagues that demonstrate there are colleagues, who not only lack any belief in the ability of our new curriculum to move learning and teaching forward, but in fact still don’t believe it will or should ever ‘happen’! 

Opposing views, challenge and informed debate are all part of a healthy process of acclimatisation, evaluation and improvement – ie. change. However, it is alarming that these opinions, admittedly to varying degrees, are held by some who find themselves closest to its development and entrusted to ensure its success.

Will the profession be supported in understanding the new curriculum algorithm and most importantly, will they be ready to realise it?

Aspects of Wales’ education reform are increasingly the focus of a slowly maturing national professional discourse but none more so than that of our curriculum. Social media, the press and the offerings of private consultants aren’t always supporting preparation for readiness. What they often do is provide us with an easy vista of two things.

Firstly, the lack of depth of engagement and thinking time needed to understanding the curriculum properly and secondly the unhelpfulness often caused by the fuelling of unnecessary polarised debate. What they don’t do is help in focussing our attentions on the necessary professional learning needed by all. 

For all the planning, dialogue and development I have encountered at a national and school level and having attempted to articulate my thoughts regarding the above three questions I find myself asking three more. Which I aim to address in a sequel to this blog:

1.    What is meant by curriculum?

2.    What is A Curriculum for Wales?

3.    How will we move from knowing about to knowing how to do?

Ensuring that the workforce is prepared to realise this curriculum will take a shared understanding of how we in Wales have first explored, then debated and finally agreed upon the answers to those very questions. It is only in this way that we can have clarity and take appropriate action.

If this is indeed a reform fashioned by numbers then let us not overlook the most important number of all – the number one. We live and work in a remarkably diverse, complex and nuanced system but we are one nation, we need one vision and we only get one chance to provide an education to children for their one future.        

  • Ty Golding is Headteacher at Ysgol y Ddraig, in the Vale of Glamorgan, and a student on Yr Athrofa’s Doctorate in Education programme

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