Curriculum for Wales, what’s the point?

By Eithne Hughes, ASCL Cymru Director

The original point of diverging from the prescribed content of the national curriculum is that schools in Wales will have the flexibility and freedoms to deliver a curriculum for learners that is engaging, relevant and exciting. The ‘why’ of this innovative strategy is captured in the four purposes which are supposed to be the drivers in curriculum design, assessment and delivery. You will struggle to meet an educator in Wales who can’t tell you that the four purposes are to create: 
  • ambitious, capable learners who are ready to learn throughout their lives
  • healthy, confident individuals who are ready to lead fulfilling lives as valued members of society
  • enterprising, creative contributors who are ready to play a full part in life and work
  • ethical, informed citizens who are ready to be citizens of Wales and the world
Who could argue that we do not want learners to be all the above? The purposes are laudable, worthy and unimpeachable. 

Subjects are grouped together under six Areas of Learning and Experience including expressive arts, health and wellbeing. These groupings will combine the range of traditional subjects which, under the old system, would have been taught separately. 

Ready for delivery
Many leaders with their staff will be well on their way to designing their school curriculum in readiness for statutory delivery in September 2022. 

We are rapidly moving from the off-the-shelf national curriculum which gets translated into schemes of work then lesson plans, to an expectation that the profession can design a curriculum in collaboration with other subject specialists to deliver against those four purposes. The intention is that we have an inter-related, connected, coherent and broad curriculum based on a loose framework for guidance developed by Pioneer Schools

The weight of responsibility is pretty clear. This is significant. 

If schools are designing and delivering their own interpretation of what is required albeit within the national framework set down as guidance, then how will coherence in the system be ensured?  Indeed, how will we balance knowledge, experience and competencies to fulfil the curriculum’s ambitions? How, ultimately, do we balance out all the factors at play in a school so that the curriculum is neither whimsical, idiosyncratic nor the national curriculum by another name? We have to and must trust the profession to get this right for the sake of these learners.  

There are, however, other factors at play which must be addressed if all of these birth pains are to produce a successful outcome. 

Coherent system
We absolutely must remove the ‘command and control’ approach of accountability. If this is the new curriculum for Wales, then this must be matched by a coherent system moving in a harmonious dance to an agreed choreography. The choreographer is the creator of this new curriculum, Graham Donaldson. He espouses the principles of subsidiarity. Of teacher professionalism. And we welcome this with open arms, however, the system needs to move away from compliance and obedience towards a more nuanced and mature system of self-evaluation and reflection and I mean in deeds not words. The profession cannot both create and conform, innovate, have subsidiarity and be expected to be subservient. 

Learners’ readiness not system readiness
The second potential impediment is that of the qualifications system. Our curriculum purpose is built on equity. It is designed to serve the individual by mapping out their progression steps and throwing away the age-related notion of expected outcomes. This is about learners’ readiness and not system readiness. 

However, when the learner reaches Year 10, the subject groupings evaporate. They choose what they want to study at GCSE level against the range of traditional subjects. 

Can a qualification system deliver for the individual? We saw in 2019 that this was not the case. The exam board wants comparable outcomes and the individual is reduced to a candidate number. So, is the golden thread cut at the age of 14? Potentially. This is a discussion that ASCL Cymru among many others is having with Qualifications Wales to try to untangle. If this is not radically reformed, the backwash into the curriculum delivery and design will leave us back where we started and a wasted opportunity. 

So, what is the point? This is worth us getting right for the good of the profession and the young people we serve. We do, however, need system coherence, patience, and a recognition that the profession will work to get this right. After all, the four purposes can equally apply to every leader, teacher and support worker. 

Eithne Hughes is ASCL Cymru Director. 

Posted: 15/06/2022 15:09:44