Curriculum Changes in Wales

Finola Wilson

As Heraclitus said: ‘The only thing that is constant is change.’ And that’s certainly an accurate description of the education landscape in Wales. Whilst teachers in England have been dealing with the issues surrounding SATs and a new knowledge based curriculum, teachers in Wales have had curriculum change after curriculum change introduced, and the biggest is yet to come.

In September 2015 the then Labour Education Minister, Huw Lewis (no not Huey Lewis and the News, although I’m sure he gets that a lot), announced a Review of the Wales curriculum to be led by Professor Graham Donaldson. The resulting report, entitled ‘Successful Futures: Independent Review of Curriculum and Assessment Arrangements in Wales’, made 68 recommendations that the Welsh Government have accepted in full. On 21st June in Cardiff, Oxford University Press (OUP) held the ‘Developing Great Teaching’ conference ‘bringing together internationally renowned leading experts and school leaders to support effective professional learning for sustained school improvement.’ The conference was a chance for teachers and educators in Wales to come together to consider how effective professional development can prepare teachers for the changes they, as schools, will be experiencing in coming years.

As part of the conference package, we have worked with OUP to deliver a practical guide to support teachers through the changes, and towards an exciting future. So why do you need a guide like this? As a company we have been working with schools across Wales to improve pupils’ outcomes in Literacy and Numeracy across the curriculum, and one thing we are hearing on a regular basis is that schools want to know where they are going. Responsibility for developing the new curriculum lies with the 106 pioneer schools identified by Welsh Government and is divided into 3 areas:

  • Curriculum design and development
  • Digital Competence design and development
  • New Deal support for the education workforce

The pioneer schools are also supported by expert and strategic panels in all of the above areas, the members of which range from academics and leading experts in their own field, as well as Professor Donaldson himself, author of the original review. The teaching profession in Wales has received the Donaldson Review and the curriculum development process led by the pioneer schools, as a welcome change from education reform being a series of edicts handed down from central government. However, practical advice on how to prepare for the imminent changes has so far been very limited, as has actual support and resources from the pioneer schools. Support documents and events were originally timetabled to start in September 2016, but this date has been put back to September 2017. With little real information currently being shared by pioneer schools, unless you happen to be a partner of those pioneer schools, the uncertainty around issues such as whether NC Levels are on their way out is causing some head teachers real concern. It is this dearth of information and lack of transparency has been the key driver for developing this very practical support guide for middle and senior leaders in Wales.

The guide covers the following issues:

  • A timeline of curriculum changes and the impact on schools
  • Preparing for the future – an outline of the Donaldson Review and the structure of the new curriculum
  • Getting Practical – actions for change in light of the Donaldson Review
  • The 4 step school improvement cycle – Assessment for learning and its role in school improvement
  •  Managing changes to Assessment – putting the learner first through effective assessment
  • Managing staff anxiety – supporting staff through whole scale change

Next steps – practical strategies for the interim period leading up to publication of the new curriculum documents in 2018, as well as a complete list of research and guidance documents that support new curriculum developments.

The aim of the guide is to make Welsh Government guidance and advice absolutely clear, so schools feel confident they know exactly what is required of them. It also aims to list tried and tested practical strategies and solutions to aid implementation of the current changes, whilst still keeping an eye on what the future holds. The Donaldson Review is a 124 page document with 68 clear recommendations. Our guide has picked out actions from the Review that all schools, leaders, teachers and support staff can get started on right away and will have a positive impact on pupil outcomes. We’ve also included an audit tool and questionnaire to help primary schools in Wales identify good practice where it already appears and areas for further development with a clear focus on both current curriculum requirements and the demands of Donaldson.

A guide to managing curriculum change in Wales Download your free copy of the guide.

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Finola Wilson, Director of Impact School Improvement, is an experienced teacher, teacher educator and coach, and has over a decade’s experience as a Language and Literacy specialist. In her role as Senior National Support Programme Partner for CfBT Education Trust working in collaboration with Welsh Government, Finola was the strategic lead for Assessment, Recording and Reporting across Wales for the Literacy and Numeracy Framework.