D(onaldson) Day for the Curriculum

25 Feb

Today is a pretty important day for Welsh education.  Without trying to build it up too much but it has the potential to be possibly the start of the most important change that Welsh education has faced since devolution.  The issue is of course the publication of the curriculum review conducted by Professor Donaldson.

Firstly, I think it is important to put on record just how much of a breath of fresh air Professor Donaldson has been.  Too often since I took up my post in the education sector I’ve seen consultations and reviews conducted where you got the sense that the conclusions had been drawn from the very start.  I’ve seen policies devised and initiated with little consideration given to the views expressed by the sector and wider stakeholders.  To suggest that teachers had become sceptics of consultation is a understatment.  It is no doubt one reason that it has been increasingly hard to either encourage engagement from the profession at the development stage or support for implementation.

What we’ve seen throughout the curriculum review is a commitment to talk to those in our classrooms, and critically, to listen in return.  Professor Donaldson has shown a real willingness to secure an impressive level of knowledge of the Welsh education system.  I’ve been grateful for the extended time he has given to me and my employer in hearing what our members have had to say, including taking part in the curriculum conference we staged at the end of 2014.  Officials with the Welsh Government who have worked with Professor Donaldson on this project should also be praised for their openness of approach.

I intend to write a few different posts on the conclusions and recommendations of the review.  Given the thoughtful and detailed nature by which Professor Donaldson has penned his report I feel it is only right that I make more considered and in-depth blogs at a later date.  However, I did want to give an initial sweeping response.

On the face of it what Professor Donaldson has put in place is the starting point for developing a far more flexible and teacher orientated curriculum.  The whole child is to be considered with a clear line of sight from 3-16, including greater focus on ethics, health and wellbeing with smoother transitions established with the scrapping of key stages.  This is all very welcome news for those practitioners who have become increasingly frustrated with a system that has dehumanized the sector.  There are clear undertones that the changes put in place in recent years were at best misguided, particularly on testing.  What Professor Donaldson is doing is laying the ground work for is a curriculum with new values.  A system without such an emphasis on testing and accountability but on pedagogy and pupil development with assessment and accountability reinforcing those conditions rather than restricting them.

The fact that the Education Minister has openly spoken of empowering the profession by working with them to develop this new curriculum, based on their expertise and knowledge, is extremely promising.  There will of course be a challenge to the profession now.  That is a challenge that may be difficult to meet in the short-term with excessive workloads and a profession that have, to an extent where curriculum planning is concerned, been somewhat de-professionalised due to the micromanagement from central government we have become used to.  With that consideration it is critical there is a political buy-in to this process.  It will not, and cannot, happen over night if we want to make sure we get it right.  Strap yourself in for a very long ride.

I will return to the theme of the professional capacity, as well as a more detailed look at the review’s proposals and implications, in later blog posts.  For now it is just worth welcoming a process that offers a bit more hope and positivity to how and what we will teach within our schools.



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