A Good Start…

26 Feb

“Harmony makes small things grow, lack of it makes great things decay – Sallust”

Consensus is a word rarely used by people when discussing Welsh Education.  I can only think of a few instances in my years working in the sector when there has been any degree of harmony on the views of the sector and differing political parties.  It was therefore really pleasing that this was the case when people gave their initial response to the Donaldson Review yesterday.

One thing that is absolutely crucial to any progress that will be made in curriculum reform is that there is a political consensus, especially relating to the pace of change.  One of the major criticisms of the OECD report into education in Wales was that there have been far too many policies and initiatives delivered and at a pace of change that scuppered the success of their implementation.

The best performing education nations are those that have undergone lengthy reform periods.  While it is naturally tempting for politicians to focus reform over a short, election-cycle orientated, timescale the correct and most courageous approach is to accept that getting reform right is more important than getting it done quickly.  In the case of this particular curriculum reform the time needed will be even longer to some extent because the capacity for the profession to lead has diminished due to the over prescriptive nature of the current set up.  The innovation and creativity we would like teachers to have with curriculum planning is not necessarily a common trait amongst the profession and so we must invest in allowing teachers to have the time and space to work through these proposals, as well as committing to the training that will be needed.

I am heartened by the language the Education Minister has so readily used in recent weeks, including in his reaction yesterday.  Huw Lewis AM has spoken of empowering the profession to take up the lead in curriculum reform and deferring, through partnership with teachers, to their expert knowledge and experiences.  It is a bold but highly commendable position to have adopted.

In his written statement introducing the publication of the Donaldson Review the Minister stated:

“Professor Donaldson recommends that “The revised curriculum and assessment arrangements should be introduced through an agile change strategy that establishes understanding and support, sets a measured pace, builds capacity and manages dependencies” – and I can assure you of my commitment to this approach if changes are to be made.”

The Minister also stated that:

“Following the publication of Professor Donaldson’s review, we will be launching the ‘Great Debate’ on the curriculum. I envisage this debate taking place over a significant period of time.”

As part of the ITV Wales News package last night the Minister said that curriculum changes would, “take the time that it takes in order to do this carefully and with the proper support for the professionals particularly that we are leaning on so heavily here,” showing his realistic approach to the job of work to be done.  Indeed, on that very bulletin I praised him for this approach.  You can watch it here while it remains online.

For this to have a chance of success there also needs to be buy-in politically from across the Assembly chamber.  That, at least at this early stage, appears to be the case.  All three Shadow Education Spokespeople have welcomed the report and appear accepting of the fact this cannot be rushed.

Of course, simply because getting curriculum reform right will take a significant amount of work and time does not mean anyone should disregard the need to continue to show the sort of positive progress we have seen over recent months and years in Welsh education.  That is something that must continue in parallel with this process.

The teaching profession will know that this report asks a lot of them.  It will be an incredibly challenging exercise.  However, that the platform has been set for a reform which is led by teachers, supported fully by Government and backed politically across the board is a start we should not underestimate.



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