Speech to Policy Forum for Wales

1 May

Below is the speech I gave to the Policy Forum for Wales event on the challenges to curriculum reform.  Well as close to it as I could remember having forgotten to actually take the speech with me.

The curriculum review challenge:

Expertise

Teachers have been clamouring, calling and desperate for a greater sense of freedom to shape the curriculum to suit the needs and strengths of their local communities and pupil profiles.

Being empowered to act on that flexibility is a challenge all teachers should welcome.

However, it is also clearly something that teachers are simply not accustomed to, and in many cases will not feel comfortable with, at least in the initial stages. The challenges are both frightening and exciting in equal measure

We will seriously have to consider the question of capacity within the system to meet the demands of this curriculum revolution.

Teachers who have been put in straitjackets by an increasing sense of micro-management from the Welsh Government have become accustomed to the package and push approaches and may be waiting, wrongly, to receive the next curriculum update from that central source.

It is not too strong a statement to say that the top down approach to curriculum design we have seen in recent years has somewhat de-professionalised teachers in this aspect of education planning, and has restricted independent and critical thinking around the curriculum.

That isn’t to say that the ability of teachers to meet this challenge can’t be fulfilled.

However, the truth is that we went from a system that trusted teachers to one that, not least since the 2010 ’20 point plan,’ took all control away from them.

We now seem to be moving back towards releasing the shackles but we mustn’t expect the sector to run before it has been allowed to properly walk independently again.

Teachers will almost have to relearn the skills of curriculum design, which is going to be a burden on professional development and workload.

Time

In the early stages it is important that teachers and schools are given the time, space and support to meet this challenge.

The last thing we want is to find the pressure to tackle this process too quickly leading to “off the shelf” solutions being purchased that drain both the creative opportunities and finances from schools.

The Education Minister has been bold in making public pronouncements about his wish to see the teaching profession lead the work of designing the future curriculum in Wales.

That is to be welcomed.

A sense of working in partnership with the Welsh Government, rather than clashing with them as has unfortunately too often been the case on the reform agenda in the past, is one the education sector desperately needs on such an important topic.

It has also been really positive to hear the Welsh Government be far more realistic about timescales than perhaps they have been on other issues in the past.

Not only will we have to see a significant investment, financially and in time, to build the right skills for curriculum design and planning amongst existing practitioners, we will also have to see the way teachers are trained reimagined .

Something the Furlong report has already taken steps to put in place.

Digital Literacy

Within the recommendations there is the specific challenge of promoting the role of IT. Digital literacy is a key component of these curriculum reforms.

The report essentially puts digital competency, including computer programming and coding, on a par with literacy and numeracy as priorities that should be considered within all lessons, across all subject matters.

While education should not simply be about fulfilling the requirements of economic drivers, and indeed the curriculum review is quite explicit about that, we of course need to accept that becoming IT literate is a reality of modern life.

The impression that has come across thus far, to me at least, is that the patience we’ve seen for building curriculum capacity is maybe that bit thinner when it comes to digital inclusion.

This is something the Minister wants to see put in place a lot sooner.

The reality is sadly that we need to support upskilling the profession if we are to ensure that all teachers are confident and creative in utilising modern technology in order to design the best learning experiences for their classes.

Children, who have only known a world of iPads, iPhones and Facebook, are more fluent than teachers who were born, and in some cases already teaching, before the internet was even invented.

I mean, I’m only 32 but while I got my first mobile phone at the age of 19, my son was seamlessly navigating YouTube at the age of 23 months.

There is going to have to be, yet again, a significant investment in continued professional development in this field, as well as in hardware and other resources to ensure schools actually have the quantity and quality of technology needed to be able to realise the ambition.

While the ‘New Deal’ potentially holds a lot of promise we are yet to learn how it will radically change the current deficiency in CPD provision, though we already know there will be limited, if any, new money accompanying it.

Assessment and accountability

Sadly I am short on time as I would like to speak further on assessment and accountability, particularly in terms of the challenge of squaring the circle of the current system of high-tariff, punitive accountability measures, (many of which are irrelevant to securing progress for the individual learner) , and a system that must move towards utilising assessment for learning in a more subtle and relevant way.

Conclusion

I want to end by saying that while you may think I’ve been somewhat negative here this is really simply a reflection of the fact I’ve been asked to speak on the challenges and barriers to implementation.

What’s being asked of the profession is a massive undertaking.

However, what the profession is also getting is a real opportunity.

Learners’ achievement and school development, based on an innovative and flexible curriculum, matter to no one as much as they do to teachers and school leaders.

Here is a chance for them to reclaim ownership for what we all know should already be theirs.

 

 

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