So far so good

1 Jul

The statement given by the Education Minister in the Assembly this week as a response to the Donaldson review into the curriculum in Wales didn’t really spring any surprises. The thrust of the narrative was that he has accepted in full the recommendations put forward. This is something Huw Lewis AM did previously make clear on BBC’s Wales Report. (You can catch that interview, as well as some words from yours truly, here while it remains on I-player).

We shouldn’t underestimate the impact of this decision.  As Felicity Evans rightly points out in the Wales Report interview, what Professor Donaldson has proposed is a significant departure from the philosophy pursued by the Welsh Government over recent years.  The Minister himself implies strongly as much.  Within the recommendations there are also going to be some major changes for the Welsh Government including, for example, establishing an arm’s-length structure for curriculum and assessment. (recommendation 56).

I don’t intend to once again work through the need for capacity to be built up in the system to effectively deliver this reform.  I have preached that message enough already, and will no doubt do so again in future.  What I will say is that in not identifying specific, and unrealistic, timescales the Minister has been very sensible.  He will, rightly, expect the profession and the sector as a whole, including his own department, to get to grips with the challenge as quickly as possible.  However, in building in an element of flexibility, as well as in being very clear about the need to allow time and space to do this right, the Minister has offered a support that has been overlooked in past reforms.  He should be commended for that.

One point made by Simon Thomas AM during the Assembly session is that political continuity can be difficult to achieve when reform takes many years and could, and almost certainly will, span longer than the tenure of one or more Education Ministers and Governments.  Continuing to build a consensus and collaborative approach on this issue is crucial to its delivery.  We know that one of the major factors in the successes of high achieving international education systems is that reforms have been carried on a consistent basis regardless of the individuals or even political parties in charge.  What is more they have been delivered over many years. This has been achieved largely due to the fact that the merits of the change have been clearly identified.  That the Minister recognised this in his response and stated that the burden of being an advocate for this change is something he is undertaking as a long-term process was a shrewd move and will give the sector confidence that this is not just another quick fix.

One new thing that we did learn from the statement was that Professor Donaldson will be taking up a role on the independent advisory group.  This is excellent news.  For many people the Donaldson review is something they are highly excited about but the fears about implementation are ever-present.  That Professor Donaldson will be scrutinising this delivery; providing ongoing input and support and acting as a critical friend in keeping the Welsh Government honest to the principles of the original report will certainly give people a boost.  Again, this is a smart move by the Minister.

There is a long way to go in implimenting this major change to how education in Wales is delivered.  There will undoubtedly be a number of challenges and clashes along the way.  However what we have seen this week is a Minister with a clear and sensible approach; an opposition offering credible scrutiny and support and a sector with enthusiasm and perhaps a bit more confidence.  It is a good platform to kick on from.

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