Tag Archives: curriculum review

Making time for the curriculum

28 Sep

Our patience will achieve more than our force – Edmund Burke

I have blogged in the past about the dangers of rushing curriculum reform.  I am a strong supporter of what Professor Donaldson put forward in his Successful Futures report.  In fact I am not sure I have ever met anyone that isn’t.  It built a platform for a mature discussion in Wales on what sort of education system we wanted to develop for our pupils.  The answer it seemed was one based on putting the pupil at the heart of the agenda.  A curriculum that gave power back to the practitioner, which allowed them the freedom and confidence to shape the curriculum that best suited their schools and pupils, and which once again put an emphasis on creativity, expression and well-being.  Along with that it has challenged us to think more broadly about the values of our education system, how we assess progress and how we hold education services accountable.  These of course are big questions to ask and they naturally take time to answer.

There has, thus far, been no real move to change the way we assess and have accountability in the system but it is pleasing to see there are moves afoot to look at those areas.  There is a sense, and I hope I am not being too naive and overly optimistic in saying it, that we are going to end up with measures that ensure schools are rightfully held accountable but that well-being, progress and development are judged on a more even and fair way, alongside data that is informative instead of simply casting pupils as black and white numbers on some spreadsheet.

The purpose of this blog however is to look at the question of timescales against delivering the curriculum.  As I stated at the start of this piece, I have been, and remain, a big supporter of the curriculum.  However, I have never been a supporter of what I saw as restrictive timescales.  What was set out originally was a scale of change quicker than what international evidence suggested was crucial to getting this reform right.  That original timescale looked even more ambitious when it became clear that there were mistakes being made along the way, such as individuals who had been assigned pioneer school status tasked with developing the curriculum not even being made aware that this was the case.  There was, and is, also the issue around capacity in the system.  We have to acknowledge that for over a decade we have had a highly prescriptive, top-down approach to teaching.  Classroom professionals have been told for years that “this is the curriculum – go and teach it.”  The drumming out of independent thought and the failure to create critical and innovative thinking in the initial teacher training system has left a generation of teachers without expertise in curriculum design.  We have had to build back in those skills, and while the ITT reforms are putting more emphasis on these areas as well as the research capacity of teachers, the immediate challenge still remains.

I was very pleased then to hear this weeks announcement from the Cabinet Secretary that the timescales, and critically the method, of delivery had been revised.  I think this shows a Welsh Government willing to listen.  Clearly the Cabinet Secretary and her team have been hearing the concerns raised by teaching unions representing their members, have heard the feedback from their own internal operations and have been having those all important honest discussions with other education systems who have been through this process.  Stubbornness has been a trait of the Welsh Government in the past and it has led to many poorly designed and implemented initiatives lasting beyond the merits of their results.  It is a testament to the Department of Education in this instant then that they have recognised the need to adapt the process to ensure delivery can be effective.

The new timescales will mean a longer process of development with the curriculum consultation now expected around April 2019.  The final curriculum will be delivered to schools to prepare from 2020 with it being rolled out on a statutory basis from 2022.  That seems a little more generous.  Most noteworthy is the fact it will now be rolled out statutorily from nursery through to year 7 and will follow that class through their education year by year until every pupil is learning in this way.  That has allowed us to avoid the danger of a big bang approach where everyone is forced over to the new system regardless of how they have been taught up until that point.  This is a much more sensible way of progressing and offers both pupils and teachers the chance to grow into the new curriculum.  Getting this reform right is crucial to our success as an education system and it is heartening to see a Government willing to listen and act accordingly on advice from the front-line as a way of making sure it does everything possible to be successful.

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5 Hopes for Welsh Education in 2017

16 Jan

Class Sizes

As part of my look ahead to 2016 I put the issue of class sizes on the agenda.  It remains one of the issues that teachers and parents raise most with me but was largely absent from the political debate, despite class sizes slowly but surely increasing year on year.

With Kirsty Williams becoming the Cabinet Secretary for Education and class sizes being a central plank of the Lib Dem education offering at the election it seems we finally have this in the spotlight.

Hopefully we will have further announcements about how the policy will be developed in future and how it will be piloted.  It is important that if you are a critic of the proposals that you give them fair opportunity to show their worth.  This means not making rash judgments over short-periods of time but listening to the qualified feedback of the profession, looking at the wider impacts the policy has on pupil and teacher well-being and how it both directly and indirectly can contribute to standards.  For those of us that are supporters of the decision to make reducing class sizes a firm Welsh Government commitment it is also important we reflect honestly on the findings of the policy in the early stages.  That means recognizing both its successes and potential failures, assessing where changes and developments can be made to improve its delivery and working with the Welsh Government to ensure it succeeds.  It also means acknowledging if indeed it has been a success or not.

Supply

As with class sizes my 2016 blog was hopeful that we may finally get concrete action on supply.  As with class sizes we also made some real headway in regards to putting this issue front and center of the education debate.  The Children’s committee deserve a lot of credit for their report which, whilst potentially could have been more direct, made it quite clear that the current system failed pupils, parents and teachers and needed a radical overhaul.  The Welsh Government to their credit fully accepted the report and set up a task-force to make recommendations.

Those recommendations are in according to Kirsty Williams at the last education questions session in the Senedd.  We hope not to hear what the findings will be and that ultimately they lead to a system that is far fairer for those working in that sector, that offer a better provision for schools and lead to a more motivated and supported workforce.  If that can be achieved we have the potential to serious unlock a missing piece of the puzzle on education reform.

The Curriculum

This seems to me a never ending feature on these blogs but that just goes to show how crucial it is to get this reform right.  With the Diamond review findings having come and gone and the PISA rankings published, curriculum delivery remains the big hurdle for Kirsty Williams to maneuver.

Pioneer schools are still working on their proposals, with 25 new pioneer schools having joined the work in recent weeks highlighting that this is not easy to get right.  My big hope here is that without having seem any real framework thus far, and without seeing any firm plans to deliver the sort of sector wide professional development which will have to be undertaken to take a sector who have lived under prescriptive micromanagement in recent years to a freer more innovative workforce, time is given to getting this right.  I have always felt the timescales were short for proper delivery.  Being adaptable to change must be in the mind of everyone involved here.

Recruitment

This issue is one that must be viewed on several levels.  Firstly that we make the whole sector appealing.  Cuts to pay and pensions have undoubtedly forced many graduates to think twice about entering the profession.  The added workload concerns only exacerbate that problem.  The fact that we have failed to reach the target for secondary training places for each of the past five years, including falling a third short in the latest figures, shows that while this isn’t currently a crisis it is a growing concern.  We need to make teaching as a career and vocation viewed with the high standard of esteem that it has been in the past.  That means properly respecting the role and offering the sort of support throughout a career that reflects the importance it has in driving our education system, our economy and our communities.

It is also important we target the right type of recruitment.  As the recent science graduate story shows there are pockets of missing expertise.  Drawing more individuals with specific backgrounds into the profession is vital.  Naturally of course tackling many of the problems in part A of this conundrum will address those in part B also.  However, there must also be specific campaigns and measures considered for the unique challenges of making teaching an appealing choice for those from backgrounds that have not traditionally taken up the role.

Pay

With the Wales Bill comes the devolution of pay.  This has massive implications for the teaching workforce.  The Welsh Government have been very positive in their words and pledges around this issue.  That has, to an extent, appeased some concerns from a profession that has by and large been skeptical of such a move.  Getting this right may be both the biggest challenge and biggest success of education in the devolution era.  It presents the opportunity to stop the rot of declining terms and conditions.  It presents the opportunity to empower a profession and create a workforce and Government in dual commitment.  It presents the opportunity to put social partnership at the very heart of public sector delivery.  It presents the opportunity to make the Welsh teaching workforce the most attractive in the UK, drawing in the very best in talent and the most motivated and respected teachers.  Of course it also presents the risks of the alternate in every option should the Welsh Government fail to make it work.

And It’s Goodbye From Him…

18 Jan

The big news in Welsh education over the weekend, and in fact in Welsh politics in general, is the announcement by Huw Lewis AM that he will be standing down as an Assembly Member at the next Welsh election in May.

The Wider Picture

There is never any guarantee of continuity after an election.  We could have an individual at the helm from a different political party should Labour not get back in, albeit that scenario seems unlikely on current polling data.  We could also have a new political party running education through a coalition.  A far more likely prospect.  Perhaps the more rumored and expected outcome, had Huw Lewis AM not been retained in post, would have been a return Labour minority government with the potential of a new Minister due to cabinet reshuffles.  Still, what we do have now is a cast iron guarantee that we will be heading into the second half of 2016 with a new man or woman in charge of the nations education services.

I’m a firm believer that education needs a long-term approach with continuity at the heart of the agenda.  Education policy takes many years to bed in and have a noticeable impact.  It is a generational change.  I’ve said time and time again that those nations whose education system are internationally lauded have generally undertaken a 10, 15, 20+ year journey.  To that end having another new Minister will be somewhat unsettling, although there is no saying if the policy direction will change with that appointment of course.

A further concern, teased out in the ITV interview I did over the weekend, was the risk to momentum that this announcement could create.  It has to be said that there seems a greater sense of optimism in Welsh education on a policy basis than at any other time since I took up my post.  That is not to say that everything in the garden is rosy.  Far from in on some levels.  However, there is certainly a sense of relative united support for some big policy projects such as the ‘New Deal’ for teachers and the curriculum reforms.  These have been developed, and are being developed, with a closer sense of cooperation between the Welsh Government, local authorities and schools than many other changes we have seen in the past.  Losing the Minister that initiated them will threaten that momentum. That said I think so long as there remains a commitment to the causes that shouldn’t derail progress.  The fact the Welsh Government gave Professor Donaldson the independence he needed to go about his work, and crucially have retained his input for the implementation stage of the curriculum, is a real boost in keeping this process going.  It is also positive that much of the legwork on curriculum reform and the new deal design is being done by the profession itself through pioneer schools. That should hopefully mitigate any possible turbulence a change in Minister could create.

Perhaps the big fear is the foot being taken off the gas.  There was always the risk of that happening in going into an election anyway.  I don’t have any doubts that Huw Lewis AM will remain committed until he signs off as Minister, but with an outgoing head of an organisation in place it does always ask questions of those working underneath.  That’s something we need to keep an eye on from top to bottom within the sector.

Reflections on the Minister

It is no doubt still early to be writing the obituaries of a Minister in post but I thought it was worth having a brief look back at some things given his announcement.

I think it is fair to say that Huw Lewis took over at a time when relations between the Welsh Government and the teaching profession were extremely strained.  His appointment was therefor very welcome simply because it presented the opportunity for a fresh start.  One I think both the Welsh Government and teachers very much needed to grasp.

In what seems like a different lifetime now I was formally a Plaid Cymru employee.  Huw Lewis, to me as someone who didn’t know him personally, appeared to represent the tribal politics of Labour.  (For the record I have no doubt that every party has its tribal stance.  I imagine back in my more blinkered days I could have been described in similar terms from another side of the argument.  I sincerely hope that I have proven to be far more mature in my relationships across the political divide in since leaving my job at the Assembly.  Having worked with politicians from every party I am sure it is an objective I have succeeded in).   With that in mind I did have some trepidation about the way the Minister would work.

I am pleased to say my preconceptions have been thoroughly confounded.  As an individual politician Huw Lewis may, or may not, be tribal in his approach.  I have never dealt with him outside education so could not say.  I can only confirm that he has proven to be a very constructive Minister to work with since his appointment.  There have been some major steps forward under Huw Lewis that have helped bring back the ability to have positive dialogue with the Welsh Government.  Even where there have been disagreements on policy, and there have been many still, they have been aired in a more conciliatory fashion, by all parties.  Compromises have been reached and a focus on understanding the rational and thinking of others is more central to this new approach.  It is this style and attitude that has enabled the Minister to secure such buy in from teachers to major changes in policy and one he should receive a lot of credit for.

Legacy is hard to evaluate for Education Minister’s as I have stated.  It takes time to see how things work and there is no security that Huw Lewis’s successor will not come in and simply rip up his work.  However, I think he can look back and recognize that he brought a more positive approach to cooperation between schools and government; he presided over the development of a new Welsh curriculum (albeit much of this work remains to be undertaken) and he has been perhaps the Minister most explicit about the need to address the gap in access for teacher’s continued professional development.

To be critical, I think it is a real shame there have been no strides to tackle the continued unpopular and divisive national testing, particularly for the very youngest pupils and in light of the fact the OECD and Donaldson curriculum review have noted they are not fit for the way we wish to deliver education in Wales.  It is also a shame that we continue to have major failings with our supply sector, including a controversial preferred bidder contract set up with one supply agency in particular.  Finally, our workload scandal continues, although it has to be stated that the Minister has taken steps to put this on the agenda for pioneer schools so his work there may yet yield some tangible changes in the future.

There is still time for the Minister to get to grips with these issues before he leaves of course and in fairness he has at least recognized the problems with supply which have for too long been ignored.

It is a shame the Minister is standing down when there is still so much work to do on some of the agendas that he has been so pivotal to developing.  That said, having worked for politicians in the past I have seen first hand the sort of pressures it puts on an individual.  You cannot therefore begrudge someone who has been an Assembly Member for almost 17 years wanting to have a change.

The Future

What Huw Lewis will leave is a lot of potential.  We have many strands of work open with a firm direction set.  Any new Minister will of course want to stamp their approach on their department and portfolio.  You can expect nothing less.  What I sincerely hope does happen is that whomever comes in continues to appreciate the need to secure support for, and support from, the teaching profession.  Any policy will fail if those delivering it are not convinced of its merits.  Perhaps Huw Lewis’s greatest achievement as Minister is that for some of the biggest proposals he allowed teachers to feel part of the development process.  That’s a lesson any Education Minister will be wise to learn.

 

4 Hopes for Welsh Education in 2016

8 Jan

It has been a bit of a tradition of mine to blog on my hopes for Welsh education at the start of the year.  I previously did it in 2014 and 2015 and on both occasions also looked back with the hindsight of 12 months to see how progress had panned out.  I thought it only right that I did so again for what is possibly the most important year for the sector since I started working in it.

1.  Class size

For a while now I have wondered how class sizes have been absent from the political agenda in Wales.  Almost without fail when I attend a conference, committee of general catch up with teachers and they raise the issues that are concerning them the most class sizes will inevitably come up.  I couldn’t quite relate that experience with the fact it wasn’t being discussed at a political level.

With that I was pleased a few weeks before the end of the last Assembly term of 2015 when Kirsty Williams AM brought it up at First Minister’s Questions.  The leader of the Welsh Lib Dems challenged the First Minister on why 30+ class size were rising in Wales.  His response was:

“Well, you must ask the local authorities that. As you know full well, local authorities are responsible for delivering education. We have done our bit; we’ve protected education spending relative to the block grant that we have received and it’s a question that’s best answered by them.”

I have to say it is not a response that I think either addresses the question nor fills those interested in education with much confidence.  I am not absolving local authorities of their responsibility.  The First Minister is right that they have a role to play.  However, it is undoubtedly a situation where the Welsh Government must take a level of responsibility and passing the buck doesn’t sit very well with me.

Since that exchange the Lib Dems announced one of their key election pledges on education for the Welsh Election next May.  They have come out with a pledge that infant class sizes will be capped at 25.  It is a policy I think will gain a fair amount of traction from classroom teachers.  Hopefully it will also instigate further thinking around this issue from the other parties who may also be considering class sizes in their manifestos next year.

As a side note to the above I did notice, and indeed challenge but without reply, the First Minister’s assertion on twitter in December that class sizes have reduced under the Welsh Government.  My reading of the Welsh Government’s own census data (pages 17 and 18) was that this is not the case.  In fact the opposite is true.  the average class sizes for both infant and junior age pupils have risen.  The percentage of those in classes of 30 or less has decreased while, inevitably I suppose, the percentage of pupils in classes of 31 and more has increased.

Hopefully in 2016 we will see this issue get a lot more traction.  Ideally we will see a reduction in class sizes to support pupils and teachers.  At the very least it would be positive to see all parties actively discussing their intentions to tackle the issue in the build up to the election.

2.  The Election Of Ideas

I blogged last year about how I was hopeful education wouldn’t be the political football the NHS was prior to the Westminster election.  Thus far it seems as if, while different parties may be critical of each other and be on the attack, they are putting forward ideas to be debated.

What I really want to see in 2016 is a continuation of policy debate.  I may not agree with everything that is put forward but no one single person, organisation, union, group or political party has all the answers to creating the best education system for Welsh students.  It is important to have a blend of views.  Education really does have to be front and center for any debates going into the Welsh election and I am excited to hear the competing, and perhaps, complimentary ways those standing before the electorate want to support teachers, parents and pupils.

3.  The Supply Question

Finally at the back end of 2015 we had the publication of the Children’s committee report into the supply system in Wales.  I do think the committee’s report could have been stronger.  It appears somewhat watered down in places to me.  Perhaps that was in order to ensure that it secured universally support from members.  That said there are some very important messages around the ineffectiveness of essentially establishing a monopoly, which has all but happened through the current preferred provider contract.

The below statement in the report is of particular interest in this regards:

“The Committee is concerned that the current model for supply teaching does not appear to be working effectively. The Committee believes that consideration should be given to reforming the way in which supply teachers are employed, including the possible use of cluster arrangements or employment through a national body as just two examples. In doing so, the Welsh Government should give careful consideration to national models elsewhere, such as Northern Ireland.

“The Committee acknowledges that the existing contract will need to be honoured and as such any new system could not become live until at least August 2018. However, the Welsh Government should start work now to design a new model for the employment of supply teaching, to ensure that the new system is in place in readiness for the end of the current contract.”

One thing for certain is that there really does appear to be a consensus that the system at present does not work for supply teachers; does not work for value for money and ultimately does not work for pupils and standards.  There are some real questions to be asked around the preferred provider contract and what happens when that runs its course.  2016 presents a real opportunity to start getting things in place for a more appropriate system that can finally put an end to years of mistreating this core section of the teaching profession.

4.  Pioneer Schools

I have been a supporter of the Welsh Government’s idea of establishing pioneer schools.  Schools have been identified to pioneer work in developing the new curriculum; creating a digital framework and looking at the ‘new deal’ on professional development.  Having those experts to deliver this work will hopefully mean we end up with a curriculum that is teacher and child friendly; a digital framework that works in parallel with what is already happening across the curriculum in schools and a new deal that finally allows the profession to become empowered through training, based on their individual needs and the needs of the school and system.

I was particularly pleased that following extensive research work undertaken by the NUT on stress related illness among teachers, the Minister announced that he had also instructed pioneer schools to look closely at workload implications for what they will be proposing.  Often in the past we have seen new initiatives which are entirely well-intentioned, and have credible ambitions, but fall down because they have simply failed to take into account the pressures they put on teachers.  They have either underestimated the workload commitment to delivering the new initiatives or else they have failed to reflect on the impact it will have on other areas of school life.  Hopefully given this direction from the Minister that will not be the case this time around.

Having spoken to some pioneer teachers I am encouraged at the way they are approaching the work.  My big hope for 2016 is that the work of any pioneer school, in any pioneer area, is not done in isolation.  We simply cannot have three separate strands of pioneer work that contrast one another.  They must come together as complimentary visions.  The new digital framework must sit well with the new curriculum and both must allow space for the ideas of professional development brought forward by the new deal pioneers.  I really do hope there is a pause for thought at the end of this process where the proposals of all the pioneer groups are looked at together and not on an individual policy basis that does not take into account changes elsewhere.

The Glass Half Full

17 Sep

a half full half empty glass

There has been significant coverage across the BBC today  of  a YouGov survey into the state of the teaching profession in Wales commissioned by NUT Cymru.

Without trying to sensationalize the details too much the results are alarming.  Over half (51%) of teachers in Wales stated that their morale was either low or very low.  Perhaps more worrying was the fact that just under half (47%) said they were considering leaving the teaching profession altogether within the next two years.

The reasons behind this are complex and vary from individual to individual.  However, most heavily featured was the volume of work (79% reporting this); unreasonable demands from managers (58%) and desiring a better work-life balance (70%).

These figures are even more concerning when taken side by side with further research the NUT conducted on stress related illness amongst teachers in Wales which showed on average we lose 49,524 teaching days in a year at an estimated cost of £8.4m due to this problem.

Michael Wilshaw recently said that shows such as Educating Cardiff were driving the teacher recruitment crisis in England.  I rebuffed that in part here.  While unlike England we in Wales do not have a teacher shortage problem, some of the figures above suggest that we cannot be complacent that this will not be the case in years to come.

What I want to do, which is perhaps surprising given the dark clouds that accompany these stats, is look at this from a positive angle.  I feel that much of the negativity that comes out of these surveys and FOIs are hang ups from the policies and language of the past.

Unquestionably the way the teaching profession were spoken about by politicians both ends of the M4, certainly from around 2010 onwards, did not inspire positive morale.  The policy churn, and the fact the implementation of these policies was viewed as being imposed on the profession rather than delivered in cooperation with them, added to the sense of a loss of ownership of the role of a teacher by the profession.  We also saw some highly controversial policies, such as banging, testing and the CDAP which undermined and contradicted the style and ethos of teaching we had seen establish since the early days of devolution.  These policies were accompanied by the hap-hazard establishment of regional consortia which, particularly in their early stages, were far more focussed on challenge than support.  Of course all of the above came at the same time the Westminster Government embarked on savage cuts to teachers pay, pensions and working conditions.

The positives, as I promised to speak about, are that it is fair to say we do in Huw Lewis AM have a Minister that recognises this is an issue and appears to be focused on tackling it.

At a policy level there has been much more of a cooperative approach which has delivered concessions and consensus with more regularity than over recent years.  For example, the very consistent and vocal concerns with school banding have been more readily accepted.  This has now been replaced by school categorization.  I doubt any teacher, or union, believes the new system is a fully appropriate model but the fact it has recognised some key flaws in its predecessor has certainly been the reason it was met with a cautious approach and has been given time to show how it can work.  That change in style to delivering policy will hopefully result in new initiatives being delivered in a more successful and less combative way.

The language of government has also been markedly different.  In his keynote first speech Huw Lewis put respect for teaching at the heart of his agenda.  Of course the Minister coupled this with an expectation on the profession but that is an expected and fair trade-off.

A further positive is the opportunities we currently have in front of us in Welsh Education.  Both the New Deal for teachers and the Donaldson curriculum review could provide a platform to delivering education in a new way which reduces workload, empowers teachers and raises respect.  All the while these policies also have the potential to help support the continued drive towards the very best standards in education we all strive to achieve. The jury is still out on the implementation of both of these flagship government agendas and, sadly, teachers have become sceptical of delivery.  However, enthusiasm is there to make these issues a success and that in itself is something of an achievement in Wales over recent times.

So where does this leave us?  It is hard to escape the bleak picture both the FOI and YouGov findings present.  Teaching and teachers in Wales are not jumping for joy, but, if we harness the potential put forward through things like the New Deal, curriculum reform and Schools Challenge Cymru and continue to build relationships of mutual cooperation between the Welsh Government and the profession at large there is a more optimistic picture starting to emerge.

The challenge of curriculum review

6 Jul

Expertise

The Donaldson Review published earlier this year will undoubtedly lead to a complete overhaul in the delivery of education in Wales.  It has put us on a path for change that will radically alter the way teachers both think about and deliver education.

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 have become accustomed to a package and push approach from the Welsh Government and local authorities and may be waiting, wrongly, to receive the next curriculum update from that central source.

It is not too strong a statement, in my opinion, 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.  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 lead 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 it 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.

It was heartening to hear the Education Minister tell ITV Wales News that;

It will 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.“ – Huw Lewis AM, ITV News, February 25th

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 reimagine the way teachers are trained.  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 that we need to support the upskilling of 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 some teachers who were born, and in some cases already teaching, before the internet was even invented.  I’m 32 but while I got my first mobile phone at the age of 19 by the time my son was 20 months old he was seamlessly navigating YouTube.

There should 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.

Assessment and accountability

A further major challenge to implementation is the proposed change to assessment and accountability.  While the review is focused on curriculum design 22 of the 68 recommendations relate specifically to these issues.

There is a particular challenge here for local authorities, regional consortia and Estyn in 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

The truth is that what the profession is being asked to take on is a massive undertaking.  It will take a significant change in thinking and approach.

It will take a clear commitment to quality continued professional development.

It will take a recognition that it cannot be realised with budgets constantly cut.

It cannot be designed overnight and it needs a patience that goes beyond the usual election cycle.

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.

The above is an article commissioned for publication on the Education Workforce Council’s website.  You can find the original here.

I originally wrote this a few months back but it is only being published today. What I wrote preceded the most recent Ministerial statement. I wrote further about that new development here.

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.

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.

 

 

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.

 

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.