Tag Archives: curriculum

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

The challenge of curriculum review

6 Jul


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.


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.


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.

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.


Thinking About The Curriculum

24 Nov

One of the criticisms of teaching unions is that they are focussed only on protecting teachers. That may sound a little odd.  Of course all teaching unions should be very concerned with standing up for the terms and conditions of their members.  After all, ensuring practitioners are not exploited; that the remuneration packages they receive reflect fairly the professionalism of the post; that workload does not reach unsustainable levels and that conditions of service are respected are central reasons why individuals join a union.  They also all indirectly impact on education standards.  An overworked and undervalued teacher will not result in a system of high achieving pupils.

However, while the casework of protecting members conditions of service and supporting them when needed is something the union I work for can be proud of, NUT Cymru are also very much an education union.  We are an organisation that are clear about the inter-related roles of improving education and improving the lives of educators.  Doing what is best to benefit pupils is absolutely not mutually exclusive to doing what is best to benefit teachers.

The truth is that the vast majority of teachers join a union as some sort of ‘insurance policy.’  They know their union will be there for them should something go wrong.  It is a slightly depressing view but for many it is the reality.  What NUT Cymru has sought to do is to create an environment where teachers get value for their membership.  We want teachers who would otherwise never come into contact with their union on a direct basis to enhance their professional capabilities through our relationship with them.  This is why we put on regular conferences for young teachers; conferences on behaviour management and courses for developing and aspiring Welsh speakers.

Over the last week I helped stage a curriculum conference in Wales.  It was brought about due to the fantastic work colleagues in England have done as part of their ‘Year of the Curriculum’ campaign, as well as the challenges the soon to be reported Donaldson Review will create.

Ros Graphic

This fantastic graphic visual was produced by Fran O’Hara during a session on lessons from the Year of the Curriculum campaign in England

I was delighted with the result of the day.  The programme went from the global challenges, outlined powerfully by Professor Susan Robertson of Bristol University, right the way through to the hyper-local with a session from Jane Jenkins, Headteacher of Moorland Primary School.  There was a wide variety of different approaches from round table discussions; table debates; presentations; world cafe scenarios and the above visual graphics.

Keynote sessions were delivered by Professor Susan Robertson; Professor Mel Ainscow and the Welsh Government’s curriculum review lead himself Professor Graham Donaldson.  The sessions were so well received and thought-provoking that instead of a brief summary here I thought I would look at them in more depth over the next week or two.