With all the squabbling in the government here in England, I bet the Welsh Assembly breathes a sigh of relief every time English teachers protest and fall to their knees at every half-baked idea to come out of the Gove/Morgan era. As one idea comes and goes, there’s been such inconsistency in English schools that the curriculum seems to change every few terms and no-one really knows how to deliver the best-possible education. It’s not a slight on teachers, it’s the policy-makers that have made it so difficult.
Wales gets a certain degree of autonomy over how they set their ‘national’ curriculum and what gets covered in schools. The Welsh national curriculum was first developed back in 1989 – back in the days when Desmond Tutu was leading protest marches in South Africa. Safe to say that at some point it needed to be updated just a little bit. Indeed, open educational supplements in newspapers or sections of news sites and there is common concern for the Welsh system, with accusations of inefficiency and poor results up and down the area.
Thankfully, it would seem that Professor Graham Donaldson took note of the fact we haven’t seen a real update to the curriculum for Wales in over a quarter of a century and has made what commentators are calling ‘radical’ changes to the system. He was commissioned by Education Minister Huw Edwards to consider the curriculum and testing in Wales and to recommend changes to the current system.
Donaldson has proposed an approach to learning that focuses on main areas that mix core and non-core subjects – in theory contributing to greater flexibility for teaching. Currently students are vastly tested on their core subjects and less so on the others. According to Donaldson, this needs to end and instead combinations of subjects to form learning groups for make for better cohesion.
- Expressive Arts – including Drama, Art and Design.
- Health and well-being – tackling obesity, relationships, and sex education.
- Humanities – History, geography, a greater emphasis on religious education and spirituality – this is believed to be in response to the modern issues of the day.
- Maths and numeracy.
- Science and technology.
- Languages, literacy and communication – a bigger emphasis on Welsh is going to be included to encourage students to actively use the language, rather than purely see it as an academic choice.
The report outlining the plans – entitled Successful Futures – has taken nearly a year to compile and has involved the consultations of 700 people, from parents and teachers to students and businesses. It’s been a long time in the making, but according to those involved, it’s going to make a big difference.
Professor Donaldson has been quoted as saying that these changes are about better learning, something which we’ve long been in the belief that – here in the UK, at least – we haven’t really been getting right over the years. There are other key points to note which are very interesting:
- The end is nigh for Key Stages in Wales, as schools are potentially going to move to a far more seamless approach to learning. Does this mean the end of starting Year 7 with something new and then making a fresh start at Year 9? Arguably.
- Without directly stating, Professor Donaldson appears to be questioning the need for so many exams – he thinks that pupils should be tested less often and should be a part of learning.
To elaborate on the last point, Donaldson says that testing at the moment is too focused on accountability rather than purely seeing what pupils have actually learnt. It’s hardly surprising, given that schools are ranked in every means possible and in every manner, with the bottom ones being shunned for funding and placed under special measures. It’s like the teachers are being blamed for pupils not quite getting the hang of things, rather than it being used as a means of legitimate analysis to see where pupils are weaker in their learning and where schools can perhaps support better. I can’t really agree with the point Donaldson is making more there.
To use another cliché, we live in an ever-increasingly digital world, with a greater access to information and the Internet than ever before. However, I think it’s safe to say that schools have never really gotten the hang of this and have lagged behind in recent times. I remember even towards my GCSEs that only half of my school had advanced beyond Windows 98 and old versions of Internet Explorer were commonplace. It’s not really a modernised view of things and the new Welsh curriculum could very well solve a lot of this.
Professor Donaldson has recommended the inclusion of coding and programming into the curriculum to give students a taste of a very modern look at the Internet. Whilst I’m concerned that it isn’t going to be everyone’s thing, I do like the idea of something more modern than getting to grips with search engines being a part of IT lessons. This is going to form a much wider theory of linking lessons and subjects together in clever ways. For instance, the BBC’s analysis of the changes used the example of students using their mathematical skills in PE lessons to work out how fast they were running – you know, the good old V=U+AT and all that.
Finally, there is a feeling from the report that the current national curriculum is far too prescriptive and, whilst schools will still have a central curriculum to follow, they will be able to interpret it a lot more freely and ensure that they’re teaching something special – it allows for greater flexibility in teaching and should in theory contribute to greater learning. He’s also said that Wales should not need to compare itself to England – I couldn’t really argue with that if their curriculum is going to be so radically different.
Wow, I have to say that, although this could take nearly a decade to fully implement, it could very well work a dream. I’m stunned that it’s taken this long for everyone to realise that learning is not just about exams and that it’s not purely about revision and exam skills. I’d love to sit down with Professor Donaldson and have a great conversation about it all – he seems like we’re on the same page here. Quite why the UK as a whole isn’t looking at something like this I do not know. I fear politics will come into it and there are some very self-serving individuals involved in English schools and that shouldn’t be the case.
I can’t help feel but this is the right step forward for not only Wales… but everyone else too.