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The Case for Boldness in Curriculum Reform

Darllenwch y dudalen hon yn Gymraeg

grahamThe first major curriculum reform in 20 years is underway in Wales. The curriculum will be new, assessment will evolve, and the way this is happening is very different to before.

It’s a lot to take on, even if it is taking place over several years. But the challenge has to be met head-on if we’re to prepare pupils best for their futures in life and work.

The approach is bold, based on experience in Wales from the past and present, with inspiration from the best in the world. It puts teachers in the driving seat of development, helped by external expertise and officials.

It is brave to place ownership of the design of the curriculum and assessment arrangements with the people who will deliver them, especially when the approach to development is new. Yet who is better placed and better motivated to make our ambition a reality?

The goals they are working towards have already been agreed and widely endorsed. My review and recommendations set four clear purposes for the education of our young people. It set a framework of six Areas of Learning and Experience and three cross-curriculum responsibilities, one of which is new and reflects the digital world we now all inhabit.

Making Digital Competence cross-cutting in the same way as literacy and numeracy is another bold step, one which sees Wales at the forefront of thinking internationally. Crucially for me, the Digital Competence Framework was the first element of the new curriculum to be developed and was made available bang on schedule last month.

Not only is this ground-breaking for Wales, but it shows that the model we have chosen to develop this curriculum can work well. That’s not to say the process was easy, but then the most valuable results are often achieved through skill, determination and hard work.

I hope that our teachers from Pioneer schools will now drive on at pace to produce a brilliant, future-proofed curriculum for Wales by the close of 2018, that will become the reality for young people of Wales across the succeeding three years. As they do, it is crucial that they work in partnership with teachers and practitioners more generally from all schools in Wales.

Wider education reforms in leadership development, professional learning and initial teacher education will support this effort, and I look forward to saying more about them when I next post to this Blog.

For now though, I salute the boldness of Wales and wish you all success.

– Professor Graham Donaldson



    It’s a great shame that Professor Donaldson did not have the courage to stand up to Huw Lewis (the former education minister) and question the merits / implications of the Welsh Medium education for all.

    Instead, Graham capitulated and endorsed it with no reservations in the public domain but this is what he said to me in his e-mail dated 18,01.2016:

    “I am very well aware that views about the Welsh language are strongly held both by its advocates and those who have concerns about its implications for the curriculum. My task was to look dispassionately at these issues and the Report outlines my thinking on the matter, accepting that it would be unlikely that everyone would agree with my conclusions”.

    I fear that all the good work, he has done will be unravelled through the lack of parental freedom of choice to opt for the EM or the WM education.

    When I have a minute I’ll send him a comprehensive report done by the Bangor University of attitudes of children to Welsh language and in the Welsh language heartland – County of Gwynedd where thy have tried everything including punishment / reward to encourage social use of Welsh outside confines of a classroom – Conclusion most Welsh kids do not have interest in Welsh language!

    Moral – Listen to the children and drop the compulsion and diktat as it will not work and it longer it stays the more damage will be done to children of Wales!

  2. J. Thomas on

    I am passionate about children learning Welsh, but i do have reservations about scoring a curriculum skill based on the welsh language. I believe a childs skill should be assessed on the language of choice of the child, especially if coming from an english speaking home and new to the Welsh language. I hope the new curriculum will acknowledge this and realise that irrelevant of whether the it is an EM or WM school or provision, a chikd skill and ability is recognised and nurtured. I believe that language should be a seperate skill in its own right.

    As a parent, being informed that your childs scoring is low due to the fact that they can do the skill but cannot understand the questions when asked in Welsh in a WM school is heartbreaking, especially when they can meet the skill in our home language of choice. I feel like I have failed by choosing a WM education.


    Have been contacted by few people expressing concerns that this site is censoring posts from those critical of the Welsh Government’s education strategy – No reason to doubt the information given to me but seems hypocritical of inviting informed input and then stifling the debate?

  4. Education digital team on

    Thank you for your comments. Please be reassured that no comments are censored or edited. Only one comment has not been cleared for publication since the blog was established; it did not adhere to the guidelines for the site in that it was not respectful of others who use the site. Feedback will be provided to the individual concerned.

  5. J Jones on

    50 years ago Mr Donaldson, when I was growing up in Gwynedd, it was widely held that for a child to come from a home where only Welsh was spoken and be thrust into a school where he or she was spoken to only in English was tantamount to abuse. I well remember the passionate arguments around this injustice.
    Times have changed and now virtually all children from Welsh speaking homes (93%) are taught through the medium of Welsh in Welsh medium schools.
    In 2014 I asked for data from the Welsh government for pupils at the end of Key stage 2 in Welsh medium and English medium schools. I used only pupils who were not from a deprived background and I compared the outcomes of pupils in WM schools who came from a home where they spoke Welsh, a home where they spoke English only and pupils in English medium schools. I asked for the schools to be grouped according to their EFSM percentage.
    The results were clear and unequivocal; pupils from a Welsh speaking home background taught through the medium of Welsh did as well in the core subjects as pupils in English medium schools. Pupils in WM schools who had English only as a home language did markedly and consistently less well than their Welsh L1 class mates and performed significantly less well than similar pupils in similar EM schools. In the Welsh language they were well behind their Welsh L1 classmates.
    This should not be a surprise of course; in other parts of the World minority language communities are fighting the original battle that was fought and won on behalf of children from Welsh speaking homes unfairly forced into English medium classes. Witness this UNESCO report:-
    Here is an extract:-
    “A new paper by UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Report (GEM Report) reports that 40% of the global population does not access education in a language they understand. The policy paper, ‘If you don’t understand, how can you learn?’ released for International Mother Language Day (21 February), argues that being taught in a language other than their own can negatively impact children’s learning, especially for those living in poverty.”
    And here we are in 21st Century Wales where, in large areas of the country children from English first language homes have no option but to be schooled through the medium of Welsh.
    As you know, Prof Donaldson, I sent the data to you which showed so clearly that pupil’s education suffered when they were “immersed” in a language which they did not understand. You ignored it, naturally, because, if you had taken any notice at all your conclusions would have included a requirement that parents had a CHOICE of language medium for the education of their children. Although I admit that, working from within the Welsh establishment, any criticism of any aspect of Welsh language provision is impossible.
    I also note that at the evidence gathering stage of your deliberations you received far more complaints from people saying that there was “too much” Welsh in schools than you had from people saying there was too little. This agrees with two YouGov polls on the subject:-

    It’s page 16:
    33% of people polled do not think that Welsh should be compulsory at any stage in Welsh schools.
    16% believe that compulsion is acceptable until the end of primary school.
    14% believe that compulsion is acceptable up to the age of 14.
    That’s 64% (rounded) of those polled who were against the imposition of Welsh in schools as it is now and as the Welsh government policy insists it remains.
    Then there’s this:-

    Here you see (“don’t knows”) just how many people are unaware of the ongoing removal of the option for English medium schooling in the Welsh speaking areas but you also see that only Plaid and Welsh speakers are of the opinion that this is an acceptable situation. What hypocrites those people are to have been campaigning for the “right to a Welsh medium school” for Welsh speaking children and seamlessly moving to supporting the removal of English medium schooling for non Welsh speaking children.
    So along you comes a “Case for boldness…”
    It is NOT a case for boldness to bow to the pressure of the establishment in favour of disadvantaging the pupils of Wales…on the contrary it looks perverse to so set aside evidence and intellectual rigour and bring about change in our schools that removes freedom of choice and supports pointless and unwanted teaching solely as a sop to Welsh speaking Ideologues.


    Truly a brilliant contribution on Welsh education from J. Jones that the Welsh Government should not ignore.

    Continuation of Welsh Medium education onslaught by compulsion and diktat will achieve nothing other than to damage more children academically and socially and this must not happen.

    Both, J. Jones and myself have challenged Professor Donaldson’s stance and perhaps you can ask him to reply especially to the points J. Jones has made in his comment on this site?


    Education digital team on October 27, 2016 at 9:50 am you said: “Please be reassured that no comments are censored or edited” My comment sent in few days ago is still missing – All I asked for, was for Prof Donaldson to respond to in the public domain to the specific criticism J. Jones and myself raised in the earlier comments!

    • Education web team on

      Your comment has been approved. Apologies for the delay.

  8. J Jones on

    Although Prof Donaldson ignored the data sets that I sent to him showing 2014 Welsh medium school comparisons I wonder if he is interested in the 2016 key stage 2 comparisons which can be found here:-

    under “Key Stage 2 pupils achieving level 5 and above by free school meal band, 2016”

    I doubt that it concerns him much however and, indeed, why should it when a succession of AMs of all political hues blatantly ignore the well-being of our school children for fear of offending the powerful Welsh language lobby?


    Did manage to find time and have emailed Prof Donaldson the Bangor University report on children’s attitudes to Welsh language in Gwynedd which operates a strict exclusion of English medium education (non existent in primary years). Two significant observations by the research team:

    1. Factors influencing language use:
    • Home language influences, community language and school language are key factors.
    • Influences of English and American entertainment adversely affects Welsh.
    • Parental attitude vary from apathy among the majority, with some being negative, and occasionally, the attitude of newcomers is better than that of established residents.
    • Children’s attitudes towards Welsh – many believe that Welsh is a language to be used in school and not the community. As they get older, they are more reluctant to speak Welsh.

    2. Advantages and disadvantages of penalising or rewarding pupils
    • Pupils refer to campaigns in primary school and Yr. 7 where individual pupils or whole classes are offered prizes for speaking Welsh (e.g.,Camau Clôd / Cymraeg Cŵl / Cynllun Cymreictod)
    • Younger pupils have positive memories and attitudes – but the effects appear short-term.
    • Pupils tend to speak Welsh in the teacher’s hearing so as to be rewarded
    • Negative feelings develop as pupils see that from Yr. 8 on they are penalised for speaking English – no more reward campaigns. A feeling that teachers’ attitudes towards them are changing is a reason to rebel.

    Moral, more compulsion and more damage to children or the time to stop the forced Cymrufication of our children and allow them to reach their full potential in their home or preferred language?

  10. Education digital team on

    Dear Glasnost and others, thank you for your comments.

    Professor Donaldson’s ‘Successful Futures’ report took full consideration of language issues. The decision to introduce a new curriculum for Wales, along the lines of the recommendations in Professor Donaldson’s report, received cross party support.

    I hope you will agree that your views and those of your colleagues who hold similar opinions have been aired very fully on this blog. However for the sake of moving forward in a positive vein, we will not be publishing further contributions of a similar nature.

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