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Mirror, Mirror. Reflections of a curriculum pioneer.

Darllenwch y dudalen hon yn Gymraeg

Emma Thomas blog pic

“The secret of change is to focus all your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new” – Socrates.

Successful Futures, published in 2015, promised an exciting new future in Welsh education as it introduced Donaldson’s vision for curriculum reform in Wales.  It laid the foundations for a twenty-first Century curriculum informed by national and international thinking.  This new curriculum was to be pioneering.  Pioneering not only in its recommendations, but also in the approach adopted in changing the education system in Wales.

Wales was making a bold statement; standing up to the customary top-down innovation, and initiating a subsidiarity approach that was bold, innovative and different.  Building a curriculum from the classroom out – embracing teachers’ creativity, and giving them the freedom to create and deliver a curriculum that would give our children the best education for a changing world.  It was time to bid farewell to the rigidity that has stifled imagination and trapped teaching in the past, and I was to be one of the lucky teachers involved in creating this change.  A curriculum made in Wales, for Wales.

The Autumn term of 2015 saw our school, Trallwn Primary School, in Swansea being selected as a “Pioneer School.” Whilst by its very definition “pioneer” implies trialling and exploring new things, I was a little apprehensive as to what exactly I would be doing, and the amount of freedom we, as “pioneers”, would actually have – due to the constant pressures of accountability.  I was pleasantly surprised.  From the very first meeting, there was a clear message that teachers were indeed at the heart of this curriculum reform process.  In collaboration with consortia, Estyn, and Welsh Government officials we engaged in the hugely complex task of beginning to translate Successful Futures into a stimulating and challenging new curriculum for Wales’ children and young people.

Strand 1 groups considered the Strategic Design of the new curriculum.  Although initially there were some teething problems, such as schools being unclear of their roles and asking for clearer strategic direction, the positives far outweighed the negatives.  As part of the Cross-curriculum Responsibilities group, I looked at how to incorporate Literacy, Numeracy and Digital Competencies in a cross-curricular way.  Working as part of this group, the emphasis on equipping our young people for life in the 21st Century was clearly evident.  Time spent with open-minded, creative colleagues from across Wales, from a range of settings was invaluable, and gave me an insight of things to come.  We worked collaboratively and supported, developed and challenged each other to trial innovative practice that was relevant to our settings.  Feedback sessions celebrated successes and witnessed teachers once again talking with passion about the educational experiences they were offering their children and young people. The enthusiasm was contagious.

Going into Strand 2, fuelled by the prospect of change and the passion of teachers at the chalk face, the development process had really started to gather momentum. Exploring curriculum reform in greater depth in support of the CAMAU project, we evaluated evidence of different approaches and curriculums across the world, examined research findings, and reflected on our own experiences and the experiences of our colleagues.  Comparing theory and practice in this way, and organising the principles, pedagogy and progression we felt were intrinsic to our AoLE helped us to consider the scope and boundaries for Languages, Literacy and Communication.

With strand 3 now on the horizon, what does the future hold for us as curriculum pioneers?  Progress with the reform programme to date has been interesting, encouraging and empowering.  The opportunities to explore in depth national and international models and being given time to look at different approaches has been instrumental in shaping our thinking as a group – but there are, I feel, some issues that remain to be fully resolved and some areas for development.  If we are going to be wholly effective in creating a system that is self-improving, we need to start branching out and employing the creativity of teachers and leaders from across Wales, not just in those schools branded “pioneers”.  We must do all we can to secure wider contributions in the development of our future-proofed curriculum.  We want teachers to be advocates for the new curriculum; we want them to be inspired and proud of what is created.  This change that we are creating is not just for our students as learners, but also for teachers as learners in the process themselves.  Collaboration is key – only together can we build the new.  Teachers of Wales, your country needs you.

Emma Thomas

Trallwn Primary School, Swansea

July 2017

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