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The Curriculum for Wales – Dispelling the Myths – Part 2

Darllenwch y dudalen hon yn Gymraeg

myth buster imageFollowing on from our earlier blog post, here are more common misconceptions and myths that surrounded the launch of the draft curriculum for Wales. It may be of course that some myths relate to elements of the curriculum that will change in response to the feedback received, but here are our responses as it stands.


Myth #1 – This is a Curriculum-only reform

Whilst curriculum reform has gained most of the recent publicity, it needs to be remembered that the proposed changes to the curriculum sit within a broader series of wider education reforms, which are designed to make sure the curriculum is realized in schools, reforms that are coherent and have a common underpinning philosophy. In countries that have successfully implemented reform, a holistic approach has been taken to support change, with time and space given to embedding the changes across the system.

So Wales’ curriculum reform is being complemented by a number of other changes within the system:

  • Changes to the accountability system, which will involve a less ‘high stakes’ approach to accountability, with a greater emphasis on school self-evaluation and improvement and the provision of professional learning in schools.
  • A pause in inspection (2020-2021), to allow Estyn time to reflect on school’s engagement with and initial development of the new curriculum framework, to help inform the future approach to inspection.
  • A National Approach to Professional Learning, which will provide greater opportunities for practitioner professional learning, delivered by both regions and HEIs (including options to follow accredited pathways).
  • Professional Standards for Teaching and Leadership, which focus (both from practitioners in a formal leadership role and classroom practitioners) on developing effective pedagogies, professional learning and innovation, to support the development of the new curriculum in schools.
  • The Schools as Learning Organisations approach, which helps schools evaluate their position as Learning Organisations and focus improvement planning based on the 7 dimensions, all of which are important in realising the new curriculum.
  • Changes to ITE provision to ensure new entrants in to the profession are better prepared to realise the new curriculum.
  • A review and consultation on qualifications by Qualifications Wales, to support the development of qualifications that are a natural progression from the Curriculum for Wales 2022 framework.
  • Additional Learning Needs reform

Myth #2 – There will be no PE or competitive sports in the new Curriculum for Wales:

Physical health is part of the Health and Wellbeing AoLE. One of the Health and Wellbeing What Matters is: “Developing physical health and wellbeing has lifelong benefits”. The narrative beneath this highlights “regular physical activity”.

sports - children.jpg

Achievement outcomes for this What Matters include clear reference to physical activity and sport. This extract from the draft Achievement Outcomes at progression step 5 illustrates:

I can value the benefits of participation in regular physical activity and have the self-motivation to do so. I can proactively seek opportunities to develop my expertise in physical activity, in sport and physical health.

Some have noted that physical activity is only 1 what matters in one AoLE. It is a school-based decision as to how much time is timetabled for each AoLE – the curriculum does not dictate this.   (It is also worth remembering that Dance is also a subject area in Expressive Arts AoLE.)

Myth #3 – Foundation phase pedagogies, (including continuous and enhanced provision) should be followed by older learners.

Chapter 5 of Successful Futures sets out 12 pedagogical principles that underpin the new curriculum. These are broad principles, designed to support school curriculum making and pedagogical development. What is absolutely clear is that a variety of pedagogical approaches should be explored by teachers.

Foundation Phase Action Plan - Typesetting - group of children with teac.._Graham Donaldson stated that the Curriculum should build on the strengths of the Foundation phase, but this should not be interpreted to mean that foundation phase practices are to be replicated for all older learners. What it means is that lessons can be learned from the approach, but a careful consideration of the pedagogical choices across the continuum is needed to meet the needs of the AoLEs and learning.

Myth #4 Enquiry and project-based pedagogies will dominate

As stated above, the curriculum for Wales encourages a wide range of pedagogical approaches.

The Science and Technology and Humanities AoLE’s each have What Matters linked to inquiry. These What Matters should not be confused with the more open ended, unstructured, enquiry-based learning pedagogical approaches. The What Matters in humanities refers to enquiry in humanities – historical enquiry, geographical enquiry, social studies enquiry etc. In Science and Technology, it is scientific experimentation, investigation and inquiry. Subject and domain-specific enquiry knowledge, skills and processes represent the methodologies that underpin these areas of learning.

 Myth #5 – Every ‘What Matters’ should be covered in every topic, theme or unit.

At the heart of this myth is the question of what actually is a What Matters?   It’s perhaps easier to say what they are not to start with. A What Matters is not a unit of work, it is not a topic area, it is not a discrete entity.

The idea of What Matters developed out of the ‘big ideas’ approach (see Prof. Wynne Harlen et al – Big Ideas in Science). The What Matters in an AoLE collectively represent the big ideas of that area – what are the main ideas of the AoLE that we want our young people to think about? But they are more than that – they are the things that matter for young people in Wales, the things that contribute to developing the 4 purposes.

So, the What Matters, together with the 4 purposes, should be the starting point in curriculum design. Learners should have a curriculum that allows them to progress in all of the What Matters at every progression step. But each progression step is 2-3 years, so not every What Matters needs to be being developed all of the time.

Myth #6 – We won’t need to use the LNF and DCF as it will all be covered in the new AOLEs.

DCF full image pupilLiteracy, Numeracy and Digital Competence are cross-curricular responsibilities in the new curriculum, and are therefore the responsibility of all teachers and support staff across all AoLEs. The LNF and DCF are currently being updated to take account of the new curriculum. Both will remain as non-statutory guidance to support the development of literacy, numeracy and digital competence across the whole curriculum. So due regard must be given to the LNF and DCF in school-based curriculum design in all AoLEs.


Myth #7 The Achievement Outcomes are our new levels.

Achievement outcomes are different to levels. They represent the essential learning that needs to be taking place at these reference points, and should not be used as tick boxes or as a ‘best fit’ model. They should be the basis for curriculum planning and building an accurate picture of how learners are progressing across AOLEs and towards the four purposes. Achievement Outcomes are descriptions of learning, their focus should be formative, identifying where learners need support and what they should do next. Practitioners should continuously refer back to achievement outcomes in their curriculum and assessment planning.

 Closing thoughts

To conclude, the success of this (or any other curriculum) will depend upon teachers’ ability to engage with and make sense of the framework and enact this within their own practice. This will require leaders in the system, within schools, regional consortia and HEIs to create the culture and climate in which teachers are supported to engage with the new curriculum. Teachers will need time, ready access to professional learning, and networks of support to engage with and make sense of what the new curriculum will mean for their learners. This starts with clear messaging and critical engagement about what the Curriculum for Wales actually is!

Post created by James Kent, Nicky Hagendyk and Daniel Davies (EAS – Education Achievement Service for South East Wales)

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