When you see your own job advertised, as I recently have, you know the times they are a-changing. Indeed they have for all of us this year – it’s been a very strange one. As I wish you a peaceful Christmas, I’d like to pay tribute to you all.
This year I have witnessed remarkable strength and fortitude. Your resolve and creativity in taking lessons to our learners throughout the Covid days has been remarkable. You have been strong when often that hasn’t been easy. You’ve been even more crucial to sustaining our communities, and this year I think the wider population has come to understand that far more clearly. You are more valued than ever. Thank you for the wonderful work you do.
During the year I know that many – certainly those in primary and year 7 – have been thinking about ways in which the new curriculum will be brought to life in your schools. For me it feels as if the new curriculum was almost designed to give us the flexibility and positive framework to respond to the current circumstances. The new emphasis on Health and Well-being, the digital competence framework, the opportunity to bring perspective by looking at stories with real relevance to learners, they all feel like symbols of our time.
So as we move towards a better year in 2021 and I prepare to hand over to my successor in May, I’m thinking very positively about the curriculum, the wider education reforms that will support it (yes including accountability), the future for our profession, and the future for our learners. You are at the heart of all this.
Thank you all, take care and have a happy Christmas.
Steve Davies, Director for Education, Welsh Government.
The Curriculum for Wales is designed to offer teachers flexibility and agency within a national framework; it sets out that all children should have a broad and balanced education, and make continued progress from age 3 to 16.
As part of the new curriculum, British Sign Language (BSL) can be taught as a third or subsequent language, like French or German. This means that BSL could form part of a school’s curriculum for all children, as well as BSL provision for deaf and hard of hearing children.
The Four Purposes of Curriculum for Wales (See page 23 of the Curriculum for Wales Guidance) embody a vision of education which incorporates the importance of learner well-being. Promoting learner well-being has been given added urgency by the impact on learners of the Covid-19 pandemic. Every practitioner can contribute significantly to the mental, emotional and social well-being of learners through their use of assessment in the classroom.
Well-being is more fundamental than immediate feelings of satisfaction: it encompasses developing as a person, flourishing, being fulfilled and contributing to the community. As the word suggests, it is concerned with ‘being’ at the present moment as well as ‘becoming’.
Three terms – affiliation, autonomy and agency* – usefully summarise interrelated characteristics of classroom cultures and practice that are fundamental to promoting well-being. As practitioners use assessment to support individual learners on an ongoing, day-to-day basis, and identify, capture and reflect on their progress over time [Guidance p224] they can promote affiliation, autonomy and agency through carrying out the mutually complementary responsibilities which the Guidance [p227] envisages for practitioners and learners.
Affiliation refers to the learner’s engagement as a member of a school community which supports progression in learning and a shared culture and ethos of respect for all. Respect includes recognising the right of children to have their voice listened to as they take part in school and classroom activities, including using assessment to review and plan their learning. This is particularly applicable in a curriculum which recognises that progression along the learning journey can follow different pathways within a common route map.
That work continues as professional learning and exemplar materials are developed to help practitioners use the new materials successfully. However at this stage feedback is needed to help complete the work, so a virtual event has been arranged:
On 2 December, practitioners are invited to preview the Professional Learning Materials and provide feedback.
Practitioners who would like to attend can request a place by emailing email@example.com (with school/ setting and role details) before 25 November. The event is likely to start at 2.00 p.m. and last for two hours.
These are busy times, so practitioners unable to attend can provide feedback or suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org
So Mark, how did the switch of roles come about – from Headteacher to ‘Professional Advisor’?
I was previously a ‘pioneer’ for digital and Maths and Numeracy, and have done a lot of work on collaboration. That might explain why I had a phone call out of the blue last January inviting me to help develop professional learning resources for teachers – to help schools prepare for the new curriculum.
I discussed it with my chair of governors. They felt it was an opportunity for my own professional learning as well, and agreed to support the secondment.
Q: You’re a fan of the new curriculum then?
Absolutely. The new curriculum brings schools the opportunity to be creative, to develop learners’ understanding in more flexible ways and to modernise the way teachers work in the digital age. I think it’s brave and teachers will appreciate the difference.
Q: So if you have a mantra, what is it?
We need to work together in schools! Collaboration is key. We re-invent the wheel too much in Wales.
At Swansea PRU we teach a range of learners from Foundation Phase through to KS4, all of whom have social, emotional, mental health or behavioural difficulties. The impact of Covid-19 has led to some of the greatest and fastest changes in what and how we teach our pupils that I have ever experienced, and probably the most challenging 6 months of my career.
As we start the 20/21 school year, we need to assess how the events of recent months have impacted on the well-being of our pupils, and to plan for how we can support their well-being, resilience and mental health as we move forward into the unpredictable year ahead.
We’ve tried our best to engage all learners, and whilst we may not have succeeded with every pupil every time, we’ve learned so much along the way. The creative strategies that teachers and associate staff developed during lock down have been inspirational. Necessity has driven a focus on engagement, well-being and shaping learning to meet our pupils’ individual needs and circumstances.
The new academic year will see us work together to implement the ‘new new’ learning environment in response to Covid. But alongside that we’re also planning to move into our new purpose-designed building at the start of 2021. Concerns and feelings of anxiety are counterbalanced by a sense of excitement and opportunity.
Before I tell you more about that, let’s look at how the new curriculum will help pupils at Swansea PRU.
For us, supporting learners to realise Curriculum for Wales’ four purposes has always made perfect sense. However, the focus on developing all our children and young people to be:
ambitious, capable learners, ready to learn throughout their lives
enterprising, creative contributors, ready to play a full part in life and work
ethical, informed citizens of Wales and the world
healthy, confident individuals, ready to lead fulfilling lives as valued members of society.
…has never seemed as relevant as it does now:
The ability to shape the learning for our pupils in a way that is tailored to their individual needs, interests and experiences is greatly welcomed. And as we move further towards the roll-out of the new Curriculum for Wales, it is clear that we can’t wait until 2022.
With Health and Well-being as one of the six areas of learning and experience in the new curriculum, the recognition of its integral link to all learning ensures that it is central to the planning for all of our learners. It gives us in the PRU a clear starting point to genuinely plan our curriculum around matters which act as barriers to many of our pupils; that way we can start to overcome the issues that prevent them from engaging positively – with others, with learning, with society, and tragically for some pupils, with life itself.
The new curriculum also offers our teachers an opportunity to shape learning opportunities in an even more meaningful way, and to engage those learners who are most disengaged. The creative flair our staff have shown over the last 6 months needs to be nurtured and further developed to support the planning of a braver, more exciting and engaging curriculum. The focus on progression enables us to use assessment more honestly and more realistically – to accurately measure where pupils are in their learning, to inform planning and pedagogy to enable them to reach the next steps; also to observe and celebrate their progress in all aspects of their learning rather than focusing on difficulties and shortcomings linked to the acquisition of narrow fields of knowledge.
Digital learning has also evolved as we have changed the ways we work to manage Covid-19 issues, and the power of digital competence and confidence has been highlighted more than ever before. This year we will fully and bravely embrace digitally enhanced learning because we see the importance it holds for our pupils and their futures. It supports greater independence and connectivity in learning, as well as communication with friends, families, teachers, future employers and the wider world. To do this, we will work to ensure that all our staff have the skills and knowledge to meaningfully plan for its use across the curriculum and to support our children and young people in their mastery of digital skills. We will also need to review access to devices, software and learning platforms so they can be used safely to support learning outside of the school building as well as in lessons.
Alongside this, next year our new tailor-made building will help us build better futures. Hopefully we will move in by early 2021, using facilities which will help us further support learners and enhanced learning experiences.
Our learners need to understand the impact of their decision-making on the quality of their lives, and the lives of others, something we have always worked to develop. Our new building has been designed to help us with this, so that we can more effectively shape their learning and tailor it to individual needs, interests and experiences. It will also help with learning about health and well-being, such as understanding the importance of developing good physical health with food technology teaching rooms, good access to outdoor spaces and eco areas. We will have a large hall, with carefully designed sensory rooms, therapy rooms and quiet areas which will help us deliver a therapeutic curriculum, developing and nurturing good mental health.
So with a new term underway, a new cohort of pupils and a new building around the corner, could there be a better time to develop our new curriculum? A curriculum that is purpose driven and based on what actually does matter? Well for us it’s the right time, and that’s regardless of a pandemic! At Swansea PRU we embrace the new, and for us this certainly is not the end of ‘the news’.
Headteacher, Swansea PRU and Behaviour Support Unit.
Amanda is one of the practitioners currently developing Curriculum for Wales guidance for PRUs and Education Other Than At School (EOTAS).
The curriculum for Wales guidance has now been published. During the last year I had the opportunity to work as part of the Science and Technology Area of Learning and Experience group on the refinement of the curriculum after the draft was published in April.
My involvement with the group was from a computing perspective. I worked as part of the AoLE, but importantly I was also able to provide a perspective from the post-16 further education sector.
The Curriculum for Wales seeks a shift in classroom practice, as well as a new ideal as to the final goal of educating young people in Wales. Currently, teaching and assessment focus heavily on the ability to retain and regurgitate facts parrot-fashion, if learners are to be deemed successful.Read more
School holidays are different this year, with pupils from all parts of Wales entering their Summer break after months of enforced lockdown in which learning has been all but limited to being online. Despite – or because of – this, there has been an overwhelming response to our Summer of STEM programme which runs throughout the first three weeks of August. Over 600 pupils aged 9 to 16 have signed up to join 15 days of inspiring, fun activities.
It is an extremely exciting if challenging time for schools in Wales with the dawn of the new curriculum, to be used in all schools from September 2022. It is exciting because it offers the opportunity for teachers and schools to develop and implement a curriculum tailored to their pupils, but could be challenging as cross-disciplinary Areas of Learning and Experience (AoLEs) are introduced, as well as new topics such as computation.
Technocamps’ mission has always been to inspire, motivate and engage people with computational thinking. We will be continuing this mission by helping teachers and their schools to develop effective and engaging teaching practices around the computation statement of What Matters in the Science and Technology AoLE.
The computation statement of What Matters states:
‘Computation is the foundation for our digital world:
Computation involves algorithms processing data to solve a wide range of real-world problems. Computational processes have changed the way we live, work, study and interact with each other and our environment. They provide the foundation for all software and hardware systems, but learners should also be aware of the limitations of what computers can achieve. To create and use digital technologies to their full potential, learners need to know how they work. They also need to understand that there are broad legal, social and ethical consequences to the use of technology. This can help learners to make informed decisions about the future development and application of technology.’ Read more
Routes for Learning materials support practitioners in assessing learners with profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD). They focus on learners’ communication and social interaction skills, early cognitive development and their interaction with the environment. Practitioners and academic experts have come together to update these materials to support the wider Curriculum for Wales guidance and to reflect the latest research in the field.
As part of the updating process, draft materials were made available in January. In February, practitioners joined events in north and south Wales to discuss the developments and offer feedback in person. Aron Bradley, Headteacher from Ysgol Hen Felin, attended the Cardiff event:
‘I attended the Routes for Learning event to find out more about the updated materials and contribute to the feedback process.
It was insightful to hear first-hand from experts who have developed the updated materials. It was particularly interesting to listen to academics and current school practitioners about the journey in reviewing the previous guidance and its use with appropriate pupils across Wales. Academic research made available since that guidance was produced was shared, and showed why it needed to be updated. All of which supports the teaching, learning and assessment of this particular cohort of learners.