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Can Further Education learn from what’s happening with the new curriculum?

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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.

Karl FE for the blog (2)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.

Post-16 vocational qualifications generally approach assessment from the other end of the spectrum. These qualifications are often designed with a heavy focus on the skills that young people need to succeed in their vocation – but again, they do suffer (and in some cases greatly) from assessment fatigue.

So there’s a real danger of losing the learning experience in favour of the assessment experience when the end qualification becomes the driving determinant for our curriculum design.

The new curriculum acknowledges that strict age-related outcomes are not a true reflection of how learning takes place, and acknowledges the importance of learner-centered curriculum design.

To me that says that whilst the ambitions of the Curriculum for Wales are incredible, assessment must not be allowed to dictate the design of curriculum at school level or in post 16 education.

I’ll also be interested to see how the design of new qualifications will fit in with the ideals of the new curriculum, and I’m glad to see that Qualifications Wales seem to be consulting on this in a constructive way.

The question remains, however, as to what happens when these students – the first of a new education system – enter post-compulsory education?

Pedagogy for vocational qualifications can be very different from that for school-based subjects. Further Education lecturers will require the same thoughtful consideration of not just what is to be delivered, but more to whom, something that is not so easy with awarding bodies governing content

As we see the shift in new qualifications for schools, how will current FE qualifications adapt to the new type of learner? Many vocational post-16 qualifications are provided by awarding bodies that are not situated in Wales – will they too see rewards in developing new qualifications for a new learner?

The worst-case scenario for me is that students of a new and student-focused curriculum might be thrust into the current assessment-led practice at further education level

The best-case scenario, however, is that the direction of travel for assessment and qualifications for pre-16 learners is adopted in FE, so lecturers get the opportunity to adapt with school-based counterparts. As FE qualifications evolve, our highly capable FE lecturers can become not just teachers of subjects, but teachers of learning; not the gatekeepers at the end of the journey, but the guiding friends holding the map.

Post-script: The publishing of this blog post has been delayed due to Covid, but my thoughts are unchanged and I think the shift in classroom practice that is on the way can only help equip young people better for an uncertain future.

Karl Jones

Karl is a former teacher of Computing at Merthyr College, now Computing PGCE Lead for the Science and Technology AOLE at University of Wales Trinity St David

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