At the end of term I want to thank you for your continued hard work and commitment during what I know has been an extremely challenging term.
Our collective priority continues to be to minimise the disruption to education, and ensure where possible learners continue to receive in person learning, as well as protecting school staff and learners.
But as someone who’s married to a primary school teacher I know only too well how difficult this term has been. In her view, this is the most challenging time the teaching workforce has faced in decades. In both a professional and personal capacity I agree with her assessment. I do hope you’ll have time over the next few weeks to rest, relax but also reflect on the incredible work you’ve done during 2021.
I re-joined Welsh Government as Director for Education and Welsh Language at the end of June 2021. It’s been a privilege to witness the way in which you’ve reacted and adapted to an evolving situation and the continued uncertainty. I can assure you that regular and ongoing discussions with the teaching workforce continue to highlight the extreme pressures you’re facing and the need for us to create space and reduce bureaucracy wherever possible.
While my role is to advise and support the Welsh Government to deliver its agenda, I also take seriously my responsibility to engage with the education sector in Wales and to listen to your ideas and concerns. There will continue to be a range of opportunities in 2022 for us to engage and I do feel that the pandemic has led to closer interaction between Welsh Government, schools, local authorities, regional consortia, Estyn and other partners. But there is always room for improvement and we remain open to suggestions as to how we reduce bureaucracy and create space.
Unfortunately, none of us have a crystal ball as to what 2022 might bring. Given current levels of uncertainty regarding the impact of Omicron, we’ve tried to provide schools with as much clarity now as we can, to enable you to plan and prepare for the return in January. However, this is a fast evolving situation and we will be working closely with your Directors of Education to consider any necessary adjustments to mitigations at the start of the January 2022 term.
I hope you have a peaceful and restful Christmas break. Covid permitting, I’m looking forward to visiting some of your wonderful schools in 2022.
p.s. As a member of a choir myself, it always thrills me to hear young voices celebrating Christmas. Here’s Ysgol Dewi Sant who’ve kindly agreed to let me share their video. Many thanks!
Every year, thousands of learners aged 14-16 across Wales study for qualifications in science and go on to have careers as doctors, dentists, pharmacists and science researchers. The Curriculum for Wales aims to give learners more opportunities to succeed through a broad and balanced education.
Those who are now in their last year of primary school will be the first learners to experience the new curriculum. We recently announced the GCSE subjects that will be available to them when they turn 14.
Confirming the GCSE subjects is the starting point for reform. This year, we will work with learners, teachers, universities, employers and others to agree the content and assessment for each new GCSE. We will also agree which other qualifications should sit alongside the new GCSEs to offer something for everyone.
We will create a new Combined Science GCSE to replace the six different science GCSEs currently available. While we expressed in our recent report that the new Combined Science GCSE will be around the size of two GCSEs, the final size will be determined by what content and assessment is needed to ensure learners have the same, or better progression opportunities to further and higher education as they do now.
So why have we decided to create a Combined Science GCSE?
A strong foundation
It has never been more important for all learners to gain a solid foundation in science. The world around us is changing faster than ever before. New technology brings new opportunities and insights, but also more complexity and new challenges. The future of our environment, society, and economy depends on learners who can think scientifically and apply their knowledge across many different fields.
The new Combined Science GCSE will give all learners a firm grasp of scientific knowledge and skills and encourage more of them to go on to study and work in science. A common science GCSE will increase opportunities for learners and keep their options open for longer. And it will make science more accessible, more relevant, and more exciting for all learners.
It will give all learners a chance to study the different disciplines of Biology, Chemistry and Physics, while also exploring the connections between them. They will also get to explore the cross-cutting themes reflecting the major challenges of our times, such as climate change, sustainability and the rise of artificial intelligence. The new GCSE will help learners to integrate and apply their learning, making it relevant and engaging.
The forthcoming Curriculum for Wales has been well received for the way it will help our young people survive and thrive in a rapidly changing world. RSE will play an important part in delivering on the Curriculum’s aspirations. The draft mandatory RSE Code was laid in the Senedd on 23 November in preparation for members’ approval. It has been designed to outline core learning at developmentally-appropriate phases, introducing the learning sensitively, providing detail for schools and settings on what should be taught and when.
In this piece we want to help practitioner colleagues understand how the draft RSE Code was developed, the considerations and consultations along the way, and briefly how it should be used. In doing this we hope to provide the tools to dismantle any myth or misconception that might be faced in school or at the school gate. We also want to share the many positives that this forward-looking draft Code will bring.
So to begin at the beginning…
The draft RSE Code has been developed by educational practitioners, in consultation with experts and interested parties who represent the rights of children, families, and community groups. As a working group, we took an evidence-informed approach to developing the draft Code and supporting statutory guidance. We debated on a whole range of issues relating to RSE, health and wellbeing, rights and diversity, to name just a few! There were many rich and engaging discussions around the purpose of RSE and the role it needs to play in safeguarding, educating and empowering children to develop safe and healthy relationships, and make a positive contribution to society.
Whatever discussions there were, and whatever tangents we veered off on, invariably we would return to these three vital questions for RSE:
In what way can Relationships and Sexuality Education best support our learners to engage with their social world in a healthy, positive, and proactive way?
How can the RSE Code provide the mandatory learning needed for practitioners to develop a positive and protective curriculum; which sits within an emotionally-safe and supportive whole-school approach?
How can schools and families be supported to work together to ensure that learners get the best possible experience of RSE?
A national pilot is now underway of the National Resource: Evaluation and Improvement. The Resource has been designed to provide schools with a means to evaluate and improve performance over time, in harmony with curriculum reform and Estyn’s evolving approach to inspection.
Over 100 schools have already taken part in a first stage pilot which was positive but also provided feedback that led to changes which have made the resource more user-friendly.
Now all schools are encouraged to test the Resource for themselves and feed back via an online form by February 8th 2022 at the latest. After that it will be revised, with a national launch in April 2022. The Resource will continue to grow and develop as additional case studies, guidance and other review toolkits are added over time.
The Resource represents a change in culture from previous approaches, focusing on improving performance in future rather than evidencing current achievements to external bodies.
Moreover this large resource is designed to be used selectively: after a top-level review of the four areas, schools can choose to focus on those they feel are in more need of attention.
Jeremy Miles MS, Minister for Education and the Welsh Language, was in the hot seat for this podcast. He answers tough questions from teachers about curriculum, additional learning needs, the school year and more…
Listen on our channel through your chosen platform below:
Questions were submitted via consortia but there wasn’t time to ask all in the podcast. See comprehensive answers below to those that could not be put directly to the Minister.
Q: The baseline assessment doesn’t fit with curriculum steps. Will it operate independently? Do we create our own for Foundation Phase?
In the Curriculum for Wales, progression for 3-16 year olds will occur along a single continuum of learning. The new assessment arrangements will need to ensure that learners make progress at an appropriate pace along that continuum. As such phases and stages do not exist in the new curriculum.
Currently baseline assessments are undertaken within the first six weeks of a child entering Reception year. We do not believe that this approach is compatible with the new way of supporting and assessing progression from the age of 3 and are consulting on proposals to support and assess learner progress, which includes arrangements for our youngest learners.
In place of the baseline assessment, we are proposing an “on entry assessment” is undertaken for each learner on registration at a school or setting. For most this will occur in the term following their 3rd birthday.
These honest, insightful videos about building curriculum at Ysgol Bro Edern show how they approached 3 – 16 curriculum development with their cluster.
The three films feature the leadership approach; how joint-working with cluster schools took place; and how the whole Bro Edern ‘family’ played their part.
Bro Edern are on their journey. But theirs is just one approach to curriculum development that works for their catchment, their cluster and themselves. Other approaches will depend on the location and context of your school.
The new Curriculum for Wales signals a big change in the way that young people will learn and that is why we are making changes to qualifications.
The changes we are making to qualifications in Wales are needed to align with the new curriculum. We also need to reflect the major cultural shift public bodies are making in Wales, thinking and working long-term for current and future generations.
As a regulator, we need to be confident that the right qualifications are available to meet the needs of future learners and future employees. As part of our decision making, we have decided to take a new approach to GCSEs in English, Mathematics and Sciences, by integrating each subject area. This will provide more space and breadth in learning across subjects and a more consistent approach for learners.
Why combine qualifications?
Currently most learners take many separate qualifications in these key subject areas, which leaves little opportunity for them to focus on the other subjects.
We have tested our thinking with a wide range of stakeholders, and we believe combining qualifications will benefit learners and teachers, providing more flexibility to schools so learners can pursue a wider range of subjects.
These changes would reduce the number of assessments for learners to ease the pressures they face and further support their mental health and well-being.
Research shows that assessing language and literature together is a positive way for learners to develop linguistic skills so they can apply them to different situations and in different contexts. It also provides an opportunity for all learners to study literature which is an important part of learning and enjoying a language and addresses concerns about the reduction in learners studying literature.
The change to GCSE Science will include content from each of the three science disciplines and make it clearer how they link to each other. This reflects the new curriculum’s expectation that learners can make the links across their learning and offers a coherent approach that benefits all learners.
An Independent review to advise on and improve the teaching of themes and experiences relating to Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities across the curriculum was Chaired recently by Professor Charlotte Williams. The final report, published in March this year, included coverage of resources and professional learning. It was a ‘ground-breaking trajectory in curriculum reform in Wales’.
Now, in black history month, Charlotte talks about her work on the Review, her personal experiences of growing up and being educated in North Wales, and her optimism for changes that are underway. Honest and heart-felt, it’s an inspirational listen.
Listen on our channel through your chosen platform below:
The podcast was recorded early in October and also refers to the Professional Teaching Awards Cymru new category: The Betty Campbell MBE award for promoting the contributions and perspectives of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Communities. Nominations are still open, until 23 November.
During the years CfW was being co-constructed, the prospect of the new framework and guidance (we’re careful not to call it a curriculum!) seemed to many of us a far-away thing, not something to get overly excited or concerned about for some time.
Over a four-year period, experts, academics, and teachers alike spent time grappling with huge philosophical questions, pondering ‘curriculum’ and what it could be in Wales. The “wouldn’t it be great if…?”, “why have we always had to…?” and “why don’t we…?” philosophical conversations echoed through corridors, along with the sometimes-heated debates about what should make it into the national framework, and what should be for schools and practitioners to decide.
These conversations however were happening for the ‘lucky few’ who had secured a seat at the pioneer table. What then for the others? What for those who disagreed with what they were presented with? What for those who didn’t want this new way? The draft was published, the consultation period happened (with 2,103 responses received), the final framework and guidance arrived and regardless of whether you had been sat at that pioneer table, whether you had shared your views through the consultation, or had not been involved at all, 28th January 2020 became Day 1 for CfW; a reset for all, taking everybody to the framework, not to drafts or copies they may have seen or borrowed along the way.
Before that day, many may have explored the four purposes and considered the pedagogical principles, but it wasn’t until the publication of the framework that we could all work reliably from the guidance and start making sense of it within each school context. Day 1 marked the beginning of a process that could arguably be the most challenging that Wales’ school school practitioners had experienced since the introduction of the National Curriculum in 1988.
And so, we zoom ahead to the present day. 19 months on from Day 1. In that time we would have been able to get to know the framework, to collaborate within school teams, clusters and networks; to unpick, to ask what might be possible for learners, to consider how to take this national framework – not curriculum – and transform it into a curriculum so befitting our learners that it be unequivocally better than what came before. But that was before the world was changed by Covid-19. Who could have possibly imagined a pandemic throwing us off course? Stealing time away from us and disrupting lives as it has done? From CfW being the biggest game in town, for many schools it has become the least of their concerns, the thing they’ll get to but not yet, not whilst they are functioning in crisis management mode. The pandemic has not been forgiving, it has not made allowances for those who hadn’t been part of the pioneer process and needed more time, for those with a huge mountain to climb. Covid has significantly affected all schools, and is continuing to do so, in many cases now worse than ever.
Reimagining and reforming GCSE qualifications is crucial to create a new way of learning that will prepare learners for life, study and work in the 21st century.
To complement the new Curriculum for Wales, we are looking at how we can innovate qualifications to prepare learners to succeed in an ever-changing and uncertain world.
We have now agreed the subjects in which a new generation of fit-for-the-future GCSEs will be offered.
Over the coming months we will be listening and discussing ideas through our national conversation to co-create GCSE qualifications. New content and new assessment approaches are just some of the things we will be looking at as we shift to more flexible and agile ways of learning.
As part of our Qualified for the Future programme we are recruiting teachers and educational professionals to help us with this exciting challenge. Anyone interested in joining us can apply through our website.
We want everyone with an interest in education to contribute to the national conversation so that we can meet the needs of our communities.