The end of a university year is much like the end of a school year: a time of farewells and of feeling proud. Whether in a nursery or a higher-education setting, being able to look back and reflect on your learners’ development over the past year is one of the pleasures of being an educator. My reflections this year, as an initial teacher-educator, have led to a sense of wonder. Without a doubt, education in Wales has come a long way since I trained as a teacher, and it is such an exciting time for this newest cohort of beginner teachers to enter the teaching profession.
Across Wales, our student-teachers have completed their PGCE or BA Education with QTS courses at a landmark moment. Although Curriculum for Wales has been in different phases of realisation for a number of years, from this month the new curriculum will be ‘official’, just as these student-teachers become ‘official’ teachers, so to speak.
For these beginner teachers, Curriculum for Wales has a strong sense of familiarity. Their teacher education has been based on curriculum pillars such as the ‘Four Purposes’, ‘Statements of what matters’ and ‘Descriptions of learning’. In many ways Curriculum for Wales has always been a part of what they do and think. Without a doubt, Welsh education can benefit from their perspectives.
For example, what has been fascinating as a university tutor supporting this cohort, is hearing the discussions around the implementation of Curriculum for Wales in schools. Naturally, schools are at different points along the scale of embedding Curriculum for Wales into their everyday planning and teaching. Schools are also carving different pathways along that scale. This has led to rich university seminar discussions and a collaborative sharing of ideas and experiences.
The Open University PGCE pathways offer students a pan-Wales view of education practices and, in the spirit of Kolb’s (1984) learning cycle (Figure 1), it has been wonderful to see students reflecting on ideas in seminars, such as how schools embed the purposes or draw on cynefin to support curriculum design, before experimenting and adapting to their own settings.
Another interesting insight I have had within the university tutor’s role is considering how student-teachers and their placement schools are able to link educational theory and practice. Part of the wider sea-change in Welsh education is valuing the role of research within our teaching practice and understanding how Curriculum for Wales, much as the Foundation Phase previously, is underpinned by international research. In contrast, my own teacher-training experience had very little educational research or even academic content. Initial teacher education twenty-five or so years ago was very much subject and pedagogy-focussed. Any critical evaluation based on research findings was simply an aside. Just thinking about it today, this seems startling. We really have come a long way!
Even as a more experienced primary teacher, thoughts about how research could help develop my classroom practice was much like dipping a toe into a cold and frightening sea of water. I can remember a forward-thinking new head trying to introduce his teaching staff (me included) to books on developing education. It is fair to say that, generally, our thoughts were “what does this have to do with my class?”.
Gradually, with the aid of professional development grants and guided action-research career development opportunities, I was able to see first-hand how my engagement with research projects benefitted my pupils and supported their development.
In comparison, today’s beginner teachers are introduced to the importance and the relevance of educational research from the outset. Not only are they given classroom-based research experiences as part of their training, but they are also able to draw on their mentors’ knowledge and understanding of using research, underpinned by the Schools as Learning Organisations (SLOs) approach (Figure 2).
Although the importance of ‘research-rich’ school environments is echoed across the UK (BERA-RSA report, 2014), it would be naïve to suggest that teachers do not come across barriers on their professional learning journey, the impact and subsequent pressures of Covid-19 on school staff being a case in point. However, since 2017, Welsh Government have formally emphasised the need for considered professional learning through the SLOs launch, linking into the first of the four enabling objectives of the Our National Mission education action plan.
As Curriculum for Wales becomes reality, part of the vision is that professional learning plays a central part in the development of our education system. As the OECD notes “A SLO has the capacity to change and adapt routinely to new environments and circumstances as its members, individually and together, learn their way to realising their vision” (OECD, 2018, p. 2).
It could be argued that all stakeholders in Welsh education must become learning organisations in order to ensure a successful roll-out of Curriculum for Wales. Whether in response to PISA scores, societal changes or an outdated curriculum, there can be no doubt that education in Wales needed to change. For Curriculum for Wales to succeed, we should all view that educational change as a journey, and this September is just one milestone on that journey of change.
As I reflect with wonder on the development of education in Wales so far, I also recognise there is more to do. Our professional learning continues, whether student, beginner, or experienced teacher; whether education tutor, advisor or inspector.
This professional learning will be key in ensuring Curriculum for Wales has a successful future. Ymlaen!
Kolb, D. (1984) Experiential learning: experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
OECD (2018) Developing Schools as Learning Organisations in Wales. Paris: Implementing Education Policies, OECD Publishing. Available at: https://www.oecd.org/education/developing-schools-as-learning-organisations-in-wales-9789264307193-en.htm (Accessed 8th July 2022).
Nerys Defis Nerys is a curriculum tutor on the Open University Partnership’s PGCE programme in Wales. With a background in primary education, she supports students from across Wales to train as teachers and is also undertaking research on perceptions of children’s use of technology and impact on health and well-being.