Jon Murphy, Executive Headteacher of Llanfoist Fawr and Llanvihangel Crucorney Primary Schools, explains why he’s optimistic about the new freedoms presented by the draft Curriculum for Wales 2022.

While observing an inspiring Year 5 lesson as part of an assessment for the NACE Challenge Award, my eye was drawn to a statement above the whiteboard: “Who says the sky’s the limit when there are footsteps on the moon?” Push beyond our thin and fragile atmosphere, escape the boundaries created by gravity and a whole new exciting world of exploration, discovery and possibility emerges. Those words have remained with me and have become a guiding principle in my work with more able and talented (MAT) children.  

The national curriculum defines parameters within which to operate, bringing both benefits and limitations. Key phases create their own “gravity” which can hold teachers and learners within fixed boundaries. Over-prescribed curriculum content stifles creativity, exploration and discovery, particularly for those with an independent spirit and capability. Boundaries create barriers to learning.

However, with the new Curriculum for Wales, we are being provided with the wonderful opportunity to change the way we teach our young people. We are on the verge of the introduction of a totally different approach, which promises the removal of boundaries, resulting in the creation of exciting educational discoveries that will challenge the way we think, the way we teach and the way we prepare our young people for the future. The significant change needed for curriculum reform will challenge us as professionals and by the same token will allow us the freedom to transform the way we challenge our more able learners.

The story so far…

30 April 2019 saw the publication of the draft Curriculum for Wales 2022. Within the Federation of Llanfoist Fawr and Llanvihangel Primary Schools, preparation for curriculum reform started long before the publication of the draft orders. Professor Graham Donald’s Successful Futures report, the catalyst which led to curriculum reform, provided the starting point for our own journey of curriculum transformation. We followed its progression through to the white paper, Our National Mission: A Transformational Curriculum, which gave us sight of the legislative proposals for Curriculum Wales 2022. 

Although the details of the new Curriculum for Wales have only recently become available to all schools in draft form, carefully considered strategic planning has provided us with a head start in our preparations for implementation. Fundamental to the new curriculum are the Four Purposes which guide educational priorities and underpin teaching and learning to ensure learners become:
  • Ambitious, capable learners who are ready to learn throughout their lives;
  • Enterprising, creative contributors who are ready to play a full part in life and work;
  • Ethical, informed citizens who are ready to be citizens of Wales and the world;
  • Healthy, confident individuals who are ready to lead fulfilling lives as valued members of society.
Already the Four Purposes are a regular and natural part of the everyday new curriculum vocabulary used by pupils and staff. The purposes chime so well with the aspirations we have always held for our more able learners. We have created a vision and aims that are aligned to the purposes of the new curriculum, and although early days, we are already striving to ensure our vision ultimately comes to fruition through the introduction of new pedagogical approaches. We have moved away from the traditional subject coordinator role and allocated staff to the six Areas of Learning and Experience (AoLE) – expressive arts; health and wellbeing; humanities; literacy, languages and communication; mathematics and numeracy; science and technology – creating curriculum teams which bring together colleagues’ existing skills, knowledge and expertise.

Preparing for change: the role of the PLL

Although not a Pioneer School involved in the initial shaping of the curriculum, we have worked closely with our Pioneer colleagues to keep abreast of innovation and change. Pivotal to our work with Pioneer Schools has been the internal appointment of a Professional Learning Lead (PLL) – an initiative introduced by the South East Wales Consortium (EAS). Due to the significant changes in pedagogical approach needed to deliver the new Curriculum for Wales, it is essential to appoint a PLL with extensive skills, knowledge and experience in child development to ensure the curriculum is designed to meet the needs of every individual pupil, regardless of ability.

In addition to success as a subject leader across a number of areas, our own PLL has extensive experience as an Additional Learning Needs Coordinator and is also our More Able and Talented Coordinator. A key role for the PLL is to oversee the development of the 12 Pedagogical Principles across the six AoLEs, which are at the heart of curriculum reform. Currently our PLL is developing staff knowledge and understanding of the “what matters” concepts in each AoLE – headline statements that outline and organise learning. The “what matters” statements make connections to the Four Purposes to ensure learners acquire the appropriate knowledge, skills and experiences in each AoLE.

An operational starting point for staff has been involvement in the redesign of our planning templates to address the elements of the new curriculum framework. We are now making our first attempts to pilot planning and curriculum design for delivery of the new AoLEs.

Ensuring consistency and coherence

Successful implementation of the new national curriculum will be dependent on the quality of professional development provided for staff, upskilling them in the pedagogical approaches needed for effective delivery. Our PLL attends curriculum reform professional development opportunities facilitated by Pioneer colleagues, the EAS and other providers. She acts as a conduit bringing back into school new developments and good practice to be shared in senior leadership, staff and governors’ meetings and through facilitating school professional development days.

As a school we are already finding that professional development gained through participation in the NACE Challenge Development Programme is complementing and enhancing our curriculum reform work. We are looking at change holistically, and as a result we are carefully aligning curriculum reform with other work streams, including our transition to the six elements of the revised NACE Challenge Framework and amendment of our self-evaluation processes to address Estyn’s five inspection areas. This strategic alignment of the different systems and processes we use in school is ensuring that they work together as a coherent whole.

The freedom to let learners fly

Within the draft orders for the new curriculum are details of the principles for progression. These guide the progression of learning within each of the six AoLEs; the outlined progression steps contain achievement outcomes which can be used to identify progression of what a pupil can do as they progress in their learning. Unlike the current curriculum, which almost ties learning into key phases demarked by outcomes and levels, the progression steps are a true continuum and allow children to progress more in line with their ability – without the boundaries which can suppress progress. For more able learners there are no false ceilings; they can fly. 

Teachers will need to teach differently, developing new pedagogy, assessment processes and the confidence to “let go of the reins”. Young people will have a greater say in what and how they learn. Enrichment and experiences which are an integral part of the new curriculum will allow learners to have a greater voice in how they design, guide, investigate and lead their own learning: a tantalising thought for more able learners, who will be provided with even greater opportunities to spread their wings. Through the freedom intended in the new curriculum, Welsh Government is handing us the scissors with which to cut the apron strings.

Grounds for optimism

The new Curriculum for Wales will provide a continuum of learning; the restrictive key phases present in the current curriculum will no longer exist. Transition will become smoother but at the same time will require even greater partnership and tighter transition plans to ensure a successful and seamless move for pupils from primary to secondary schools. With a learning continuum, it follows that work, which has traditionally been seen as the domain of the secondary sector, will permeate its way more readily into primary practice, an exciting prospect for more able learners who will access increasingly challenging concepts earlier in their primary career.

There is a great deal of optimism in Wales surrounding the introduction of a new curriculum.  Naturally, there are concerns about resourcing and the pace and extent of change. Overall, educational professionals realise that we are on the verge of a new educational system that is non-prescriptive, boundary-free and which offers the freedom to develop learning opportunities that are genuinely bespoke to meet the needs of all learners, preparing them for work and life. We all have a lot to gain from current educational reform, and none more so than more able and talented learners.

What do you think about the draft new Curriculum for Wales? How is your school preparing? Share your views by completing our short survey.
Thursday, May 16, 2019