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10th May 2017


Developing the new Curriculum for Wales, It’s easy, Isn’t it…?
 
Since 1988, National Curricula have been developed by ‘experts’ commissioned by Civil Servants and whilst practitioners and school leaders have had the opportunity to feedback at various review points in the process, exposure to ‘curriculum making’ has been limited. As Kelly (2009, pg 20) points out:-
 
“Teachers have been told what they are to teach, and their trainers are required to train them to ‘deliver’ the stipulated curriculum rather than to reflect on its major features, so that questions of the purpose or justification of this curriculum, or even of its logical or intellectual coherence, have effectively been removed from their sphere of influence”   
 
Whilst we have seen a proliferation of academic and evidence based research in terms of effective pedagogy, exemplified by the work of academics such John Hattie, Robert Marzano, Dylan Wiliam and organisations such as the Sutton Trust (Education Endowment Foundation), the literature on approaches to developing effective Curricula is much less prevalent.
 
In many respects, and in our experience in leading an AoLE group, part of the pioneer process has been about ensuring that the practitioners with whom we are working have the opportunity to develop their knowledge and skills as ‘curriculum makers’, alongside developing the new curriculum for Wales.
 
In this blog post we will examine some of the key challenges currently facing the groups of teachers currently developing the new curriculum and we will provide some insight from our very privileged positions as Chair and vice-Chair of the Humanities AoLE (Area of Learning and Experience) group.
 
A different type of Curriculum?
In his book “An introduction to curriculum research and development” Lawrence Stenhouse (1975) suggests that there are broadly three different types of curriculum.
 
A content curriculum:- Where the specification of content to be taught is used as a starting point. A criticism of this type of curriculum is that it will encourage a content-driven approach to teaching and learning.
 
An outcomes curriculum:- In which the specification of outcomes to be achieved  is used as a starting point in curriculum development. As issue here is that the curriculum can quickly become assessment-driven and encourage schools to take an ‘audit’/tick-box approach to curriculum design.
 
A process curriculum (sometimes referred to as the ‘developmental model’):- In this model it is the Specification of long term goals (or developmental processes) and educational purposes as a starting point. Curriculum content and pedagogical methods are then selected which best suit the intended outcome.
 
Whilst the above is quite a crude summary, it is quite clear that the recommendations from ‘Successful Futures’ suggest that the new National Curriculum for Wales will be rooted within the process model. As Kelly (2009 pg 32) suggests:-
 
“If we accept that curriculum planning must begin with statements about the purposes we hope to attain or the principles upon which our practice is to be based, all decisions about the content of our curriculum must be subsidiary to those prior choices.”
 
You will have already deduced from this that in its purest form this model would suggest quite a high degree of freedom for schools in terms of selection of curriculum content, but how much? Will there be a specification of minimum content required? If so, how can we ensure that the content selected is supportive of the four purposes outline in Successful Futures? How much specification is too much? These are the questions that the AoLE groups are currently working to resolve.
 
International Trends in Curriculum Development and the Knowledge and Skills debate…
 
There are a number of key international drivers affecting curriculum reform, which are being considered in the development of the new Curriculum for Wales. Sinnema and Aitkin (2013) writing in Preistley et al Reinventing the Curriculum, write a chapter about some of these key drivers. They cite the key goals of curriculum policy reform as being:-
·       Curriculum as a lever for improvement (having a strong role in influencing and improving teachers' practice)
·       Curriculum serving equity goals (closing the gap for disadvantaged children)
·       Curriculum as future focused (ensuring that pupils are equipped with adaptive knowledges, understanding and skills)
·       Curriculum coherence (reduce fragmentation, de-clutter and reduce content)
 
Additionally, there are common emphases in recently developed curricula. The first is the movement from the development of discrete knowledge and skills to the development of competences. As Mick Waters (2012) helpfully explains:-
 
“The coming together of knowledge, understanding, skills and personal development is usually referred to as competency”
 
“The key to curriculum design is how these three aspects – subject knowledge, personal development and key skills – can be brought together for their mutual benefit and to achieve competency”
 
In Successful Futures, Graham Donaldson recommends that:-
“These areas (AoLEs) should provide rich contexts for developing the four curriculum purposes, be internally coherent, employ distinctive ways of thinking, and have an identifiable core of disciplinary or instrumental knowledge.”
 
In this respect one of the key tasks that the groups are currently working on is to define what the ‘core of disciplinary and instrumental knowledge’ is within the AoLE and how this can be supportive of the development of rich-contexts to realise the four purposes! This in itself presents an interesting challenge from the point of view of the Humanities since there is key instrumental knowledge within the constituent ‘subject’ disciplines to consider.
 
Other emphases outlined by Sinnema and Aitkin (2013, p g 142) include:-
·       The place of values in the curriculum (e.g. the primacy of the Four-Purposes in the Curriculum for Wales)
·       Attention to pedagogy – many existing curricula (including our own Foundation Phase) have specific advice regarding approaches to teaching and learning e.g. New Zealand and Singapore
·       Promoting student agency – the concept of allowing children to exert some control over planning their teaching, learning and assessment
·       Strengthening partnerships with parents
·       Reducing prescription and increasing (teacher) autonomy
 
AoLEs, Scope and Range?
Within each Area of Learning and Experience a number of ‘traditional’ academic disciplines are being brought together under an overarching umbrella, but what does this mean for these once discretely taught subject disciplines? Without wishing to pre-empt the ongoing development process, it’s likely that within and across the AoLEs the new curriculum will promote interdisciplinarity across subject areas to deepen pupils understanding.
 
This is an interesting area for debate, the Centre for Curriculum Development (based in Boston, USA) have described the following modern interdisciplinary knowledge areas as most ‘widely applicable and deeply relevant to a successful 21st Century education approach’:-
·       Technology and Engineering – (including Computer Science)
·       Bioengineering
·       Media journalism (digital) and cinema
·       Entrepreneurship and Business Development
·       Personal Finance
·       Wellness – Physical and mental
·       Social systems – sociology, anthropology etc. 
 
This list is quite a significant departure from the current curriculum structure in Wales, but it is possible to see how in Graham Donaldson’s review, some of these areas of learning have been highlighted e.g. the importance of STEM, the development of learners’ entrepreneurial skills, a significant focus on Health and Wellbeing and the inclusion of Social Studies in the Humanities Area of Learning, to ensure that pupils have better understanding of social systems.
 
Assessment and Progression
Alongside the development of the curriculum framework, the AoLE groups are working with the University of Glasgow and University of Wales Trinity Saint David on the development of the progression framework for the new Curriculum. Whilst this work is in its exploratory stages, it is already presenting some interesting challenges for those in the groups. In particular how and on what basis progression will be described across the AoLE. There will be further updates about the development of this work in future blog posts as the new framework emerges.
 
The Implementation Gap
Whilst the development of a new curriculum for Wales brings huge opportunities for learners, there are also significant challenges. One of the most significant will be to ensure that there is no significant gap in implementation between the national intentions as set out in Successful Futures (and future curricular guidance) and the realisation of this curriculum at a school level. This is especially acute as there is the intention to provide schools with greater flexibility/freedom with how they develop and evolve their own curriculum. Whilst there is no time in this post to discuss the far reaching implications of this issue, there will be a significant requirement for practitioners throughout the workforce to have opportunities to engage meaningfully with professional learning – this will be the subject of the next blog post.  
 
Conclusion
The development of the new Curriculum for Wales is a challenging and complex process for all of the reasons outlined above. We are, however, fortunate to have the significant expertise that exists within the Curriculum and Assessment Panel to draw upon and to be working with a group of committed and engaged professionals, who themselves are developing their own skills, whilst building the curriculum for Wales framework.      
 
References:- In this blog we have referred to some key texts that support understanding of the issues that we briefly explored with regards to Curriculum Development.
 
The Curriculum, Theory and Practice, A.V. Kelly, SAGE, 2009.
An Introduction to Curriculum Research and Development, Lawrence Stenhouse, Heinemann, 1975
 
The Secondary Curriculum Design Handbook: Preparing Young People for Their Futures, Mick Waters and Brian Male, Continuum, 2012
 
Knowledge and the Future School, Curriculum and Social Justice, Michael Young and David Lambert, Bloomsbury 2013.
 
Four-Dimensional Education: The Competencies Learners Need to Succeed, Center for Curriculum Redesign, 2015
 
Re-inventing the Curriculum, Mark Priestley and Gert Biesta, Bloomsbury, London, 2013


Blog Authors



James Kent
Area Lead,
Wider Curriculum
and Pioneer Schools



Mike Cameron
Area Lead,
Professional Learning &
Regional Induction
co-ordinator
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