The challenge of making a new curriculum work: we’re professionals, let’s enjoy it!

Darllenwch y dudalen hon yn Gymraeg

mick-watersYoung people represent humanity’s future. What could be more important in school than the curriculum we choose to lay before them? The ongoing challenge is for everyone involved in education in Wales to work together to develop a curriculum for the 21st century that will give all young people the skills, knowledge, understanding and personal qualities they need to flourish.

Developing the curriculum has two key elements; first, produce it and second, make it work. It is essential that the published curriculum approved by the National Assembly is world class. But it is where it meets the learner in the school that it will really show its worth.

At present in Wales, the belief in teachers as agents in the development of the curriculum is strong and groups of people from schools are working hard to bring it to fruition.

When published there will be the usual excitement that follows the publication of every new national curriculum in every nation. What is in and what is out? Which painters, poets, battles or explorers? Which key concepts are missing or what is new for teachers to grapple with in structuring learning? Is there too much or too little content? Is the progression right for the expected maturity and development of the learner?

Just as before, the challenge that follows the publication of a new national curriculum is how to make sure it is taught well.

Almost every national curriculum in every nation struggles with this. And there is a pattern: within a very short time, just months, schools gently cease teaching what is in the national curriculum and teach what they think is in it. As time goes along, they teach what is tested and examined, what is inspected, what they know about as teachers, what is enjoyed by the learners, what learners can do without too much problem and what they themselves enjoy teaching.

It is not deliberate but whole swathes of intended learning are neglected as schools chase the measurable and the accountable and try to balance that with the enjoyable. Hence, from early years to key stage 4, whole periods of history are side-stepped, many learners are not well versed in poetry, there is less experimental science than intended, and many learners do not travel far in geography. Yet there is still plenty of content to fill the time!

In Wales there is a chance that this vicious circle can be broken. Belief in the teaching profession is extending to a recognition that producing a curriculum is only part of the process: working out how best it should meet the learner is another.

For that reason, Professional Learning Pioneers are starting to work out how to bring alive the Areas of Learning Experience and use them as a vehicle for helping the professional growth of teachers across the country. By setting up focused projects that explore learning in the context of their schools and link curriculum development with the new professional standards, they are grappling with the beast that has previously eaten curriculum intentions.

So delivery of a new curriculum should not suffer this time! The link between pedagogy and curriculum is being explored in trials and pilots to build models to help the intended curriculum become the one that learners actually experience. At every step of the way through planning and teaching, they are grappling with the complexities to make it work.

It is hard work. There are so many facets to the jewel of curriculum that it is easy to get dazzled and confused or attracted to one particular face. So the Pioneers’ work in making sure the new curriculum becomes a reality that learners experience is vital for the future of the country. Like all pioneering, it is uncertain, challenging and finding the right way is a puzzle. But the work will begin to help others find a way forward, help them to overcome uncertainty and step forward with confidence. As teachers we should embrace the complexity and enjoy the challenge.

The curriculum should be treasured. There should be real pride in ‘our’ curriculum; the learning that the nation has decided it should set before its young. Teachers, parents, the wider education community, the media and the public at large should all see the curriculum as something that they embrace, support and celebrate. Most of all, young people should relish the opportunity for discovery and achievement that the curriculum offers to them.

Mick Waters

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