There has never been a more exciting time to teach! This is said sincerely. Teachers are working in a time of high change and huge possibilities. The national agenda of creating a practitioner-led curriculum is a significant shift; and whilst it might not be the easiest way to generate a new curriculum, it is certainly one that recognises that it is teachers working in Wales who have the knowledge and skills to create a curriculum that provides our learners with the best possible outcomes. As a member of a pioneer school it has been a privilege to be part of the process.
Education, since I have been a part of it, has been subject to a succession of rapid changes but never one as significant as the development of the new curriculum for Wales. So I can quite understand if colleagues feel a sense of trepidation about the change, and wonder whether some of the good work we know we’ve been doing up to now will be in danger of getting thrown out with the bath water! Well it won’t: good practice is good practice, and colleagues should be respected for that.
That’s why I wanted to write this blog post. To talk about the new developments but try to reassure colleagues about this change.
The thing is… I am so excited!
Because actually, all of the changes that are taking place are exciting! To me, the most significant shift is the integrity with which the curriculum is to be enacted. Although when I am particularly enthusiastic in INSET at the end of a wet and windy Wednesday that hasn’t seen the children get outside to play I am reminded that not everyone shares my enthusiastic streak.
The realist in me knows that this isn’t an easy task we face, and that we all have challenges ahead to realise the new curriculum. It would be churlish to dismiss the fact that in addition to the impending changes from reform, every teacher and leader has a cohort of learners in front of them, who are just as important as the ones that will succeed them once the curriculum for Wales becomes a reality. Therefore it is important that we focus as much attention and effort on them as we are on future cohorts.
For me, this is where the new curriculum and meeting the needs of the learners in front of us today are one and the same.
To start at the beginning, consider the 4 core purposes. I defy any practitioner in Wales to disagree with them as aspirations for our current learners, not just those of the future. Careful consideration of these in the context of your setting, how they can be used beyond the level of a slogan, how they inform learning experiences, how they drive policy decisions, that’s a bold concept that we should be celebrating. We can make positive changes now.
If we move onto pedagogy, and the pedagogical principles, this is surely an area that all teachers are familiar with. Calling them pedagogical principles (which of course they are) does not alter the content of them, and it is the content of many, if not all of the pedagogical principles, that teachers are familiar with. Good quality teaching and learning now will remain good quality teaching and learning in the new curriculum.
As a profession, our shift has to be in our attitude towards pedagogy and clearly defining what we mean by good teaching. Pedagogies are not a tick list to be done. There is more than one formula for good teaching. We must not confuse teaching strategies with pedagogical principles. A strategy could be using a particular colour of pen to up-level a piece of work. Assessment for learning is a principle that allows pupils to work with teachers to become reflective about their work and use their knowledge to make improvements. A different colour pen can be a useful signpost for learners, but it is the quality of the interaction between teacher and pupil that will make the critical difference. We should explore which strategies best move learning forward within a principle, but not confuse the two. The development of pedagogy, and reflecting on the impact of our practice, should be a career-long focus for us all.
Returning to the new curriculum, we need to consider carefully what we think of when we refer to a ‘curriculum’. It will not be not a set of content to be delivered; that has been tried already and it leads to frustrated teachers who do not feel they have given their learners the best possible learning experiences. In the future our school curriculum, that we will write based on the content of the Areas of Learning and Experience, will meet the needs of our learners and our school in our specific context. Which means that mine, in Whitchurch Primary, will look different to yours. It will subscribe to the same core knowledge, skills and experiences, but be tailored to the learners in our own settings. It will make a positive difference to learners.
And I can accept that none of this is ‘easy’ but surely it is right, and more than that… it’s exciting!
Assistant Headteacher, Whitchurch Primary School.