Prior to and increasingly moreso since the publication of the draft Curriculum for Wales, several myths and misinterpretations have emerged that are contrary to the intentions of those involved in the design and development. Over two blog posts, we seek to dispel some of these myths and provide some balance where unhelpful dichotomies have begun to emerge.
Myth #1 – Nothing will really change – it can be delivered in the same way as we are doing now.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it? This is a common objection to doing something new. But, does something need to be completely broken before we look to improve, develop and reform it?
The new curriculum for Wales is a different type of curriculum to our current one – built on the 4 purposes. Regardless of how effective you feel your current curriculum provision is, you will need to engage with what a purpose-led curriculum means for learners and consider your curriculum in the light of the 4 Purposes, the AoLEs, What Matters and Achievement Outcomes. This will mean more than simply retro-fitting these elements into the current understanding and ways of working. The new Curriculum for Wales framework is precisely that – a national framework, which can only be realised following school-based curriculum and assessment development. Moreover, it is vital that we understand that the term curriculum refers to all the learning experiences and assessment activities planned in pursuit of our agreed purposes of education.
There will need to be change, for some settings more than others. Is it really going to be possible (or advisable) to have a new curriculum, new professional standards, new assessment and accountability arrangements, development of new qualifications, and the proposed Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Bill, and yet not change anything in your setting at all?
Myth #2 – This is a ‘skills’ curriculum.
In our work with schools and other education stakeholders there has occasionally been a misconception that the Curriculum for Wales is a ‘skills’ curriculum. In Successful Futures, Graham Donaldson has made it clear that a balance of knowledge, skills development and experiences are essential to ensure that our young people have a rounded education. During each phase of development, those involved have made an effort to ensure that this balance is at the forefront.
Indeed, one look at the four purposes reveals that to be an ambitious, capable learner, ready to learn throughout their lives, learners need ‘a body of knowledge and have the skills to connect and apply that knowledge in different contexts’. Enterprising, creative contributors can ‘connect and apply their knowledge and skills to create ideas and products’. Ethical, informed citizens learners should be ‘knowledgeable about their culture, community, society and the world, now and in the past.
Within the planning for learning section of our new curriculum there is a detailed explanation of the knowledge, skills and experiences that are encompassed within each What Matters.
We have also heard and read that the 21st Century Skills agenda and work of the OECD is a key influence on the design of the curriculum. Whilst the work of the OECD has been considered in the development of the curriculum, so have the viewpoints of a broad range of contributors and experts from all sides of the debate on curriculum development.
Interestingly, a closer examination of the OECD 2030 Future of Education and Skills Project is very clear about the place of knowledge in the curriculum. For example the report states that:
‘Disciplinary knowledge, or subject specific knowledge, continues to be an essential foundation for understanding, and a structure through which students can develop other types of knowledge. The opportunity to acquire disciplinary knowledge is also fundamental to equity.’
So this should form the basis of pupils’ understanding in the first instance, but in a well-planned curriculum, this knowledge will be developed further, for example:
‘Interdisciplinary knowledge can be integrated into curricula: by transferring key concepts, identifying connectedness, through thematic learning; by combining related subjects’. Therefore, interdisciplinary thinking should deepen pupils’ understanding, once they have a sound knowledge base within their areas of study.
OECD also highlight the importance of both epistemic knowledge, the ability to think like a mathematician or a historian (for example) and Procedural knowledge or the understanding of how a task is performed, and how to work and learn through structured processes.
Each of these forms of knowledge should be developed within the curriculum; hence the curriculum guidance materials to support the development of the curriculum in schools will help to develop practitioners’ understanding of these concepts with supporting exemplification. These will also be the focus of regional professional learning support programmes.
Myth #3 – There are no disciplines or subjects in the new curriculum
In addition to the above, there have been some interesting media headlines regarding the loss of a number of traditional disciplines from the curriculum framework.
Whilst the pioneers have sought to actively make links and connections between disciplines, the central constructs, essential knowledge and skills of key disciplines remain within the curriculum framework.
Indeed, there are many new subject areas in the curriculum – reflecting the changing world since 1988 – such as business studies, social studies and film and digital media. Each Area of Learning and Experience encompasses a range of subject areas – the subjects are not lost, they are grouped into areas of learning and experience, reflecting the desire for a more connected and less fragmented approach to learning.
In designing the curriculum, Pioneer Schools were always asking the question, how does the Area of Learning and Experience support the development of the four purposes in young people? Rather than how does the curriculum support a faithful study of disciplinary knowledge and skills?
Additionally, as a learner moves towards progression step 5, the design of the ‘learning’ section of the curriculum begins to provide for pathways into more specialist areas of study, for example in the Science and Technology ‘What Matters’ statement:
Forces and energy determine the structure and dynamics of the universe.
In addition to the common considerations of enquiry, additional considerations for disciplinary study have been added. For example, relating to physics:
• I can investigate how and why bodies move with reference to relevant physical laws.
The structure of the curriculum into areas of learning and experiences has led many to assume that schools will have to design integrated curriculums in each Area of Learning and Experience. The Curriculum for Wales does aim to reduce ‘fragmented’ learning experiences and help connect and link in learning, both within and across AoLEs. But, this does not necessarily require an integrated approach. Schools may wish to develop integrated, multi-disciplinary, interdisciplinary, or disciplinary approaches to curriculum design within and across AoLEs. Evaluating different curriculum design approaches may be a good first step for teachers and school leaders.
A cross-curricular approach to developing the three cross curricular responsibilities of Literacy, Numeracy and Digital competence, as well as wider skills, also needs to be developed.
Myth #4 – This curriculum should be learner-led
As in other areas of the debate surrounding the curriculum, there has been often been discussion about the degree to which learners are involved in the direction of their learning. There has been a confusion that ‘subsidiarity’ in terms of practitioner choice should need to be an entirely ‘constructivist’ approach to curriculum making, in which the interests of children are the starting point for planning the school-level curriculum. Inversely, there are views that the curriculum should be sequenced and planned in forensic detail by teachers and leaders, with little or no involvement from children.
The intention of the design teams lies somewhere between these views. It is essential that our young people have a well-planned and structured curriculum with opportunities to learn across subject areas contained within (and across) the AoLE’s. This should be developed in such a way to develop their knowledge and connect their learning (across Areas of Learning and Experience) to deepen their understanding, but also include a longer-term plan that maps out this learning in a logical and sequenced way.
However, it is also important that learners have a voice to shape the experiences and areas of inquiry that will help to ensure that their learning experience builds on their prior knowledge and experiences, providing them with an authentic and relevant curriculum.
The new curriculum should not be seen as a ‘free for all’ where anything goes. Teachers and support staff play a vital role in deciding which content should be studied and how best it should be taught, rooted of course in the ‘What Matters’ and KSEs. Students have a choice but within boundaries. Teachers make decisions on content/topics that ensure breadth and relevance with students having a voice within that. It would then make sense if curriculum was referred to as learner influenced rather than learner led.
Post created by James Kent, Nicky Hagendyk and Daniel Davies (EAS – Education Achievement Service for South East Wales)