Swansea Pupil Referral Unit (PRU): new curriculum opportunities – in spite of Covid.

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At Swansea PRU we teach a range of learners from Foundation Phase through to KS4, all of whom have social, emotional, mental health or behavioural difficulties. The impact of Covid-19 has led to some of the greatest and fastest changes in what and how we teach our pupils that I have ever experienced, and probably the most challenging 6 months of my career.

As we start the 20/21 school year, we need to assess how the events of recent months have impacted on the well-being of our pupils, and to plan for how we can support their well-being, resilience and mental health as we move forward into the unpredictable year ahead.

We’ve tried our best to engage all learners, and whilst we may not have succeeded with every pupil every time, we’ve learned so much along the way. The creative strategies that teachers and associate staff developed during lock down have been inspirational. Necessity has driven a focus on engagement, well-being and shaping learning to meet our pupils’ individual needs and circumstances.

The new academic year will see us work together to implement the ‘new new’ learning environment in response to Covid. But alongside that we’re also planning to move into our new purpose-designed building at the start of 2021. Concerns and feelings of anxiety are counterbalanced by a sense of excitement and opportunity.

Before I tell you more about that, let’s look at how the new curriculum will help pupils at Swansea PRU.

For us, supporting learners to realise Curriculum for Wales’ four purposes has always made perfect sense. However, the focus on developing all our children and young people to be:

  • ambitious, capable learners, ready to learn throughout their lives
  • enterprising, creative contributors, ready to play a full part in life and work
  • ethical, informed citizens of Wales and the world
  • healthy, confident individuals, ready to lead fulfilling lives as valued members of society.

…has never seemed as relevant as it does now:

The ability to shape the learning for our pupils in a way that is tailored to their individual needs, interests and experiences is greatly welcomed.  And as we move further towards the roll-out of the new Curriculum for Wales, it is clear that we can’t wait until 2022.

With Health and Well-being as one of the six areas of learning and experience in the new curriculum, the recognition of its integral link to all learning ensures that it is central to the planning for all of our learners. It gives us in the PRU a clear starting point to genuinely plan our curriculum around matters which act as barriers to many of our pupils; that way we can start to overcome the issues that prevent them from engaging positively – with others, with learning, with society, and tragically for some pupils, with life itself.

Animal husbandry!

The new curriculum also offers our teachers an opportunity to shape learning opportunities in an even more meaningful way, and to engage those learners who are most disengaged. The creative flair our staff have shown over the last 6 months needs to be nurtured and further developed to support the planning of a braver, more exciting and engaging curriculum. The focus on progression enables us to use assessment more honestly and more realistically – to accurately measure where pupils are in their learning, to inform planning and pedagogy to enable them to reach the next steps; also to observe and celebrate their progress in all aspects of their learning rather than focusing on difficulties and shortcomings linked to the acquisition of narrow fields of knowledge.

Pure tech

Digital learning has also evolved as we have changed the ways we work to manage Covid-19 issues, and the power of digital competence and confidence has been highlighted more than ever before. This year we will fully and bravely embrace digitally enhanced learning because we see the importance it holds for our pupils and their futures. It supports greater independence and connectivity in learning, as well as communication with friends, families, teachers, future employers and the wider world. To do this, we will work to ensure that all our staff have the skills and knowledge to meaningfully plan for its use across the curriculum and to support our children and young people in their mastery of digital skills. We will also need to review access to devices, software and learning platforms so they can be used safely to support learning outside of the school building as well as in lessons. 

Alongside this, next year our new tailor-made building will help us build better futures. Hopefully we will move in by early 2021, using facilities which will help us further support learners and enhanced learning experiences.

Our learners need to understand the impact of their decision-making on the quality of their lives, and the lives of others, something we have always worked to develop. Our new building has been designed to help us with this, so that we can more effectively shape their learning and tailor it to individual needs, interests and experiences. It will also help with learning about health and well-being, such as understanding the importance of developing good physical health with food technology teaching rooms, good access to outdoor spaces and eco areas. We will have a large hall, with carefully designed sensory rooms, therapy rooms and quiet areas which will help us deliver a therapeutic curriculum, developing and nurturing good mental health.

So with a new term underway, a new cohort of pupils and a new building around the corner, could there be a better time to develop our new curriculum?  A curriculum that is purpose driven and based on what actually does matter? Well for us it’s the right time, and that’s regardless of a pandemic! At Swansea PRU we embrace the new, and for us this certainly is not the end of ‘the news’.

Amanda Taylor,

Headteacher, Swansea PRU and Behaviour Support Unit.

Amanda is one of the practitioners currently developing Curriculum for Wales guidance for PRUs and Education Other Than At School (EOTAS).

Can Further Education learn from what’s happening with the new curriculum?

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The curriculum for Wales guidance has now been published. During the last year I had the opportunity to work as part of the Science and Technology Area of Learning and Experience group on the refinement of the curriculum after the draft was published in April.

Karl FE for the blog (2)My involvement with the group was from a computing perspective. I worked as part of the AoLE, but importantly I was also able to provide a perspective from the post-16 further education sector.

The Curriculum for Wales seeks a shift in classroom practice, as well as a new ideal as to the final goal of educating young people in Wales. Currently, teaching and assessment focus heavily on the ability to retain and regurgitate facts parrot-fashion, if learners are to be deemed successful. Continue reading

Technocamps Summer of STEM: Delivering Science and Technology through Distance Learning

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Technocamps item 2 top pic

School holidays are different this year, with pupils from all parts of Wales entering their Summer break after months of enforced lockdown in which learning has been all but limited to being online. Despite – or because of – this, there has been an overwhelming response to our Summer of STEM programme which runs throughout the first three weeks of August. Over 600 pupils aged 9 to 16 have signed up to join 15 days of inspiring, fun activities.

The Summer of STEM Programme Continue reading

Technocamps: Igniting Computation in the New Curriculum

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Technocamps logoIt is an extremely exciting if challenging time for schools in Wales with the dawn of the new curriculum, to be used in all schools from September 2022. It is exciting because it offers the opportunity for teachers and schools to develop and implement a curriculum tailored to their pupils, but could be challenging as cross-disciplinary Areas of Learning and Experience (AoLEs) are introduced, as well as new topics such as computation.

Technocamps’ mission has always been to inspire, motivate and engage people with computational thinking. We will be continuing this mission by helping teachers and their schools to develop effective and engaging teaching practices around the computation statement of What Matters in the Science and Technology AoLE.

The computation statement of What Matters states:

Computation is the foundation for our digital world:

Computation involves algorithms processing data to solve a wide range of real-world problems. Computational processes have changed the way we live, work, study and interact with each other and our environment. They provide the foundation for all software and hardware systems, but learners should also be aware of the limitations of what computers can achieve. To create and use digital technologies to their full potential, learners need to know how they work. They also need to understand that there are broad legal, social and ethical consequences to the use of technology. This can help learners to make informed decisions about the future development and application of technology.’  Continue reading

Updated Routes for Learning materials: practitioners meet to provide feedback

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Routes for Learning materials support practitioners in assessing learners with profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD). They focus on learners’ communication and social interaction skills, early cognitive development and their interaction with the environment. Practitioners and academic experts have come together to update these materials to support the wider Curriculum for Wales guidance and to reflect the latest research in the field.

As part of the updating process, draft materials were made available in January. In February, practitioners joined events in north and south Wales to discuss the developments and offer feedback in person. Aron Bradley, Headteacher from Ysgol Hen Felin, attended the Cardiff event:

Aron for Assessment blog post

‘I attended the Routes for Learning event to find out more about the updated materials and contribute to the feedback process.

It was insightful to hear first-hand from experts who have developed the updated materials. It was particularly interesting to listen to academics and current school practitioners about the journey in reviewing the previous guidance and its use with appropriate pupils across Wales. Academic research made available since that guidance was produced was shared, and showed why it needed to be updated. All of which supports the teaching, learning and assessment of this particular cohort of learners.

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Reframing the way we think about assessment – during Covid and for the future

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Female teacher with her pupils in classroomSince the Covid outbreak, learning and teaching has changed in Wales. A combination of remote learning and face-to-face learning has been a reality for the majority of learners and practitioners in recent times.

Learning and teaching will continue to be affected by the Covid-19 pandemic during the 2020/21 school year. The approaches taken by schools and settings will continue to evolve to provide learning both in school and elsewhere – if the need arises. The balance between learning in schools and settings and time spent learning elsewhere may well change at particular points in response to the pandemic.

As schools and settings have been increasing their operations this summer term, practitioners have been using contact time to ’check in’ and ‘catch up’ with learners, to support their well-being and help them re-engage in their learning.

This focus on supporting the individual needs of learners fits well with the changes for assessment that are underway as part of the new curriculum. So the current situation brings an opportunity to re-visit assessment, re-framing our thinking and moving towards the new arrangements, where the emphasis is on supporting each individual learner to make progress.

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Building from Uncertainty

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GD - quite intenseThe last few months have posed exceptional challenges for everyone involved in supporting the well-being of the young people of Wales. In particular, teachers, headteachers, parents and carers have had to overcome personal pressures and anxieties as they have sought to engage with the learning of their young people.  Observing all of this effort, I have been struck by the ways in which the Welsh educational reforms could help chart a path through the uncertainties posed by the current situation.

The Bill which will establish the legislative basis for the new curriculum has now begun its passage through the Senedd. However the new legal framework will look very different from that which has existed since the 1990s.  Schools will have much greater scope to shape the learning of their young people in ways that better reflect their needs. The four purposes that lie at the heart of the Curriculum for Wales (CfW) signal the critical importance of building the desire and capability to learn throughout life; of being able to connect and apply knowledge; of being enterprising and creative; of becoming ethical and informed citizens; and, crucially, of understanding the factors that enhance health and well-being. Continue reading

Curriculum and Assessment Bill introduced to the Senedd

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Education Minister Kirsty Williams has introduced the Bill which will enshrine the main tenets of Wales’ new curriculum and assessment arrangements in law.

Making the announcement in the Senedd today, 8th July 2020, this marks the start of a legislative process which should be completed in April 2021.

See the Minister’s ‘Oral Statement’ to the Senedd.
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Experimenting with the new curriculum at Fitzalan High School – videos – Part 2

Gweler neges debyg yn Gymraeg

Fitzalan High School has been experimenting with the new curriculum in its role as an Innovation School. In part 2 of this blog post, we see two videos showing how they’ve encouraged enquiry-based learning, and explored approaches to professional learning and action research.

Encouraging enquiry-based learning

Exploring professional learning and action research

With thanks again to all at Fitzalan for their time and passion…

‘Areas of Learning and Experience’ as a central element of the new curriculum

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This is an updating of the popular June 2018 post: How ‘Areas of Learning and Experience’ are being developed as a central element of the new curriculum.

AoLE image ScitechThe new curriculum framework features overarching topics in the form of: an Introduction; Summary of Legislation; Designing your Curriculum, and Supporting learner progression: Assessment.

And of course it features the Six Areas of Learning and Experience (Areas), which are:

Expressive Arts; Health and Well-being; Humanities; Languages, Literacy and Communication; Mathematics and Numeracy; Science and Technology.

But how do they connect to the four purposes, the shared vision and aspiration for every child and young person in Wales,  and what do they comprise?

In this post we answer those questions.

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