Looking ahead to the first Curriculum for Wales

Published 24/01/2020   |   Last Updated 27/05/2021   |   Reading Time minutes

A new Curriculum for Wales will be introduced from September 2022. The National Curriculum was established in the late 1980s on an England and Wales basis. Whilst devolution has enabled it to be adapted in Wales, this is the first time a distinct curriculum has been constructed from afresh.

The Curriculum for Wales will be rolled out initially in primary school and Year 7 (usually the first year of secondary school) before extending into subsequent year groups as these pupils progress through school, until they reach Year 11 in 2026/27.

With a final version of the new curriculum due to be published by the end of this month, this article outlines the latest situation.

What do we know already?

The new Curriculum for Wales will encompass a different approach that is driven by purposes rather than content, with greater flexibility for schools to deliver a local curriculum according to the needs of their pupils. It has been developed following Professor Graham Donaldson’s Successful Futures review in 2015, which advocated a fundamental rethink of what young people need from their schooling.

The new curriculum will combine knowledge, skills and experiences. It will be based around:

  • Four purposes in terms of what young people become as a result of their time in school;
  • Six broad Areas of Learning and Experience (AoLEs) setting out ‘What Matters’ in what pupils learn;
  • Three cross-curricular responsibilities for teaching literacy, numeracy and digital competence;
  • Five age-based Progression Steps with expectations for achievement.

These terms are all explained in more detail in our previous article from May 2019. This was published shortly after a draft version of the curriculum was published in April 2019, in the form of draft statutory guidance on each AoLE.

What has happened since the draft curriculum was published?

The Welsh Government held a feedback exercise with education professionals and the public between April and July 2019. Since then, it has been ‘refining’ the curriculum with a focus on ‘how the guidance can be simplified and made more useful for the teaching profession’. With the Welsh Government’s emphasis on refinement, the overall structure, concepts and design of the curriculum are not expected to change.

Whilst there was widespread support for the curriculum, the four purposes and the What Matters statements, 89% of respondents believed that the curriculum documents could be improved. There were two broad themes emerging from the feedback.

  • The guidance should be simplified, including the language and concepts used to explain how the curriculum is structured.
  • The guidance would benefit from greater depth and detail in certain places to help schools implement the curriculum.

The Children, Young People and Education Committee has scrutinised curriculum reform throughout this Assembly. It questioned the Minister for Education, Kirsty Williams AM in September 2019 on the latest progress and took evidence from Dr Nigel Newton from the Wales Institute of Social & Economic Research, Data & Methods (WISERD) in November 2019 on how it might impact on disadvantaged learners.

Dr Newton’s research highlighted a risk that giving schools greater flexibility in what is taught could lead to a ‘highly differentiated, even stratified, curriculum that will compound disadvantages’.

What legislation will be required?

Elements of the Education Act 2002 will need to be repealed to discontinue the current national curriculum and establish the new Curriculum for Wales. Early last year, the Welsh Government consulted on a White Paper for a Curriculum and Assessment Bill. The Bill, which is expected to be introduced by the Assembly’s summer recess, will not specify curriculum content but will give the four purposes, six AoLEs, three cross-curricular priorities, and Progression Steps a statutory footing.

Following some concerns that the legislation will be too ambiguous over curriculum content, the Minister announced that she had decided to include more detail in the Bill, including a duty on schools to deliver each of the What Matters statements contained in each AoLE. However, the What Matters statements themselves and the expected achievements of pupils at various ages will be set out in the statutory guidance underpinning the curriculum.

Two issues the legislation will address are the status of Religious Education (RE) and sex education. The Welsh Government has already said that RE will continue to be compulsory, although within the context of the new curriculum, forming part of the Humanities AoLE. This will include non-religious world views which are comparable to religious views, for example humanism. It will be renamed 'Religion, Values and Ethics'.

The Welsh Government has also said that the current requirement to teach sex education in secondary schools will be extended to primary schools but that this will be ‘age-appropriate’ and under the revised focus on ‘Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE). This follows the recommendations of the Expert Panel chaired by Professor Emma Renold.

Parents currently have the right to withdraw their child from the teaching of RE and sex education where it is not part of a national curriculum subject. The Minister recently announced that parents will no longer have this right under the Curriculum for Wales.

What is being done to prepare for the new curriculum?

Substantial work is required to support schools and teachers in preparing for the new curriculum. In its 2020-21 draft budget (PDF 3MB), the Welsh Government has allocated £15 million to teachers’ professional learning for this purpose, which follows £15 million in 2019-20 and £9 million in 2018-19.

HM inspectorate of education and training in Wales, Estyn, is pausing its routine inspections of schools for the 2020/21 academic year and aims to visit all schools to discuss preparations for the new curriculum. However, Estyn will continue to monitor schools causing concern. The regulations required to enable this change in inspection are currently going through the Assembly.

The Welsh Government also made regulations last summer, establishing an additional annual INSET (in-service training) day (6 rather than 5) for schools’ curriculum preparations in each of this and the next two academic years. These will take place in the summer term of each year.

When will we know more?

The Welsh Government is expected to publish the final version of the new curriculum before the end of January 2020. All eyes in the sector will therefore be on the Minister for Education’s statement in Plenary on Tuesday (28 January 2020), when we might see the final shape of the first Curriculum for Wales.

Article by Michael Dauncey, Senedd Research, National Assembly for Wales