Curriculum and Assessment Reform

Published 23/01/2019   |   Last Updated 27/05/2021   |   Reading Time minutes

The Welsh Government launched its consultation on the White Paper on 28 January 2019.

The Minister for Education, Kirsty Williams AM, will make a statement in Plenary on Tuesday (29 January 2019) regarding a White Paper on ‘Curriculum and Assessment Reform’.

The Welsh Government is working with a network of ‘Pioneer Schools’ and education partners to develop a new Curriculum for Wales to take forward the vision of Professor Graham Donaldson’s curriculum and assessment review, Successful Futures (PDF 1..59MB) (2015). The new curriculum, a draft version of which the Welsh Government will make available in late April 2019 ahead of phased introduction from September 2022, will require primary legislation as the current National Curriculum is founded in the Education Act 2002.

Forthcoming White Paper and proposed Bill

A recent letter from the Minister for Education to the Assembly’s Children, Young People and Education Committee(PDF 245KB) stated that a White Paper for a Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Bill and a draft Regulatory Impact Assessment is scheduled for publication in early 2019, launching a public consultation. Kirsty Williams told the Committee on 10 January 2019 (paras 4-7) that she hoped the publication would occur within a month (therefore by mid February 2019). She added that this would be the main opportunity for the public to give their views on the new curriculum as the ‘feedback’ phase on the draft curriculum to take place between April and July 2019 will be primarily focused at the education profession (paras 18-27).

What do we know so far about the new Curriculum for Wales?

In Successful Futures(PDF 1.59MB), Professor Donaldson made 68 recommendations, including that a new Curriculum for Wales be based on four purposes and structured around six Areas of Learning and Experience (AoLEs).

The Welsh Government has adopted the following four purposes of the new curriculum as recommended by Professor Donaldson. They are that all children and young people completing their schooling will be:

  • Ambitious, capable learners who are ready to learn throughout their lives;
  • Enterprising, creative contributors who are ready to play a full part in life and work;
  • Ethical, informed citizens who are ready to be citizens of Wales and the world;
  • Healthy, confident individuals who are ready to lead fulfilling lives as valued members of society.

The Welsh Government has also adopted the six Areas of Learning and Experience (AoLE) advocated by Professor Donaldson:

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

Successful Futures recommended that the AoLEs should apply from the age of 3 to 16 and provide for a continuum of learning rather than the separation of schooling into key stages as at present. The new curriculum will therefore measure learners’ progress through expected ‘Achievement Outcomes’ at five ‘Progression Steps’ at ages 5, 8, 11, 14 and 16.

Following Professor Donaldson’s recommendation, the Welsh Government has adopted a third cross-curricular priority, digital competence, for the new curriculum alongside the existing two priorities of literacy and numeracy.

Approach to curriculum design

The Welsh Government established a network of ‘Pioneer Schools’ (PDF) to lead on the development of the new curriculum. This was part of a chosen approach aimed at empowering the teaching profession and giving them a central role in designing the new curriculum, resulting in greater ownership amongst teachers.

The Pioneer Schools work as part of an ‘all-Wales partnership’ including local authorities, regional consortia, Estyn, the further and higher education sectors, external experts, employers and the Welsh Government. This partnership has seen the formation of working groups for each of the six AoLEs, with a Curriculum and Assessment Group charged with ‘ensuring the new curriculum remains true to the principles of Successful Futures’ and a Curriculum Coherence Group which carries out detailed scrutiny and quality enhancement.

The Welsh Government has also established an Independent Advisory Group, chaired by Professor Donaldson, and Welsh Government-led Change and Delivery Boards, which are responsible for the successful delivery of the programme. A Strategic Stakeholder Group aims to involve and inform key stakeholders.

The development process

In addition to preparing the publication of the Curriculum and Assessment White Paper, the Welsh Government and the Pioneer School network are finalising the six AoLEs ready for their publication in April. The Minister reported to the CYPE Committee earlier this month that four of the six are ‘in the editorial process’, whilst there is ‘little bit more work to do’ in the other two (Language, Literacy and Communication; and Humanities) but she is ‘absolutely confident’ they will be available for publication at the same time as the others.

Each AoLE working group produced executive summary reports, which were published in July 2017. These showed the latest thinking for each AoLE at that time. Subsequent ‘What Matters’ reports for each AoLE were published in December 2017 (available as separate documents on the Welsh Government website). These aim to identify the key elements that all learners should experience within each AoLE in the context of the four curricular purposes.

The Welsh Government published a further update in May 2018, setting out developments since December 2017 and refined ‘What Matters’ statements. For each AoLE, there were between four and seven ‘What Matters’ statements and an overarching statement detailing how the AoLE supports the four curriculum purposes. During the second half of 2018, work was undertaken to expand on the knowledge, skills and experience relating to each ‘What Matters’ statement and define the expected Achievement Outcomes at each Progression Step. The Welsh Government has shared subsequent versions of the draft AoLEs amongst education stakeholders and those involved in the design process.

The high-level schedule for development and introduction of the new Curriculum for Wales is as follows:

  • April 2019 - The new curriculum and assessment arrangements published for public feedback. The period for feedback will run until July 2019.
  • January 2020 - Final curriculum and assessment arrangements published.
  • September 2022 - Commencement of the curriculum in all maintained schools and settings on a statutory basis. This will be staggered so that, initially, learners in Year 7 and below will study the new curriculum and then throughout their future schooling. (This means that Summer 2027 will see the first Year 11 cohort completing the new curriculum, which is the current 2018/19 Year 3 cohort.)

Assembly scrutiny

The Assembly’s Children, Young People and Education Committee has adopted a watching brief on the development of the new Curriculum for Wales. Most recently, the Committee held a scrutiny session with the Minister for Education on 10 January 2019, following a targeted call for evidence from stakeholders. 35 responses were received.

The Committee questioned the Minister about the concerns highlighted in evidence from the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) and the Association of Directors of Education in Wales (ADEW) (PDF 325KB). The WLGA and ADEW wrote that ‘not enough of what actually matters has been included in the AoLEs’, too many of them are ‘poorly defined and weak on knowledge and skills development’, and that pupils’ development risks being ‘left-to-chance’ with those who do not have strong family support ‘at risk of missing out the most’.

In response, the Minister said it was ‘disappointing’ to read the WLGA and ADEW’s evidence, that it appeared to refer to previous versions of the AoLEs and was therefore ‘out of date’, and that neither organisation had taken the opportunity to raise such concerns with the Welsh Government.

Assessment and Evaluation Framework

A ‘transformational curriculum’ is central to the Welsh Government’s action plan for 2017-2021, Education in Wales: Our National Mission, which also sets out the intention to introduce a new Assessment and Evaluation Framework. This addresses the other central element of Successful Futures and recommendations from the OECD (PDF 2.91MB).

The Welsh Government is pursuing policies which aim to prioritise assessment for the purposes of informing teaching and learning rather than school accountability. We blogged about this topic recently ahead of the Minister’s announcement about the use of personalised assessments to replace the National Reading and Numeracy tests.

Kirsty Williams confirmed to the CYPE Committee on 10 January 2019 that a draft Assessment and Evaluation Framework will be published alongside the draft curriculum, with final versions of both published in tandem following consultation and feedback. This will ‘have at its heart’ self-evaluation and accreditation for self-evaluation, which the Minister made a statement about in September 2018.

How to follow the statement

The Minister’s statement is scheduled for Tuesday 29 January 2019 at approximately 2.45pm. The Plenary session will be broadcast on Senedd TV and a transcript will be available on the Assembly’s Record of Proceedings.

Article by Michael Dauncey, National Assembly for Wales Research Service