teacher teaching in classroom

teacher teaching in classroom

Implementing major education reforms

Published 24/05/2021   |   Last Updated 25/05/2021   |   Reading Time minutes

 

This article is part of our 'What's next? Key issues for the Sixth Senedd' collection.

The current national curriculum and arrangements for meeting pupils’ Additional Learning Needs are “no longer fit for purpose”. Both were subject to major legislation in the previous Senedd and implementing these reforms, while recovering from the pandemic, is therefore likely to be among the top education priorities for the new Welsh Government.

The new Welsh Government’s top education priorities – second only to recovering from the disruption caused by COVID-19 – are likely to be delivering on two laws passed in the previous Senedd:

  • the Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Act 2021, and
  • the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018.

These Acts respectively change how and what all three to 16 year olds are taught, and how over a fifth of pupils are supported with their learning difficulties.

A purpose-led Curriculum for Wales

The national curriculum, which was introduced in England and Wales in 1988, has already been adapted under devolution. The most notable change was the introduction of the Foundation Phase in 2010, in place of Key Stage 1. However, the Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Act 2021 marks the beginning of a distinct Welsh curriculum. And it’s a big change, covering not only what’s taught but how it’s taught.

The new age 3-16 Curriculum for Wales moves away from a heavily prescribed national curriculum, which the last Welsh Government said is “no longer fit for purpose”. Professor Graham Donaldson’s ‘Successful Futures’ review (2015) identified a need for change, not just to support Wales’ mission to improve school standards but to give young people what they need for a vastly different world to the one of 1988. He also said too much prescription and detail inhibits the responsiveness of the curriculum to social, economic and technological changes.

The new curriculum is therefore intended to be purpose-led rather than content-based, with a greater emphasis on skills and teaching what matters. Schools will have the flexibility to design their own curriculum, within a broad national framework provided by the Act and associated codes and guidance.

As highlighted during scrutiny, the education sector will have to strike a delicate balance in delivering school-level curricula that remain similar enough so that all pupils receive equal experiences across all schools in Wales.

The curriculum will be structured around four purposes, six Areas of Learning and Experience (AoLEs) and three cross-curricular skills. Schools’ curricula will also need to be suitable, broad and balanced, enabling pupils to make appropriate progression. English, Welsh, Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) and Religion, Values and Ethics (RVE) will be mandatory elements. Remaining details will be set out in statutory codes and guidance.

The last Welsh Government published the provisional Curriculum for Wales in January 2020. Following the Senedd’s passing of the legislation in March 2021, the new Welsh Government is expected to formally make this the statutory curriculum in all maintained (that is, publicly funded) schools.It is already consulting on versions of several codes and guidance, which will provide more detail on the new curriculum.

When will the Curriculum for Wales be introduced?

The last Welsh Government published an implementation plan for the new curriculum in January 2021. Rather than a ‘big bang’ approach, it intended for it to be introduced in phases.

The Curriculum for Wales will be introduced in September 2022 in early years, primary school and Year 7 (usually the first year of secondary school). It will then be rolled out to subsequent year groups as these pupils progress through school, until they reach Year 11 in 2026/27.

The previous Minister said during scrutiny of the legislation that the timetable is unchanged by COVID-19 but will be kept under review.

Introducing the new Curriculum for Wales

September 2022

September 2023

September 2024

September 2025

September 2026

Early Years

Primary School

Year 7

Early Years

Primary School

Year 7

Year 8

Early Years

Primary School

Year 7

Year 8

Year 9

Early Years

Primary School

Year 7

Year 8

Year 9

Year 10

Early Years

Primary School

Year 7

Year 8

Year 9

Year 10

Year 11

 

Source: Curriculum for Wales: Implementation plan

Additional Learning Needs: reform affecting over one in five learners

The last Welsh Government described the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018 as a “complete overhaul” of a system “no longer fit for purpose”. Weaknesses of the current system, identified in previous reviews dating back many years, include families often having to battle to secure provision for their child, insufficient joint working between local government and health, and inconsistencies in how different learners’ needs are met.

Currently, around 100,000 pupils (21%) are recognised as having “Special Educational Needs” (SEN), or “Additional Learning Needs” (ALN) as they will be called under the new system. This means they:

  • have a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of others of the same age (that can’t be addressed solely through differentiated teaching), or
  • a disability (for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010) which prevents or hinders them accessing education or training that’s generally provided for others of the same age, and
  • the learning difficulty or disability calls for Additional Learning Provision (ALP).

Pupils currently have their SEN met under three levels of support, depending on how severe and complex their needs are. Only ‘Statements of SEN’, which are issued by the local authority and set out what provision is needed to meet the learner’s needs, are legally enforceable.

The 2018 Act has three main aims:

  • A single system for children from birth, pupils in schools and students in colleges, regardless of level of need. Each learner with ALN will be given a statutory ‘Individual Development Plan’ (IDP);
  • Closer collaboration between the NHS and local government through a designated liaison officer within each health board, and
  • A more transparent system to avoid disagreement and resolve disputes.

When will the new ALN system start?

The previous Education Minister, Kirsty Williams, confirmed in February 2021 the plan to implement the new ALN system over a three-year period from September 2021. In March, the Senedd voted to approve the ALN Code which the last Welsh Government described as an “operational handbook” for how the new system will work in practice. 

From September 2021, all learners newly identified as having ALN will come under the new system. Pupils who already have SEN will transition across, between 2021 and 2024, starting with those who have low to moderate needs. Those with more severe or complex needs (who currently have statements of SEN) will move to the new system later in the three-year period. The timing will also depend on the pupil’s year group.

By the end of 2023/24, all pupils with ALN are scheduled to have moved over to the new system.

Implementing the new ALN system of IDPs

Who will transfer to the new ALN system from September 2021?

All newly identified learners with ALN

Pupils currently supported through School Action or School Action Plus in:

  • Nursery Year 1
  • Nursery Year 2
  • Year 1
  • Year 3
  • Year 5
  • Year 7
  • Year 10

Learners with ALN who are detained in the criminal justice system

Who will transfer to the new ALN system from September 2022 or later?

Pupils in other year groups supported through School Action or School Action Plus

Learners with Statements

Post-16 learners with ALN

 

Source: Written Statement: Implementation of the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018

What might prevent the reforms being delivered successfully?

The insufficiency and complexity of school funding was highlighted throughout the last Senedd. The Children, Young People and Education (CYPE) Committee found in its 2019 inquiry that not enough money was reaching schools and in its final report of the previous Senedd called for resources to be distributed to schools more effectively – especially given the scale of reform schools are now expected to deliver.

The previous Welsh Government allocated £20 million to be spread over four years to its ’ALN Transformation Programme’. It also said it would respond to the recommendations of the Sibieta review on school funding. These recommendations include keeping the new ALN system under continual review to ensure it’s implemented as intended, as well as the possible need for additional funding.

Applying the new flexibility to deliver school-level curricula will also require a culture change among a profession used to teaching a prescribed national curriculum for over thirty years. The previous Welsh Government planned to allocate £15 million per year until 2025-26 for ’professional learning’ to enable the education workforce to deliver the new curriculum. Estyn, the schools inspectorate, is also visiting schools to help them prepare.

As for COVID-19, some stakeholders, for example the teaching union NASUWT, believe the impact of the pandemic means the new curriculum should be delayed. Others, for example Estyn, have said the way schools have had to innovate during the pandemic could make them better placed to deliver the Curriculum for Wales.

Moving into the Sixth Senedd, both the backdrop of COVID-19 and the long-standing imperative of raising educational standards will loom large over a government and education sector tasked with implementing major reforms.


Article by Michael Dauncey, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament