Reforming the curriculum and teacher training

Published 24/05/2016   |   Last Updated 27/05/2021   |   Reading Time minutes

24 May 2016 Article by Sian Hughes, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

This article is taken from ‘Key issues for the Fifth Assembly’, published on 12 May 2016.

There are plans to introduce a completely new curriculum. Delivery will rely on current and future teachers. Will the new Welsh Government ensure they are ready for the challenge?

In February 2015, a review of the school curriculum and assessment arrangements commissioned by the Welsh Government found that the current arrangements ‘no longer meet the needs of the children and young people in Wales’. Professor Graham Donaldson, who led the review, said ‘the case for fundamental change is powerful’. Set against a backdrop of continuing efforts to improve school standards and the relative underperformance of Wales’s pupils, the Welsh Government accepted Professor Donaldson’s recommendations. This marked the beginning of a new phase in Wales’s education reform journey.

Tripartite reform

In March 2015, another Welsh Government-commissioned review found teacher training arrangements were at a ‘critical turning point’. It concluded a more ‘expansive’ form of training was needed to deliver the Donaldson agenda, ‘one that gives teachers themselves the skills, knowledge and dispositions to lead the changes that are needed’. Consequently, a new curriculum for Wales is only one part of what Huw Lewis, the then Minister for Education and Skills, dubbed ‘tripartite reform’. The other two elements are professional development for existing teachers and initial teacher training for future teachers. These are vital to ensure the workforce can deliver what the Minister called ‘the rewriting from the ground floor up of an entirely new curriculum with a different philosophy’. General cross-party support for the Donaldson vision and the need for workforce reform means that this issue is likely to be high on the Fifth Assembly’s agenda whoever is in government.

A new curriculum

While there have been many reviews of the current curriculum since its inception in 1988, Professor Donaldson’s proposals are a radical overhaul and the previous Welsh Government made clear this is not a ‘patch and mend approach’. As the previous Minister said, ‘the old system is about to die’. The last Welsh Government’s timescale for implementing the new curriculum was ambitious. While schools would have some flexibility, the new curriculum could be available by September 2018 with all schools using it from September 2021. The proposals have received support from all political parties in the Fourth Assembly, and teaching organisations. A key question is how, and to what extent, pupils themselves will be involved. Teaching professionals will have a huge part in co-designing and developing the curriculum.

Key features of the new curriculum

  • Four key purposes
  • Six areas of learning
  • Literacy, numeracy and digital competence expected of all teachers
  • No more key stages, but five, three-year progression steps

Professional development for today’s teachers

Professional development for teachers will be an essential part of delivering the new curriculum. The previous Minister recognised that schools do not currently have the skillset to address the depth of change proposed. A new approach to teachers’ professional development (the ‘New Deal’) was introduced in 2014 with the requirements of the new curriculum in mind. It aims to focus on improving teaching and learning. As with the new curriculum, ‘pioneer schools’ will take the lead in designing and delivering a range of professional learning opportunities. The previous Minister acknowledged there is insufficient funding in the system to support the New Deal but was clear there is no additional money available. This raises the question of how this shortfall will be met, and by whom, with the previous Welsh Government suggesting the workforce itself should contribute to funding the New Deal.

Key features of the New Deal

  • An entitlement to access professional development
  • On-line professional learning passport
  • A shift away from ‘one-off’ training courses in favour of collaborative development

Teachers of the future

The third strand of this tripartite reform is initial teacher training and education. There have been several reviews of teacher training since the Assembly was established. The most recent was the March 2015 Furlong Report which found the quality of teacher training had got worse over the last 10 years. Professor Furlong also reported that Wales’s teacher training falls short of international best practice and of what will be required to implement the new curriculum. The previous Minister subsequently ‘called time’ on the current system. The previous Welsh Government planned to push up the quality of initial teacher training courses by overhauling the teaching qualification and accreditation process, and revising professional teaching standards. This includes a new four-year undergraduate route into teaching, greater subject specialism for those wanting to teach at primary level and a new two-year course for postgraduate students. This is part of a long-term, wider plan to work towards an all-masters teacher profession. We do not yet know how future initial teacher training will be delivered. Professor Furlong suggested there could be one, three or five training centres, but recommended competitive tendering for accredited providers. While the previous Minister was not prescriptive on the number of centres, he warned that if current providers wanted to be part of the future vision, they would need to raise their game. If not, he said the Welsh Government was prepared to buy the best from wherever it is offered. Given the increase in school-led training such as Schools Direct and questions over the sustainability of some university-centred provision in England, this may be a vision that is attractive to centres outside Wales. The tripartite reform was launched during an era of policies aimed specifically at school improvement. The challenge for the new Welsh Government is to deliver curriculum and workforce reform in a way that accelerates, rather than stalls, improvements in school standards and pupil performance.

Key sources