'A Curriculum for a Successful Future?' speech on 17 October 2019 by Kirsty Williams, Minister for Education.

First published:
25 October 2019
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Noswaith dda, Good evening everyone.

Many thanks to Faron and colleagues at the IoC, Technocamps, Learned Society and Swansea University for the invitation to speak and for organising tonight’s event.

The title for this evening is a clever play on words.

Drawing on Professor Donaldson’s chosen title for the original report, and then posing it as a question for what happens next.

But, if I’m being completely honest… asking any politician to look towards a successful future is a very brave move!

….Even if you have full, unvarnished 2020 vision

….That now only means looking three months ahead!

And seriously, even then we have Brexit, possible US impeachment, budgets at UK and Wales levels and much more.

However, I am confident that our ambitious and collective reform programme is delivering for now and for a successful future

•      From reducing infant class sizes,

•      Through reforming the who, where and what of teacher training and development;

•      To introducing an equitable and progressive student support system that is unique in Europe.

But of course thinking about the medium or longer term future should be second nature to educationalists.

And even for those of us who come to this world from politics and government.

Many of you might know that I’m a keen student of American history and politics.

And that, during my year of study in Missouri, I volunteered for the first Clinton presidential campaign (incidentally the last Democrat to win that state, but I’m far too modest to think my efforts were crucial…!)

Clinton’s famous campaign song was Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow”.

It projected a confidence, ambition and commitment about the future – and a reminder that decisions made now are about moving forward, not turning back the clock.

In our national mission for education reform in Wales, we are always thinking about tomorrow.

About the road to 2022 and beyond.

But we have been pounding that road already for a few years – we have making the necessary hard yards.

•      That having a comprehensive public education system is no barrier to partnering equity with excellence;

•      That all pupils are entitled to a broad and balanced curriculum that combines knowledge with skills;

•      And that together, we believe in strong leadership, lifelong professional learning and raising standards for all.

So in my short time this evening, I will guide you through how we get to the new curriculum, whilst seeking to explain:

•      Why now;

•      Who is involved; and

•      What it, and the rest of Our National Mission reforms, means for pupils, parents and professionals.

So, to take those in turn – why now?

It is because – and only because – we are getting the right foundations in place.

The work of yesterday, and today, affords us the chance of more success tomorrow.

•      This year, for the first time ever, we outperformed England and Northern Ireland in A Level results;

•      There are record levels of part-time and post-graduate students accessing Welsh higher education, delivering for social mobility and economic prosperity; and

•      Over the last 3 years, there has been a 50% increase in science GCSE entries, with more getting A* and A – C.

And why are the successes important?

Not only do they fundamentally transform the life chances and ambitions of young people and their families from all backgrounds in Wales.

They are achievements which demonstrate that, because we are raising standards for all, and delivering on a system that can enjoy public confidence, we are fit and ready to move forward with a new curriculum.

This means:

•      Moving from narrow subjects to six broader areas of learning and experience;

•      A curriculum which is purpose based – four purposes that articulate the kind of citizens we need and want; and

•      A real focus on three core statutory skills - literacy, numeracy and digital competence.

To be brutally honest - I don’t think we could deliver on these by just turning off onto a completely new highway, without having made some good miles already.

It is why I took the decision to give us a longer lead-in to the introduction of the curriculum - and for it roll-out by year group each year from 2022.

We needed the fundamentals in place.

And I listened to what the profession was telling me about:

•      more time and resources for professional learning,

•      more curriculum development time,

•      And to move away from the big bang of everyone switching to a new curriculum overnight.

But let me be clear.

Now is the time for our first ever truly made in Wales curriculum.

One cooked up by the then Tory Government in Westminster in the late 1980s is not fit for purpose for contemporary Wales, and the learners of the future.

One designed before the Berlin Wall was smashed into rubble is not the strong foundation we need for a knowledge rich, adaptable skills, and entrepreneurial curriculum, fit for 21st century citizens of Wales and the world.

So, who is on this journey?

At a national level – and at school level – the curriculum will prepare learners with that blend of knowledge, experiences and skills, which empowers them as citizens but also as the employees and employers of the future.

The design of the new curriculum is the product of a network of teachers, working in national partnership with educational experts, the Government, regional educational consortia, universities, business and many others.

And many Learned Society fellows have been involved in that journey – colleagues such as Tom (Crick) here tonight and others involved in other AOLEs.

You’ll often hear Alun Wyn Jones or Gareth Bale say that they are not a national team of 15 or 11 players but one of 3.2 million.

I feel exactly the same about the curriculum and our wider education reforms.

It’s not by accident that I call it – and our action plan – our national mission.

Collective expertise, experience and energy – steering our way forward, learning from the best elsewhere and shaping it for pupils and teachers right here in Wales.

So yes, we are on that road, but we are travelling together, and I believe we are reading from the same map.

Of course it started with Graham’s work, leading a national conversation about the curriculum.

But, with Graham’s forgiveness, it is no longer the Donaldson Curriculum.

Just as it’s not Kirsty Williams’s curriculum.

It is the Curriculum for Wales – of Wales, by Wales.

Through to the publication of the draft guidance earlier this year, and continuing now through feedback and refinement for January 2020, and the work that will happen in and across schools before 2022:

We’ve not been afraid to take risks;

  • Express opinions;
  • To work collaboratively;
  • Debate concepts and what matters; and
  • Learn from the experience of others across the world.

And I’m heartened by the level of engagement we had over the summer.

Over 6,000 members of the education workforce attended events in person,

there were 62 National Mission roadshow events,

on top of the 120 hosted by the regional education consortia,

and over a quarter of a million unique page views on Hwb related to the curriculum.

So what will it mean in practice?

Following the feedback over the summer, refinement work is ongoing.

An updated and refined curriculum framework will be published in January.

We have noted the feedback for new guidance that is clearer and easier to use for teachers.

The detail of each Area of Learning and Experience is being refined – within and across expert groups.

We are also updating the Statements of What Matters.

These are there to capture the ‘big ideas’ and concepts in each area of learning and experience.

But I must stress that publication of the revised and refined framework in January is not the end of the story – it’s not the sunset for this process.

From then to the start of roll-out in September 2022, it will evolve and respond, as individual teachers and schools develop their own practice and pedagogy.

Academics, teachers, experts and others will seize the opportunity of producing new resources to support the curriculum and its individual components.

And that will require engagement from you here tonight and your networks.

And of course, I know you will all be interested in the future of qualifications.

In the Autumn Qualifications Wales will be consulting on the impact of reforms on GCSEs and what qualifications are taken by 16 year olds. Please do get involved in that conversation.

I referred earlier to the building blocks we’ve got in place to deliver our new curriculum – our new education system.

All my reforms are focused on three ambitions:

•      To raise standards;

•      To reduce the attainment gap

•      And to deliver an education system that is a source of national pride and enjoys public confidence.

So, across our action plan, and in delivering the new curriculum, we are resourcing:

•      A high quality profession – backed by the biggest investment in teachers since devolution;

•      Inspirational leaders – for the first time providing dedicated support, training and national network for heads and aspiring heads;

•      Well-being, equity and excellence – significantly increasing investment in pupils from our most disadvantaged backgrounds to give them the best start; and

•      Robust accountability – measuring the progress of every single pupil, and giving school leaders more autonomy.

So, as I hope you can gather – a lot done, but a lot still to do.

And we can’t – mustn’t – stop thinking about tomorrow.

For that truly successful future, then it us, right across Wales who will shape that tomorrow, for all our young people.

Our national mission belongs to each and every one of us.

Each parent and carer;

Every teacher and support staff;

Everybody who benefits from an enterprising and educated future workforce.

It’s not always easy to move forward together, building a curriculum and system based on co-operation and partnership.

But as the old proverb says:

If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

We are moving at a fair pace, but are also taking the time to ensure we continue to work together.

Building a culture of shared ownership;

Of high standards for all;

Of truly combining knowledge, skills and experience;

Of not writing off anyone or anywhere; and

Ensuring that our education system belongs to all citizens of Wales.

Many thanks for listening.

Diolch yn fawr.