Measuring the success of the new Curriculum for Wales
With the new school year fast approaching, Wales looks forward to an important milestone in September 2022 with first teaching of the new Curriculum for Wales.
All primary schools will start using the new curriculum and almost half of secondary, middle and special schools will introduce it for their year 7s.
The new curriculum represents a major change in education for ages 3-16.
A school’s curriculum is everything a learner experiences; it’s not just what is taught, but how and why it is taught. Each school will have the flexibility to develop its own curriculum within an overall framework built on four purposes [opens in new window].
These purposes are to support learners to become:
- Ambitious, capable learners, ready to learn throughout their lives;
- Enterprising, creative contributors, ready to play a full part in life and work;
- Ethical, informed citizens of Wales and the world; and
- Healthy, confident individuals, ready to lead fulfilling lives as valued members of society.
How will we know if the curriculum achieves its aims?
In our May 2022 report on the planning and implementation of the new curriculum, we said that it was not yet clear how those with an interest in education – including parents, carers and learners – will know if the new curriculum generally, and individual schools, are achieving the four purposes outlined above. We recommended that the Welsh Government set out details on how it will ensure transparency for parents, learners and the public.
The success or otherwise of education systems has tended to be judged, at least in part, by exam and test results. However, these measure just one aspect of education and are affected by many factors. Excessive focus on such high-stakes measures can distort the activity of schools. Many stakeholders see the new approach with an increased role for self-evaluation as a strength, breaking the link between assessment and accountability measures.
Since 2018, schools have not had to include comparative information from national reading and numeracy assessments in their reports to the governors. In July 2020, the uneven impact of the pandemic on schools led the Welsh Government to stop calculating or publishing performance measures for year 11 and post-16 cohorts [opens in new window]. This continued in 2021/22.
At the end of June 2022, the Welsh Government announced that the school categorisation system, halted in 2019/20, will finish. Non-statutory guidance on the framework for evaluation, improvement and accountability [opens in new window] sets out expectations for democratic accountability and transparency information that will be available to the public from individual schools, local authorities (and diocesan authorities for faith schools), the Welsh Government and Estyn.
The new arrangements could provide parents, carers and others with information to help them understand their schools, depending on the consistency and quality of information made available. It will also depend on the amount of contextual information available to help them to make informed judgements about the data, such as the proportion of pupils from deprived households.
However, answering the wider question of whether the new curriculum is achieving its aims requires a different type of evidence that follows learners’ progress and attainment over time and looks at the whole breadth of the curriculum. It will need to take account of other reforms that impact on pupils’ experience and performance. It will also need to include vulnerable pupils and those from deprived households as the curriculum aims to reduce inequality.
What has Welsh Government done so far?
The Welsh Government has commissioned research on the data and information needs of the school system [opens in new window] to report in Autumn 2022 as well as a three-year research project on assessment and progression [opens in new window].
It has also said that it will be launching a national monitoring programme of learners in a sample of schools to assess progress over time as part of a wider evaluation programme. As detail of this research and evaluation [opens in new window] becomes available, it will be clearer how the impact of the new curriculum will be assessed in a rounded way.
This fuller picture is critical to properly understanding the impact of the new curriculum. Otherwise, there is a risk that external exercises such as the upcoming PISA tests – next due later in 2022 – and exam results will remain high-stakes tests for the education system and for the Welsh Government.
About the author
Claire Flood-Page is an audit lead. She was the lead author of the Auditor General’s report on the new Curriculum for Wales. She has an interest in schools and education policy.