Implementation of Curriculum for Wales
During 2022-2023, providers across Wales continued to develop their approaches towards implementing Curriculum for Wales. Implementing the curriculum was statutory for schools and PRUs with primary aged pupils and for non-maintained settings from September 2022. The implementation of the curriculum for schools and PRUs with secondary school-aged pupils was mandatory from September 2023 for Years 7 and 8. However, around half of secondary schools chose to implement the curriculum for Year 7 a year early, from September 2022, along with around a quarter of special schools and PRUs.
Where curriculum developments were most successful, providers prioritised improving the quality of teaching alongside planning their curriculum. In addition, these providers focused closely on supporting teachers and practitioners to develop their understanding of curriculum design and delivery. Many providers worked to develop their understanding of suitable progression in their curriculum and to consider what effective pupil progress looks like. This aspect of curriculum design, along with the development of assessment approaches to support teaching and learning, are the aspects schools currently find most challenging. School leaders would benefit from more specific national guidance about minimum expectations of progress for pupils at different points. This would help leaders to consider how they plan a progressive curriculum for their pupils.
The Curriculum for Wales is subject to evaluation to understand how the reforms are working and the extent to which they are having the desired impact for all learners, regardless of their background or needs. The Welsh Government published their evaluation plan in September 2023.
The curriculum within sectors
In non-maintained settings, we saw an increasing number begin to implement Curriculum for Wales and the Curriculum for funded non-maintained nursery settings successfully. In the most effective examples, practitioners had a clear understanding of how planning in response to children’s interests and stage of development supported progress in learning. In many settings where teaching was strong, practitioners knew when to intervene and when to step back to give children time to work things out for themselves.
In primary schools, a majority were making good progress as they implemented Curriculum for Wales. A few schools made greater progress and were embedding their approach, including the involvement of pupils in curriculum design, in a meaningful way. However, in a minority of schools, progress to implement the curriculum was still at an early stage. Often these schools did not have a secure enough understanding of the principles of Curriculum for Wales and adapted planning to focus on what pupils learn rather than how they learn. In these instances, their curriculum did not incorporate important aspects such as cross-curricular skills.
A majority of secondary schools developed a suitable vision for Curriculum for Wales. Overall, schools’ preparedness to roll out their curriculum was too variable. In the best examples, schools trialled approaches before undertaking some evaluation and refinement. A minority of secondary schools collaborated purposefully with their primary schools to develop a common understanding of learning. In a very few instances, this led to a more coherent curriculum to support pupils’ progress as they transitioned from primary to secondary. In those instances where the introduction of Curriculum for Wales was less successful, schools often did not focus strongly enough on securing effective teaching or roll-out had been hampered by misinterpretation of key principles.
In some secondary schools, we saw pupils start GCSE courses at the beginning of Year 9. As a result, these pupils had limited opportunities to develop and deepen their knowledge and understanding across the curriculum before making their qualification choices. In addition, a few schools introduced a carousel approach to their curriculum where pupils rotated the study of certain subjects across the year. This approach often limited pupils’ opportunities to consolidate and progress in their learning. This also made progression into Year 10 more challenging.
In all-age schools, leaders established a clear vision for the curriculum, focusing on developing skills and improving teaching. They encouraged teachers to trial approaches to teaching and, through systematic evaluation, adapted their provision based on their findings. Some of the weaknesses in both primary and secondary schools were evident in this sector as well.
The pupil referral units we visited continued to consider how best to implement Curriculum for Wales and the education other than at school (EOTAS) guidance (Welsh Government, 2020). Overall, this was at varying degrees of development and generally we found the quality and impact of this work to be variable. In the most effective examples, the curriculum offer had suitable breadth and depth and supported pupils’ learning, progress, emotional health and therapeutic needs. Our report on the equity of curriculum experiences for pupils who are educated other than at school (EOTAS) (Estyn, 2023) provides further detail.
Maintained special schools continued to focus on ensuring a curriculum that was suitably broad and balanced. We found that collaborative curriculum planning was a generally strong feature in special schools. This incorporated ideas from both pupils and staff members.
In Initial Teacher Education partnerships, we found that they introduced students to the principles of Curriculum for Wales suitably. However, students were generally not being supported well enough to develop their understanding of Curriculum for Wales. This was often because their understanding of how Curriculum for Wales worked in practice was limited only to what they observed in their placement schools. In a few cases, schools reinforced misconceptions relating to curriculum design and delivery. Partnerships did not identify and address this well enough through their evaluation and planning for improvement processes.
Key considerations for schools when developing and implementing their curriculum. These include some common challenges and misconceptions, which can impact on curriculum design and delivery.
The four purposes
Where schools explicitly understood how to create an effective purpose-led curriculum, they were less focused on helping pupils know what the four purposes were, and instead focused on planning engaging learning experiences that enabled pupils to progress towards and embody the four purposes. These schools had a clear understanding of how to plan learning that supports pupils’ progress and develops their knowledge, understanding and skills. However, in a few cases, schools did not consider how they could develop pupils’ knowledge, skills and experiences to realise the four purposes well enough. In addition, in a few cases, schools required teachers to identify which of the four purposes they would include in individual lessons and asked them to attempt to evaluate whether pupils met the purposes in these lessons. This practice was often unhelpful, as it did not support staff to enable pupils to develop towards the four purposes in the intended, holistic way.
A few schools created characters to represent each of the curriculum’s four purposes. Although this worked well in some cases, for instance in helping pupils to identify the four purposes, often it led pupils to think that they could only represent one purpose at any given time.
The importance of teaching
Where providers had developed the curriculum particularly successfully, they prioritised improving the quality of teaching alongside planning their curriculum. In the most effective cases, leaders purposefully focused professional learning to support staff to improve their practice. Alongside this work they helped staff to consider how effective teaching and a high-quality curriculum complement each other.
Generally, where the curriculum was less effective in improving learning, leaders focused too much on developing curriculum content at the expense of improving teaching. In these instances, leaders focused too heavily on ‘what’ they teach and did not provide sufficient time or professional learning to enable teachers to think ‘how’ best to teach different aspects of their curriculum.
Where teachers developed independence effectively, they thought carefully about the intended learning. They planned learning experiences that built beneficially on one another. Teachers supported pupils to develop the skills, knowledge and understanding they needed and to apply these independently in new and sometimes more challenging contexts.
In a few cases, we saw schools begin to roll out foundation learning practice into upper primary and beyond. Often these schools did not have a strong enough understanding of how this practice can support older pupils. For example, teachers set a range of ‘missions’ or ‘challenges’ for pupils to work on independently, without ensuring that pupils had the knowledge, skills and understanding they needed to be successful. In too many cases, the tasks that pupils undertook, with little or no adult support, lacked challenge and purpose and did little to further pupils’ learning. As a result, pupils made limited progress.
Non-maintained settings, schools and PRUs continued to develop their approaches to enable pupils to influence their own learning. In the best examples, staff engaged pupils in meaningful discussions about what and how they would like to learn. They also ensured that all adults had a clear understanding of the intended learning. This ensured that teachers could plan carefully to support pupil progress. However, in a few cases, teachers focused too much on what pupils said they wanted to learn and did not consider whether this was appropriate and how it fitted into pupils’ learning journey. It is important that leaders help teachers to understand how to lead and direct learning whilst providing pupils with relevant opportunities to influence the way in which, and what, they learn.
Promoting Cynefin and developing an anti-racist and inclusive culture
As part of their curriculum development, many schools and PRUs considered how they enable all pupils to feel like they are part of the school and the local community and how they promote a sense of belonging, Cynefin. Increasingly, as part of this, schools and PRUs considered how they could develop an anti-racist and inclusive culture. In the best cases, teachers considered how they use learning opportunities to develop a sense of Cynefin as well as educating pupils about Wales and the wider world. They included purposeful opportunities for pupils to learn about Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic culture and history. In Jubilee Park School, as part of their journey towards an anti-racist curriculum, leaders and staff used their evaluations well to improve the way in which their curriculum related to pupils’ own interests. This resulted in a heightened awareness of the importance of celebrating diversity and of promoting inclusion across the school. However, in a majority of schools, this aspect was in the early stages of development.
In a few cases, schools focused too narrowly on their locality when developing their curriculum approach and did not consider well enough how they taught pupils about Wales and the wider world. This resulted in teachers only planning learning experiences that related to cultures and experiences that were already familiar to pupils in the school. These practises did not support pupils well enough to develop an understanding of the diverse cultures in Wales, both within and outside their communities, and did not help pupils to make links across their learning. Where schools were particularly effective, they had a well-planned curriculum that reinforced an inclusive and anti-racist culture by having clear values that all pupils were proud to uphold. As part of this inclusive culture, these schools were successful at promoting the rights of LGTBQ+ pupils and creating a positive environment where pupils felt safe and valued.
Assessment and progress
The most common concern that leaders and staff raised during our inspections was developing approaches to assessment and progression. Most commonly, staff were worried about how they could effectively measure and track pupils’ progress. Often, mistakenly, providers felt that they needed to change all their approaches to assessment as they developed their curriculum. Overall, leaders require more practical guidance about the expectations for pupils’ progress throughout their education. In the most effective cases, leaders and staff considered carefully what effective assessment practices they currently employed and how they could continue to use these to inform pupils’ learning. Overall, assessment should be used to identify pupils’ strengths and areas for improvement and to enable staff to plan teaching to support and address misconceptions and build on pupils’ prior learning. During our inspections, we found that, generally, professional learning did not support staff well enough to improve their approaches to assessment and teaching and was not always practical enough to meet teachers’ needs. In addition, there has not been a strong enough focus on supporting the development of subject and phase pedagogies, particularly in secondary schools.
Estyn (2023) Equity of curriculum experiences for pupils who are educated other than at schools (EOTAS). Cardiff: Estyn. [Online]. Available from: https://www.estyn.gov.wales/system/files/2023-06/Equity%20of%20curriculum%20experiences%20for%20pupils%20who%20are%20educated%20other%20than%20at%20school%20%28EOTAS%29_0.pdf [Accessed 13 November 2023]
Welsh Government (2020) Education other than at school (EOTAS). Cardiff: Welsh Government. [Online]. Available from: https://hwb.gov.wales/curriculum-for-wales/designing-your-curriculum/education-other-than-at-school-eotas [Accessed 13 November 2023]