Welsh Government makes major announcement about what children learn in school

Education Minister Lynne Neagle
-Credit: (Image: WalesOnline)

Schools in Wales are to be given new, statutory guidance on what children should learn in literacy, numeracy and digital and by what ages, Education Minister Lynne Neagle has announced. While there is guidance now, it is not statutory.

Schools will have to include the new statutory guidance, details of which are yet to be released, in their new curriculum design, the Welsh Government said. Schools will also be given more support in how to design, run and assess work for the new curriculum with some needing more support, Ms Neagle admitted.

The moves, taken two years after the new curriculum roll-out began and nearly one full academic year after it was introduced into all schools last September, follows criticism of Wales' flagship education policy from school inspectorate Estyn, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and unions, among others. The Nasuwt Cymru teaching union described the situation as “chaotic” while the NEU Cymru said support was "long overdue". For the latest Welsh news delivered to your inbox sign up to our newsletter

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Professor Graham Donaldson, the architect of Wales' new curriculum
Professor Graham Donaldson, the architect of Wales' new curriculum -Credit:Rob Brown/WalesOnline

The Curriculum for Wales is now being taught in all schools and settings up to and including year eight, with year nine following from this September. All year groups will be learning through it from September, 2026, with the new made-in-Wales GCSEs first sat in summer, 2027.

But, while the new curriculum is intended to be constructed by schools, the Nasuwt teaching union said that, in reality, teachers "are not being given the time and space to do this work". Now, two years after it was rolled out in primaries and nearly a full academic year since it was introduced into all secondary schools, Education Secretary Lynne Neagle has admitted “it was clear more support was needed”.

The Chief Inspector for Schools, teaching unions and school leaders has long warned that delivery of the new curriculum has been inconsistent across Wales. Earlier this year the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies called for it to be “revised” and you can read more about that here.

Asked what new statutory guidance on key subjects meant in practice, a Welsh Government spokesperson said schools would be given "additional detail" of national expectations for what learners should know and be able to do in literacy, numeracy, and digital competence at different age points. Issuing these more detailed expectations as statutory guidance means schools will need to have regard to these frameworks in their curriculum design. You can see the Welsh Government's current and non-statutory numeracy, literacy and digital frameworks here.

Concern has been growing after Wales’ worst ever Pisa results last year amid rumblings about how well Wales’ education reforms, including the new curriculum, are working. A report from Chief Inspector for Schools in Wales, Owen Evans, last autumn also raised questions, saying: “A few schools have made strong progress with their implementation of Curriculum for Wales” and “a minority of schools are still at the early stage of implementing Curriculum for Wales."

His report went on: “Many of these schools have adapted planning to focus on what pupils learn rather than how they learn and only a minority of schools plan effectively to ensure progression in pupils’ skills and knowledge over time.”

Today, Ms Neagle said schools and teachers would get more support “to ensure consistent delivery across Wales”. But she told Plenary she didn't want to make the same mistake as Scotland and overload schools with too much guidance and support, adding: "support will not materialise overnight, it is important we get it right".

Ms Neagle said that while "some schools were flying with the new curriculum" others had requested more help and primaries were doing better than secondaries. Support would be devised with teachers and others and shared, she said. "Overwhelmingly, headteachers have told me they are supportive of the new curriculum. But it's clear to me following the impact of the pandemic and challenges facing the sector, that practitioners need more support, particularly in progression and assessment. "

She said the Curriculum for Wales annual report was out later this week and while primaries and nurseries were "making good progress" there was "variation" among secondary schools and pupil referral units and there was "still a way to go".

In a statement, the Welsh Government said: “Following visits to educational settings and hearing first hand from teachers about their experiences, the Cabinet Secretary for Education, Lynne Neagle has announced Welsh Government will introduce simplified, easy to access support to help schools plan their curriculum, deliver for learners and provide consistency across Wales.

“The support announced today will include; national collaboration to develop common approaches across the profession, simplifying the process of curriculum design and evaluation, tools and templates to plan learning, clearer expectations for teaching and learning and sharing examples of curriculum design and best practice. It will also put revised literacy and numeracy and digital competence frameworks on a statutory footing to provide clear expectations for these critical skills.”

Teaching unions and school leaders respond

Responding to the announcement, Dr Patrick Roach, General Secretary of Nasuwt – The Teachers’ Union, said: “From day one of the new Curriculum for Wales, Nasuwt has drawn attention to the many challenges it poses to teachers and learners. While the intention is that the curriculum be constructed by practitioners in schools, teachers are not being given the time and space to do this work.

“The Cabinet Secretary for Education is the first to admit that there is a problem with the new curriculum. Teachers and pupils deserve an education system that is resourced to ensure success.”

Neil Butler, National Official for Wales, said: “Our members in Wales remain concerned about the chaotic rollout of the new curriculum. They are already battling increasing class sizes and a pupil behaviour crisis, neither of which the Welsh Government is choosing to address head-on.

“The Cabinet Secretary for Education’s call for consistency is an ambitious ask, especially considering that the Curriculum was designed to be created and differentiated by individual schools. This approach encourages inconsistency. Moreover, local management of schools ensures that schools act as individual entities, so it is very difficult to get them to collaborate.

“Consistency will have to be imposed by a Welsh Government that understands what the problems are and is determined to fix them. Where the curriculum is concerned, there has been a lot of fiddling whilst Rome burns. Let’s hope that the new Cabinet Secretary for Education is ready to get stuck in and put the fire out.”

Eithne Hughes, director of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) Cymru, said: “Additional support for schools is always welcome and it’s positive that the cabinet secretary is listening and responding to the concerns of the profession. However, we really need to see more detail of the support that is going to be available before we can ascertain whether it will be sufficient.

“It also needs to be backed with appropriate financial support, as many schools currently face having to make cuts to staffing and their curriculum offer. A delivery model is all well and good, but it relies fundamentally on there being a highly trained workforce in place who have the time and resources to implement it. Schools need to be funded appropriately to ensure they have the staff they need to manage change of this scale.”

Nicola Fitzpatrick, interim Wales secretary for the National Education Union Cymru, said: "NEU Cymru members will be pleased to see the Cabinet Secretary is trying to boost support for the roll out of the curriculum through clearer guidance and collaboration. This is long overdue.

"But it is clear too that our members need more than clearer guidance. If collaboration is to increase, then schools need funding, in order to allow time outside the classroom. Crucially, schools are making impossible choices with ever shrinking budgets. Every class deserves a fully qualified teacher, who is enabled through professional learning opportunities and clear support to help the children in their class to fulfil their potential.”

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