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Introduction to Curriculum for Wales guidance

The Curriculum for Wales guidance aims to help each school develop its own curriculum, enabling their learners to develop towards the four purposes of the curriculum – the starting point and aspiration for every child and young person in Wales.

This guidance will also be relevant for funded non-maintained nursery settings, pupil referral units (PRUs) and those responsible for the provision of education other than at school (EOTAS) in other settings, enabling them to develop an understanding of the Curriculum for Wales Framework (Framework).

The Curriculum for Wales guidance sets out:

  • the proposed curriculum requirements set out in legislation for all learners aged 3 to 16, to ensure all schools cover the same core learning and to secure a consistency of approach for learners across Wales
  • guidelines for schools in developing their curricula
  • expectations around assessment arrangements to support learner progression

It consists of the following.

  • Introduction to the Curriculum for Wales guidance.
  • Guidance for legislation – an outline of proposed legislation.
  • Designing your curriculum – general guidance on developing a curriculum across all areas of learning and experience (Area/Areas).
  • Introduction to each area of learning and experience.
  • Statements of what matters – the ‘big ideas’ and key principles in each Area.
  • Principles of progression – how learners make progress throughout their learning across the curriculum.
  • Descriptions of learning – how learners should make progress within each statement of what matters.
  • Designing your curriculum – principles for each Area – more Area-specific guidance on developing a curriculum.
  • Supporting learner progression – assessment guidance.

A Curriculum and Assessment Bill is proposed for introduction in the Senedd in 2020. To assist schools to develop their curriculum, we will publish the Curriculum for Wales guidance. This is an early version of that guidance and its purpose is to help schools to start thinking about designing their curriculum and the assessment arrangements to support it.

Improving education is our national mission. Nothing is so essential as universal access to, and acquisition of, the experiences, knowledge and skills and that our young people need for employment, lifelong learning and active citizenship.

The Curriculum for Wales guidance is a clear statement of what is important in delivering a broad and balanced education. The four purposes are the shared vision and aspiration for every child and young person. In fulfilling these, we set high expectations for all, promote individual and national well-being, tackle ignorance and misinformation, and encourage critical and civic engagement.

A school’s curriculum is everything a learner experiences in pursuit of the four purposes. It is not simply what we teach, but how we teach and crucially, why we teach it.

Curriculum development should be at the heart of practitioner, school and national efforts which seek to raise standards for all, tackle the attainment gap, and ensure an education system that is a source of national pride and enjoys public confidence.

This development will also contribute to our goals as a nation as set out in the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. It is also an important vehicle for embedding the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in the experience of learning and teaching for our children and young people and for giving them an understanding of their rights.

The Curriculum for Wales guidance forms part of the Curriculum for Wales Framework (Framework). The Framework is determined nationally and includes both the curriculum requirements, which will be set out in legislation, and a range of supporting guidance.

The Curriculum for Wales guidance, and the other guidance we are publishing alongside it, is the result of co-construction. It has been developed in Wales, by practitioners for practitioners, bringing together educational expertise and wider research and evidence.

It has been published primarily to help schools begin to design their own curriculum. It contains information on the proposed legal requirements, guidance on how to develop a school curriculum, and an explanation of the purposes and principles of assessment.

Assessment should be intrinsic to curriculum design. Funded non-maintained settings, pupil referral units (PRUs) and those responsible for the provision of education other than at school (EOTAS), will not be required to design a curriculum in the same way as a maintained school or maintained special school and further, more specific guidance will be published for these settings in 2021 to support them in fulfilling their legal obligations in relation to the Framework.

The Curriculum for Wales guidance is initial guidance and if the Curriculum and Assessment Bill is passed by the Senedd, it will be revised to reflect any changes.

The Framework is designed to help practitioners to develop a more integrated approach to learning. The six Areas bring together familiar disciplines and encourage strong and meaningful links across different disciplines. Those individual disciplines will still play an important role, especially as learners progress and begin to specialise.

The Curriculum for Wales guidance promotes collaboration and cross-disciplinary planning, learning and teaching, both within and across Areas. This will enable learners to build connections across their learning and combine different experiences, knowledge and skills.

There are 27 statements of what matters in this Framework. These ensure a level of consistency in curriculum design across settings and schools, as learners must develop an understanding of all statements. The process of exploring and revisiting these statements will enable learners to develop ever deeper knowledge over the learning continuum and to progress to a more sophisticated understanding of the key knowledge, ideas and principles in each Area.

This more sophisticated understanding allows learners to value how their learning contributes to these ideas and why it is important, rather than simply being able to recall isolated facts without understanding the context. This progression should be supported by a variety of assessment approaches which enable the learner and the practitioner to understand where a learner is and what they need to do next.

The Framework does not require settings and schools to develop a timetable explicitly structured along the lines of the Areas or to organise the setting or school or staffing on that basis.

A defining feature of the Framework is that it requires schools to design their own curriculum and assessment arrangements. By itself, it is not an ‘off the shelf’ programme for delivery. Our new approach recognises:

  • the role of leadership in enabling high-quality learning and teaching. Establishing a high-performing education system through high-quality learning and teaching depends on building its professional capacity, developing local leadership, responsibility and decision-making
  • within the national framework, schools and practitioners are best placed to make decisions about the needs of their specific learners, including choosing topics and activities which will best support their learning
  • the importance of meaningful learning. A content-focused curriculum does not guarantee meaningful learning, only that certain topics are covered to varying extents; instead, the Curriculum for Wales guidance articulates what concepts and essence of learning should underpin a range of different topics, learning activities and acquisition of knowledge
  • the need for innovation and creativity. Practitioners select content, enabling them to use their professional skills to drive improved learning and outcomes for their learners
  • the scope for practitioners to make greater links between Areas and disciplines. Practitioners will have the licence to use topics and activities to combine meaningful learning from different Areas, disciplines and concepts

It is for these reasons that the Framework does not try to prescribe a full list of specific topics or activities. That is not to say that the specific topics or activities are unimportant. Instead, the Curriculum for Wales guidance sets out the essence of learning which should underpin them.

It is for schools and practitioners, drawing on guidance and resources, to decide what specific experiences, knowledge and skills will support their specific learners to realise the four purposes. This is set within the consistency provided by the national framework. Designing your curriculum gives guidance and support in developing a curriculum, offering key principles that serve as a common starting point for schools.

Other settings can use this as a starting point if they wish, however the Welsh Ministers will:

  • be required to provide a curriculum which funded non-maintained nursery settings can adopt. If a setting wished to create its own curriculum, that curriculum would have to meet the requirements set out in the legislation and it could use the Curriculum for Wales guidance to inform their approach
  • issue guidance for PRUs and those responsible for EOTAS provision, to support them in providing learning and teaching in line with the Framework and fulfilling their specific responsibilities in the legislation

Another defining characteristic of the framework is the emphasis placed on learners’ progression. The Curriculum for Wales guidance has been informed by international evidence of what it means to make progress in learning.

The statements of what matters are the basis of learners’ progression. It is through exploration of the key ideas and principles contained in these statements that they will develop their learning. Practitioners will need to design learning which supports an increasingly sophisticated understanding and application of the statements of what matters.

Taken together, the statements of what matters provide breadth and depth in the curriculum, and a level of consistency in curriculum design across settings and schools. That is why they will be drawn together in a mandatory statement of what matters once the Curriculum and Assessment Bill becomes law.

The Curriculum for Wales guidance describes principles of progression for the curriculum as a whole and for each individual Area. These articulate the ways in which learners make progress in their learning and contribute to the four purposes. These will be incorporated in a statutory code once the Curriculum and Assessment Bill becomes law. This means that progression must be embedded in learning and teaching and should form the basis of thinking in schools when designing and planning the school curriculum.

Progression is further supported by descriptions of learning which provide guidance on how learners should progress within each statement of what matters as they journey through the continuum of learning. These are arranged in five progression steps which provide reference points for the pace of that progression.

These expectations are expressed from the learner’s perspective and are framed broadly so that they can sustain learning over a series of years. They are not designed as stand-alone tasks, activities or assessment criteria. While the learning continuum is the same for each learner, the pace of progress through it may differ. As a result, the progression steps only broadly relate to age. They broadly correspond to expectations at ages 5, 8, 11, 14 and 16.

Together, the principles of progression and the descriptions of learning are intended to guide the development of a curriculum which reflects appropriate progression. Learners’ progress can then be identified through assessment, and allows practitioners to plan learning and teaching.

Progression should be supported through ‘deep’ learning. Each description of learning is designed to support increasing depth and sophistication of learning over time. This allows space for a variety of diversion, repetition and reflection as learners’ thinking develops over time to new levels of sophistication.

They are also designed to be considered through a range of contexts. Learning should bring together through experiences a breadth of knowledge and skills, allowing the learners to use and apply them in new and challenging contexts. Assessment is key to supporting ‘deep’ learning and should be used to identify whether learners need to consolidate their learning, whether further support is needed and the next steps for learners’ progress.

Assessment is intrinsic to curriculum design. Its overarching purpose is to support every learner to make progress. Assessment should always focus on moving learning forward by understanding the learning which has already taken place and using this to ensure that each learner is challenged and supported appropriately, according to their individual learning needs.

It requires partnerships among all those involved, including the learner. It should recognise the individual learning needs and backgrounds of each learner and encourage a holistic view of each learner’s development. Accordingly, both practitioner and learner should develop an understanding of how the learner learns and their attitude and approach to learning, in order to support them to continue to progress and to foster commitment to their learning.