Our next post comes from James Stanford, Leader of Learning – St. Cadoc’s Catholic Primary School, Cardiff. You can find him on Twitter at @MrStanfordTeach and you can read more of his writing on his blog – mrstanfordteach.wordpress.com
When I look back to that pipe-dream, the once in a lifetime ambition for a new curriculum for Wales, I wonder ‘What must we have been thinking?’. Were we naïve to or desperate for the change? The government was allowing us to map our own curricular direction without ministerial tinkering or fuss. Teachers writing a curriculum, making their own judgements about what’s in and more importantly what wasn’t in; considering international evidence and lessons in a product bespoke to Wales. My thoughts at the time: No way José or rather not a chance Dafydd (even my cynicism had a Welsh Dimension). We’d all heard the tales of those days gone by when freshly pressed, teacher proof curriculum documents were delivered to schools, and how staff members would thumb through the latest tome penned by government officials and academics whilst locked away from the world. National Curriculums were oft sent to schools as a panacea to fix all the ills of society, the profession and politics. 2008 brought with it a new look. A magic bullet was being fashioned. Apparently it was skills that Welsh kids were lacking and we had a new framework to help us understand and deliver. The Foundation Phase then followed with learning through play and experiences; engaging children deeply and intrinsically. The bullet had been fired. Could it be from here on in that reform was to be about learners and teachers, not policy and politics?
The dark days of snap reforms and little consultation with those at the chalk face were behind us. What you are doing there in 2018 is different, hold on to your hope. A brave new world. It won’t come overnight and will be 10 years in the making and embedding. Making and embedding by teachers for teachers. You are amidst Welsh teachers leading universities and the inspectorate. International experts are involved and what seems like the world and his dog is watching. Pioneers will give way to testers and developers of another kind – those that will help soften the edges and add a real world legitimacy. Whilst those of you not directly involved in the process may think progress is slow; pioneers not sharing information for fear of saying the wrong thing, the endless re-drafting, the tangents and the dead ends that seem to come to naught. From where I’m sitting, I thank the heavens for all of the work that those in the process put into it. What we have now, here in 2025, is greater than the sum of its parts.
Each Area of Learning and Experience group, professional body and practitioner on the ground has ownership of this curriculum. It is ours. We have learning networks of excellence supporting the research and evidence base of each AoLE. Curriculum reform has never resulted in such a powerful and inclusive system. We know that this curriculum was carefully thought out with our own learners in mind. To furnish each with knowledge, equip them with skills and deliver the experiences needed to take with them on their journey in Wales and the world. Now comes the biggest step of all. Next you need to keep pioneering; not in development, but in delivery of the dream, not for us, but for the young people of Wales.
It wasn’t without its trials and tribulations. Schools outside the pioneer network felt ill informed and left out in the cold. Some tried to diverge from the process; start small-scale reforms in local settings that were barely applicable to our growing and united national context. It wasn’t easy for the pioneers either. It is never is easy for those that are the first to explore, settle and develop new territory. The responsibility weighed heavy with teachers worried about saying the wrong thing and sending people on the wrong path. Developing new professional standards while trying to assimilate the necessary changes to methodology and pedagogy was never going to be easy.
The main reason the process worked, and we are in a better place now, was the engagement and trust shown by the believers. Most of all, trust from those in power! True, it was scarce in the beginning, we were all waiting for a political u-turn, pulling of the plug, a cut of the funding. No matter how much we believed this, it never happened. Now there is more trust: less us and them, more we and us. Our national inspectorate engaged in the process, engaging with schools the whole way. After their own reform, inspectors are no longer our adversaries, they are now our professional colleagues, working towards the same goal. Higher Education, too, made dramatic changes to initial teacher training and graduates now arrive classrooms fully prepared to teach our transformational new curriculum.
Sitting in hotel meeting rooms, classrooms, staff rooms and conference centres throughout the reform period did so much more than develop a progression framework and a curriculum. It was the beginning of the collegiality of our profession, of our purpose and our practice. The large scale dialogue united us in our efforts so that we may develop and support each other. The legacy of the pioneer programme is our united educational community in Wales.
It is with great pride that we go into our classrooms and teach our curriculum. A Curriculum for Wales, made in Wales. We feel connected to it, part of it. We know it will change. It will develop. It will need to be moulded into place by schools, clusters and communities to meet the evolving needs of all learners, but we are now fully equipped to do this. We have learned so much from the process. We are agents for change. Curriculum reform by teachers, who would have thought it would work? Looking back from 2025, I would like to reassure you all that it worked. Those who started as sceptics are now believers.