Wales

Q&A: Wales' new curriculum

Dylan Wiliam Image copyright Dylan Wiliam
Image caption Prof Dylan Wiliam is an expert on how classrooms work across the globe

Dylan Wiliam is emeritus professor of educational assessment at University College London. He consults with formal education systems around the world, from Australia and Singapore to Sweden, the UK, the US, and Canada. Here he gives his thoughts on the new "curriculum for Wales".

What are your overall thoughts?

The plans in Wales are very similar to what a lot of countries and jurisdictions are trying to do, such as Ontario and British Columbia in Canada. They're trying to make their curricula more relevant and engaging to students.

For me, the danger is that it is often done at the price of removing some of the rigour. Therefore, although the students may become more engaged, they may not actually learn enough to thrive in this complex world that they're coming in to.

They need to come out knowing stuff they didn't know when they went in. We mustn't lose sight of that.

Do you think the curriculum is too vague?

Well, that can be a good thing, but only if teachers are given the time to make sense of this, to work out what those broad principles mean in the context of their own classrooms.

My worry is if that time isn't forthcoming, teachers will have to shoehorn the stuff that they already know how to do in to the new curriculum.

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The Welsh Government has recruited pioneer schools to develop this curriculum. What do you think of that?

What might work in one school might not necessarily work in other more challenging contexts.

What's really hard about improving education is not improving 20 or 30 classrooms, but improving 20,000 classrooms.

That's why working at scale is so difficult. It's hard to find out what's happening on the ground and whether it's making a difference.

Image copyright PA
Image caption "Wales is taking a gamble... it's still all to play for," says Prof Wiliam

Do you think this curriculum will work?

Wales is taking a gamble. I don't think anyone knows how it is going to play out.

There are too many variables. I think the chances of success are anything from 10%-90%.

There's a reasonable chance that this could be successful if the right things are done.

And there's a really good chance that the political processes, and changes in government, and changes in administration and changes in funding could derail the entire thing and the whole thing is a disaster.

It's still all to play for.

Should parents in Wales be worried?

I don't think parents should be worried for the simple reason that the vast majority of people in the education system really care about their children.

The people on the ground will try and make sense of this, and try and make it work in the best interests of their children.

We have the answers in Wales. There's enough good teachers in every school in Wales to lead a transformation of the profession as long as they all continue to improve.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Policy isn't enough says the professor - it must be backed with resources

What advice do you have for the Welsh Government?

As well as more teacher time to think about this, I think there's a really strong case for there to be national text books.

My argument is that a set of learning materials is no more a curriculum than a pile of bricks is a house.

What we see from countries in the Far East, and one of the reasons that I think they're successful, is that they think very carefully about the design of good text books.

This would be a five year job involving widespread consultation with subject experts, and with psychologists, to develop one very good set of learning materials.

The whole purpose of having this national text book would be to actually make it the best distilled wisdom we have. If we do it quickly, it could be done really badly.

Eye on Wales is on BBC Radio Wales at 18:30 BST on Wednesday - or listen on BBC Sounds.

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