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“Tell me how, Dave” or ‘Some thoughts on a future National Curriculum for Wales’ (!)

I was lucky enough to attend the excellent and thought provoking “ICT for Education” conference on Friday, followed by another inspirational Teachmeet. The following day I was pondering a lot of what I’d seen and the following thought crossed my mind.

One is that if 'digital classroom' is going to have max impact we need to change NC in Wales in a big way (cc Leighton Andrews)

When I logged on to Twitter tonight I couldn’t work out why this comment had picked up so much traction 24 hours or so after I’d posted it. That was, until I scrolled a little further and found…

Tell me how, Dave

Well, that’ll teach me to pontificate on Twitter then – the Minister might call you out on it! (you can see the rest of the conversation as it unfolded on Storify)

So, for what’s worth – why I think we need to reform the National Curriculum in Wales, and how we might start going about it.

Let’s start by taking a look backwards. The last major investment in ‘new’ technology was probably the mass purchase of Interactive White Boards over the last ten years or so. Now, I’m not knocking them specifically (although I’ve written before about why I don’t want one), but I’m not sure you could make the case they had been trans formative or massively improved standards. One of the reason, I would argue, is that this was a case of new technology being slotted into an existing culture. And if that school culture was out of step with technology ten years ago, then it is even more so now.

Fraser Speirs in his talk on Friday referred to a statistic that they had used as the basis for his school becoming the first 1:1 ipad school in the world – The average ratio of connected devices to people is a little over 3:1. Yet in schools we’d be lucky to get to 1:3 – His point was that how can schools possibly hope to prepare students for the world of tomorrow, when we can’t even prepare them to the world they experience outside our gates?

So that leaves us with the question of how to change culture, which is ultimately what we need to do to ensure that any outcomes from the digital classroom review don’t have the same limited effect as the investment in IWBs, when they have the potential to be genuinely transformative.

Previous Welsh governments have proved that they can take practice from around the world and create something genuinely innovative and creative in the Foundation Phase. While there is no doubt that the culture in an individual school culture is down to what goes into that school, there is also a national steer towards culture and priorities and thesecome (in part) from the National Curriculum. So, to me at least, it seems like the next logical place to look is here.

So much with the why, what about the what?

First rule. Ignore England. Until now the Welsh National Curriculum has reflected in part the original English Documents and their subsequent revisions. Now we need to leave that behind and look internationally to find better and more suitable inspiration. Look at the Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland. I remember looked at the New Zealand curriculum a few years ago when we were looking for models for SMART. Look to things like Opening Minds. Don’t just look at the model, but look at the lessons learned from their adoption.

Secondly, there needs to be a open and widespread discussion about what education in Wales is for. We regularly here from employers about their criticisms – what to they think the education system should look like? How about teachers? Parents? Students? This needs to be held with an understanding that if in doubt people tend to refer to what they already know. We need to move beyond harping back to any non-existent golden age of education, or any ‘gold standard’ qualifications. What do our young people need to succeed in a future that we can’t predict? What does our nation need to build a sustainable future for itself?

Thirdly, we need to recognise that we’re in a digital world. That doesn’t mean we should fall down and worship at the alter of the latest “shiny shiny” device, but we do need to accept that pretty much everything outside the walls of our schools has been transformed. That means we need to ask some pretty searching questions of everything from timetables (see here or here), to buildings, to the very purpose of the curriculum – If knowledge is no longer a scarce commodity why is it’s retention still at the heart of our assessment system. Wouldn’t we be better off with problem finders?

Which leads me on to the final point. We need to ask ourselves what we want our students to be able to do whenever they leave the education system. Or even better, build an education system that is there for people whenever they want or need it. It probably wouldn’t be subject based – that’s one thing I like about both the Curriculum for Excellent and Opening Minds. That’s not to say young people won’t be learning History, Geography, Maths etc etc, but I’m becoming increasingly convinced that I could teach History better as part of an integrated and creative curriculum than in the current factory system which rings and bell and expects children to jump from one discipline to another, often just at the point that things were starting to get interesting!

So, how’s that for starters? A bit more than I could fit in a tweet, but I’d love to hear your views either on Twitter or below. What have I missed? What have I got wrong? What would YOU do?!

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Dave Stacey

2 Comments

  1. I’d start by getting together people who love and understand what it is to inspire and motivate children. Technology has given us a platform. 10 years ago, only sicafants would be heard by Minsters. Specially chosen or selected. There are so many creative, innovative teachers communicating online. Just listen Mr Andrews. Trust your teachers. Oh, and hurry up with wireless access, and encourage local authorities to amend their access policy so pupils can use their own kit. Theyve already got the tools, let just give them the floor!

  2. Excellent set of references to pull on for a flexible curriculum that stands the test of time. I’ll take your point on subjects and amplify it: kids don’t need subjects to succeed at all. They need taught, sometimes, the elements of knowledge and understanding that help them make their own way through a problem, but if it’s just one element after another (as it always seems to be in certain subjects [maths, my own French, units of History boshed together with no obvious connection]) then we turn kids off and do nothing to help them grow as learners.

    Opening Minds is great – there’s their conference on March 3 that would be worth the Minister getting along to, to understand what it means in practice.

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