One teacher’s uplifting experience of preparing for the new curriculum, and why she’s excited for the changes

A digital illustration of a compass with a Welsh flag point to the word Education

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The new Curriculum for Wales is taking students’ education in an exciting new direction

What is a curriculum? Some people will envision what we teach, others the number of lessons or blocks of lessons that pupils encounter during a year. In Wales, we have defined curriculum as everything we do: what we teach, how we teach it, when we teach it, and why we are teaching it.

Mae’r erthygl hon ar gael yn Gymraeg

The Curriculum for Wales 2022 (CfW) is a purpose-led curriculum due to start teaching in 2022. Four overarching aims guide the entire curriculum. Specifically, that ‘all our children will be:

  1. ambitious and capable learners who are ready to learn throughout their lives;
  2. healthy, confident individuals who are ready to lead fulfilling lives as valued members of society;
  3. enterprising, creative contributors who are ready to play a full part in life and work; and
  4. ethical, informed citizens of Wales and the World.’

Is there one of these aims that you wouldn’t want your own child to master?

Gone are the days of just covering content. Core and disciplinary knowledge combines with the skills and experiences that pupils encounter holistically to realise these four purposes. The CfW ensures equity for all since all elements must be covered in each school. It also considers how assessment contributes to the intended curriculum, putting pupils’ progression at the heart of the process model.

Bold, yes. But just imagine a world where education delivered these aims to produce lifelong independent learners. Is there one of these aims that you wouldn’t want your own child to master? As a school, we have found them uplifting. They have also reconfirmed why we chose this profession.

The CfW doesn’t break from traditional curriculums entirely, but – instead of distinct disciplines such as physics, history, French, etc – it has been subdivided into six ‘Areas of learning and experience’ (AoLE). These AoLEs are the vehicles to ensure pupils have a broad and balanced diet of learning. Each AoLE is responsible for delivering specific ‘statements of what matters’. No subject or discipline is more important than another.

The aim is to improve learning, not to continually prove learning

Chemistry resides in the AoLE of Science and technology. Although not directly labelled as the ‘chemistry section’ of the curriculum, the statement of what matters that closely aligns to my ideals of chemistry is: ‘Matter and the way it behaves defines our universe and shapes our lives’. Enquiry across all scientific disciplines has been explicitly highlighted in its own statement.

This is not a skills curriculum – it is so much more.

Improving, not proving

My school has embraced the curriculum design process not as ‘extra work’ but as work that will realise the broad and deep education of all our pupils.

Curriculum design is an iterative progress and it is unlikely that this will ever be ‘finished’, but the aim is to improve learning not to continually prove learning. This is a welcome respite from the continual monitoring and assessment of previous curriculum incarnations. We have been asked to ‘assess what matters’. Does this mean that as a profession we are finally trusted to deliver a coherent and high-quality curriculum that is bespoke for our pupils?

The process is not a one-off task and it will inevitably take longer than we thought. However I firmly believe the love of our discipline and what it can contribute to the richness of pupils’ learning can finally shine through.

We have carefully planned the learning journey, being brave enough to drop topics that do not contribute

As always, leadership is important, and I cannot underestimate the value of establishing a vision. What is important to your pupils and how does this connect with their ‘cynefin’? Cynefin is a Welsh term defined in the CfW as ‘the place where we feel we belong, where the people and landscape around us are familiar, and the sights and sounds are reassuringly recognisable’ – and it is important because it encourages schools to personalise the curriculum for their pupils so that they can find meaningful connections within their learning.

A bumpy road

Our journey towards the vision has not been without its ups and downs. Sometimes we concentrated on engagement, meaning learning intentions were lost in the melee of tasks. We have found it’s important not to attempt to retrofit your existing curriculum into the new model and to look at the entire narrative of your curriculum with a critical eye. Ask yourself, why this? Why then? How does this fit into the entire tapestry of learning?

These are difficult questions. No longer can we use the panacea ‘because the the pupils enjoy it’. However this does not mean this is a lacklustre curriculum where pupils sit passively waiting to be spoon-fed knowledge. We have collaboratively and carefully planned the learning journey through each year, each topic, the spacing and interleaving of threshold concepts through the narrative of progression, being brave enough to drop topics that do not contribute. This does not mean we have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. There are elements of our existing curriculum that naturally segue into our planning, but we have critically asked what each specific activity or task adds to the schema-building of our pupils.

There is still plenty of opportunity to think like a scientist, but now the curriculum design process is explicit and KS3 – sorry, Progression step 4 – has a vital role in the development of pupils for the rigour and joys to come. Learning is not linear and the curriculum is a spiral, but by carefully designing the knowledge, skills and experiences, it enables our pupils to be all that they can be.

Ready to start your own planning?

Download planning support documents to help you prepare for Curriculum for Wales and what it means for science, and chemistry, teaching in your school. 

Join the Royal Society of Chemistry and ASE Cymru for an online session, Chemistry and the Curriculum for Wales, on 20 September.