Y Pwyllgor Plant, Pobl Ifanc ac Addysg - Y Bumed Senedd
Children, Young People and Education Committee - Fifth Senedd06/12/2017
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Darren Millar AM|
|Hefin David AM|
|John Griffiths AM|
|Julie Morgan AM|
|Llyr Gruffydd AM|
|Lynne Neagle AM||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Mark Reckless AM|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Ann Evans||Cadeirydd, Cymwysterau Cymru|
|Chair, Qualifications Wales|
|Claire Rowlands||Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr—Cwricwlwm, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Deputy Director—Curriculum, Welsh Government|
|Kirsty Williams AM||Ysgrifennydd y Cabinet dros Addysg|
|Cabinet Secretary for Education|
|Philip Blaker||Prif Weithredwr, Cymwysterau Cymru|
|Chief Executive, Qualifications Wales|
|Professor Graham Donaldson||Cadeirydd y Grŵp Cynghori Annibynnol|
|Chair of the Independent Advisory Group|
|Steve Davies||Cyfarwyddwr—Addysg, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Director—Education, Welsh Government|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Gareth Rogers||Ail Glerc|
|Sarah Bartlett||Dirprwy Glerc|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle y mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Good morning, everyone. Can I welcome you all to the Children, Young People and Education Committee? There have been no apologies for absence. Can I ask Members whether there are any interests to declare? No. Okay. Thank you.
Item 2 this morning is a scrutiny session on the Qualifications Wales annual report. I'm very pleased to welcome Philip Blaker, chief executive of Qualifications Wales, and Ann Evans, chair of Qualifications Wales. I thank you both for attending this morning. We've all had the opportunity to look at the report. Are you happy to go straight into questions? Okay. If I just start then by asking a general question: what do you think the biggest challenges have been during the 2016-17 reporting period and what key lessons have you learned?
Okay. I think, to start with, the biggest challenge was the safe delivery of the summer exams series. There was a lot of scrutiny on that. It was the first time for many qualifications that were Wales-only qualifications to be delivered, and that certainly occupied a significant amount of our time and our energy, I think, would be a fair way to say it.
The other significant challenge that has been happening during the year was our health and social care changes—a major procurement exercise that needed to take place during the year so that we are building towards this new suite of qualifications in health and social care, which followed on from our review of that particular sector. Those were the two biggest challenges I think we faced. Philip, do you want to talk about anything else there?
Yes. I'll pick up on a couple of other things, particularly with regard to the summer series. This is the first time that GCSEs and A-levels have been awarded in Wales only, so the complete point of divergence. That's meant that there's been a real challenge in terms of maintaining standards. As a regulator, one of the most important jobs we have is to ensure that there is value in a GCSE and that that values rolls on from year-to-year so that the value last year is the same as the value this year and also with divergence—that there's the same value in a GCSE that might be taken in England or Northern Ireland as one that's taken in Wales. So, that's been a particular challenge for all regulators, actually—for Ofqual in England and for us here in Wales—in ensuring that there's a maintenance of standards.
But this year as well we saw the end of the reforms in terms of our main part of the reforms in approving new qualifications. So, through the year, we approved the final tranche of reformed GCSEs and A-levels for Wales, which were for first teaching from September of this year. Reforms are a challenge for everybody. They're a challenge for us, they're a challenge for WJEC in developing the specifications, and they're particularly a challenge for schools that are developing new teaching practices and adapting to those new qualifications. So, you know, we've learnt many lessons on the back of things like those reform processes and we changed what we did for 2017 subjects relative to what we did for 2016 subjects.
We're going through a process now of trying to understand how we can improve those processes in anticipation of the next round of reforms, which are likely to come in association with the new curriculum for Wales.
Okay, thank you. Darren, on this.
Yes. Thank you for giving us an update on those qualifications and the importance of parity from one year to the next. One of the issues, obviously, that emerged as a result of the results this year was that the A-level results seemed to improve slightly, although there were many new qualifications, and the GCSE results seemed to dip slightly. Is that because of poorer performance in GCSEs and better performance in A-levels or is it because of the change in the new examinations?
So, if we do A-levels to begin with: if we look at A-levels, the actual size of the cohort dropped slightly so there were fewer candidates taking A-levels, but if you look at the absolute number of pupils that were getting the higher grades, those have stayed pretty consistent over the last three years. So, one of the interpretations that one can take from that data is that there are fewer weaker candidates taking A-levels and that the strength of the cohort is still there at the top end. Of course, what happens when you look at percentages—and this is the problem with percentages—is that that absolute number gets lost there, and because the cohort has shrunk slightly, it looks like a jump from 23 per cent to 25 per cent getting As and A*s is significant, when, actually, we don't think it is significant if you look at those absolute numbers.
The question then arises of why there might be fewer people taking A-levels, and that's something that we want to investigate. Again, you could speculate on a number of different assumptions that one could have there, particularly with higher education costing a lot of money now. Is it a case of market forces starting to come into play and people making a choice around whether they're going to take A-levels, which are an academic route through to higher education, or that weaker candidates may be making a decision to go down vocational routes instead, because they may provide better options for those pupils? So, from an A-level perspective, we've not seen a drop in standards at all and we're quite comfortable with that. We think it's the way the percentage reflects it that's different.
There's some of that with GCSEs as well because the cohort was increased because of the number of candidates that were entered through early entry. Early entry is another pattern there, so, there's a fundamental question there, which we've tried to address through our report on early entries, and Welsh Government's looked at it in terms of performance measures and what the drivers might be for early entry. But if you have a large number of pupils who are entering a high-stakes summative test before they've had the opportunity to learn the complete course, they're bound to not perform as well as they might do when they've completed the whole course. So, that's got to be another significant factor in GCSE performance.
And just on this issue of early entry, obviously, the Cabinet Secretary has accepted the recommendations of your report into early entry. If you get your crystal ball out, are you expecting, therefore, an improvement in GCSE results next year on that basis—on the basis of the explanation that you have given, which is that it's likely due to early entry that those numbers dipped?
As a regulator, where we're looking at standards, I'd want to see evidence before there would be anything to support an increase in results. We use comparable outcomes as the fundamental basis for maintaining standards, which is basically saying that, all things being equal, you'd expect the same percentage of people to get the same sorts of grade profiles one year on the next, and you look for evidence to support anything that might be different to that. Now, if there's evidence to support that there's been an improvement in the cohort's performance and if that can be demonstrated to us by WJEC, then that would support there being an improvement in GCSE results.
One of the important things there, though, is that when awarding takes place, it looks just at 16-year-olds' data. So, this year, awards were made without those early entries being considered in the awarding decisions. That will be the same position next year, because you're trying to make things as equal as possible when making those awarding decisions. So, I think it's a case of let's wait and see, but we've got the processes to make sure that there's no artificial grade inflation as a result of changes in cohorts.
Just one final question, if I may, Chair, and that is on the concern that has continued to be expressed about the availability of text books in the Welsh language for qualifications that are being pursued on a Welsh-medium basis. This has been something that has been a constant source of correspondence to my office and I'm sure, no doubt, yours. Are you satisfied, now, that the issues in terms of the delay in the availability of Welsh-language text books for certain subjects and the availability of certain subjects that can be taken through Welsh is something that you, as an organisation, are on top of, and that learners who wish to study for GCSEs or new A-levels in Welsh will be able to do so in the future without being handicapped, if you like, as a result of the unavailability of Welsh-medium resources?
I think it's important to note that there's a difference between what lies within the regulated market and what lies outside of the regulated market. We regulate awarding bodies, and particularly with the new GCSEs and A-levels, it's WJEC that is delivering those qualifications. They commit to making resources available at the same time in both languages. So, within the regulated market, we're comfortable that resources are released at the same time. What's available commercially through commercial publishers is a different story in that it sits outside of our direct regulation, so we have no enforcement powers over it. What we are confident in is that the WJEC, which provides a lot of the services to those commercial publishers, because they may be endorsing those textbooks—they put a lot of effort into trying to get those resources translated and available in Welsh as quickly as possible. We've seen that there are problems associated with this. We know that there needs to be work on this for the next round of reforms. The Welsh Government has already had its taskforce, where it's starting to look at whether there might be a different model for the future—one that would engage Welsh publishers more directly and rely less on publishers in England who may have more difficulty in translating resources.
There are two things that we can do to help in the future. One is to approve qualifications earlier, and clearly, this time round we've have to work on a timeline that was not in our gift and was not ideal. So, we can look, for the next round of reforms, to be approving qualifications earlier to give more lead-in time for those resources to be made available, hopefully through a new model that is more efficient and gives greater parity to both languages. The other thing that we want to do—and it's a piece of work we're planning to do over the next year—is to really start looking at what's meant by sufficiency in terms of the resources that are available. So, our conditions require the awarding body to have sufficient resources to support teaching available.
Now, 'sufficient' is something that is open to interpretation. At the barest minimum, we consider it to be the specification to be available, the sample assessment materials to be available, and teaching guides to be available. Clearly, the WJEC produce an awful lot more resources than that, which value add on that barest minimum. And then you've got stuff that sits outside of the regulated market in terms of textbooks and the like that goes even further. With all of these things about resources, sufficiency's a really important point to try and establish. Apart from anything else, we consider that it's bad to be teaching to the test. So, if education becomes just about delivering what's required to get through an exam, it will be a poorer experience for the learners. One of the things that the resources can drive is teaching to the test. So, in England, where there's a bigger commercial market because there are more candidates, and therefore it's more viable for publishers to produce an awful lot more material, there are some textbooks that one could consider worrying, for example targeting grade 7 at maths or the like—
I don't wish to cut across you, but it's important that textbooks are available, isn't it, for learners to be able to use as a resource, to supplement their classroom activities, to assist them with revision for exams or preparation for classroom activities, for regulated tests in the classroom, which contribute towards their GCSE grades. Frankly, it's ridiculous that there is no Welsh religious education WJEC-supported textbook even available at the moment, in spite of the fact—
Well, it's not, with respect. A hard copy of it is not. It's available only in electronic format, which is completely unacceptable, would you not agree? And don't you think that, given that you have this duty to ensure that the resources are sufficient, that ought to include, frankly, learner resources as well as teacher resources and guides?
As I say, it sits outside of the regulated market for publishers and what goes on there. We do need to establish what we mean by sufficiency, but I think it's also—
Can I just ask—who defines sufficiency at the moment?
It is undefined, which is why we're going to seek to define it for the future. But it's also worth remembering—
I'm sorry, I have to challenge this, Chair. Isn't it stating the obvious that learners need resources and that textbooks are a pretty integral part of the learning experience in most schools and would be expected of an examination board that those are available to supplement a learner's learning?
There are issues there, though, associated with content because, essentially, what textbooks are there to do is to provide learning associated with content. What can happen with resources that are produced by awarding bodies is that they can become very specific to the assessment rather than the broader learning. So, I'll take a very glib example: let's say something like photosynthesis in biology and science. The concept of photosynthesis is as it was before this iteration of the exams, so there are resources available for schools to be able to teach a concept like photosynthesis from the general body of knowledge that is out there; they don't need a specific textbook associated with the latest version of the specification in order to do that.
Clearly, I've taken a very narrow example there and there are examples where the awarding body does need to produce some particular resources. So, for example, with something like languages, where there might be specific films or books that are being studied that wouldn't be in the general body of knowledge, resources need to be made available there to support the teaching of those particular texts or if there is a particular concept that is being introduced as a new concept that needs to be taught. I'm not moving away from the fact that we don't think it's a perfect situation at the moment. I think things could be done better next time.
One final very brief question: do you accept that Welsh-medium learners have been disadvantaged as a result of the unavailability of learner resources, particularly in the form of textbooks, as a result of the problems that have been identified by many parents, many teachers and much correspondence both to you and to Assembly Members?
I've no evidence either way. If I'm working on an evidence basis, I can't see—
So why bother trying to develop anything?
Darren, you said that was the last question. I want to move on now to John Griffiths.
Thank you, Chair. We've already touched on some of the challenges and, indeed, some of the lessons that might have been learned. I wonder if you could say a little more about the challenges and the lessons learned in terms of general qualifications—so, with your strategic plan, how you've set about tackling the challenges identified and the lessons learned during a process of reforming general qualifications.
As Philip has just said, we're commissioning a piece of work now to look at lessons learned over the whole process that we've just been through, so that we can make sure that the next iteration of change is going to be informed by all of that. In terms of our challenges, as I said, the summer exam series was very important. It was also the final tranche of approval for the last few GCSEs and A-levels that are now in the system. I think in terms of lessons learned, one of the things that we've been looking at is the way in which our relationship with the WJEC has been developing. I think that has improved and it has changed. It has been something that we've thought about a great deal during that process.
Some of the the challenges that we face going forward we outline in our strategic plan. I think, to be fair, the two that the board talk about the most: one is parity—to make sure that young people taking qualifications that are developed in Wales have equal opportunities to access employment and higher education. Another one would be Welsh language provision, which we've just been talking about. And the final one—the challenge for us going forward—will be the curriculum developments. We very firmly believe that the curriculum should lead qualifications, and so we're waiting with interest to see when we will have sufficient information to be able to make judgments about what scale of reform the new curriculum could demand of our qualifications system. We're very pleased to see the revised timeline because we think that's a pragmatic and sensible approach to the curriculum, but we're waiting to have more information to take that forward. So, that's one of our big challenges coming forward.
It's probably just worth adding one more thing. Moving forward into next year, we want to do a particular piece of work, looking at building public understanding of how the system works. So, one of our principal aims is around public confidence in qualifications and the qualifications system. In relation to high-stakes exams like GCSEs and A-levels, we think that public confidence can only be engendered where there's public understanding of how the system works, and it can be quite opaque—so, for example, how grades are established in the awarding process, how marking has moved from traditional, paper-based marking to on-screen marking, which means that you may—. Well, you will usually not have the same marker marking the whole of one script, let alone the whole of one centre's work—one school's work. So, there's an awful lot of work to be done in terms of increasing public understanding, and we think that as a consequence of increased understanding, there will be increased public confidence.
Okay. In terms of the reform of the curriculum, which obviously is of crucial importance to the future of education in Wales, and qualifications and attainment, how exactly will you use your experience to help inform and shape that curriculum? How will you be working with those that will be taking it forward?
We're engaged in the process—quite heavily engaged in some places—to be part of some of the debates and discussions, but we're very clear: our responsibility is around qualifications, and qualifications need to follow the curriculum. And so, what we're waiting to see is when all of that information is brought together, so we have sufficient content in the areas of learning and experience to be able to map it against current qualifications to see what level of change is needed. I think that's where our expertise comes into play in a large way.
We're engaged with the AoLE groups at the moment. We have observers that go into each of those groups, and as observers they do tend to participate. I'm a member of the programme board. I'm also a member of the change board, so from those groups, we're getting a good overview of what's happening at the moment. It's still early days with the curriculum development in terms of articulating some of the principles and understanding within that. As they develop, we will be in a position to think about what the consequences are for the qualification system. We've started to do some work already, thinking about the range of options that might be available. So, having visited Scotland, we can see that there's an awful lot of benefit in retaining a known qualification title like 'GCSE', because it's got public credibility and it's a common currency—certainly with England. What we want to do, though, is understand the direction that the curriculum's going in and how well something like the GCSE brand can sit within that direction. If there are big changes that are necessary, then we'll start to think about what the options might be for moving away from GCSEs if we think that that's relevant. So, the next six months are going to be crucial, really, in terms of curriculum development, for us to establish what we think the right direction is for qualifications.
Okay. In terms of early entry and whether all the issues involved have been adequately dealt with or are being adequately dealt with, is there anything you would add to your earlier points? Are you satisfied at the moment?
I think we've always been clear, and we hope that our research was clear, that there is a place for early entry, just not as wide-scale as we've seen over recent years. So, in some circumstances, clearly, it's the right thing for individual learners. When we thought about the options for change, we considered a whole range of options ranging from the status quo—just leave things as they were and let practices continue—through to introducing a regulatory rule that said that only 16-year-olds could take GCSEs. And actually, either one of those would probably not address the issues that are there. So, the option that we chose, in terms of advising Welsh Government that a change to performance measures would be an important thing in terms of curbing some of the behaviours that we'd seen, I think was the right option. In terms of moving forward, I think schools would welcome greater clarity in terms of the nuanced detail of how that will be implemented, and I think Welsh Government are working on that at the moment. I think the thing that's needed from a school's perspective is just some greater clarity on what the details of those changes are.
Okay, thanks very much. In terms of the Welsh baccalaureate, you called for greater clarity from Welsh Government. Are you content that that clarity has now been provided?
So, that's clarity in terms of what it means by universal adoption. So, I think there is still some work there in terms of what Welsh Government's policy is in terms of universal adoption on the Welsh baccalaureate. We have been, over the last year, conducting some research. So, you'll remember that we did a review of the implementation of the Welsh bac within a month of us being established. We were established September 2015; in October, we started some work looking at the implementation of the Welsh bac and some of the issues that schools and particularly colleges were experiencing in the first delivery.
That addressed many of the administrative issues that needed to be addressed to help manageability within schools and colleges, but as part of that, we identified the need for a more fundamental review of the Welsh bac, and particularly the skills challenge certificate, because there are two things here that are interchangeable that, sort of, get confused in the language. So, the skills challenge certificate is the qualification, or part of a qualification, which is the thing that schools are delivering, and then the Welsh bac itself is the aggregation of that skills challenge certificate along with core and other qualifications that aggregate to a bac. So, the Welsh bac itself is a wrapper around a bunch of other qualifications.
The skills challenge certificate: we will be publishing our report in January of next year. That identifies a number of issues with the Welsh bac in terms of the understanding of it and, I guess, that sort of public understanding and also some delivery issues within schools. It also raises some questions about the design of the Welsh bac that need to be addressed to get it better, but in saying 'in addressing it to get it better', it's worth recognising the value of the Welsh bac more generally.
So, particularly if you look at reports from the Confederation of British Industry, the Institute of Directors, you know, other employers and employer representatives, look at higher education, the skills that the Welsh bac or the skills challenge certificate are trying to engender are the things that employers and higher education are looking for: personal effectiveness; independent learning; creativity; critical thinking. All of these things are important things that employers and higher education are looking for. So, we see the genuine value in the skills challenge certificate and the skills development that it gives to young people.
Okay. In terms of public confidence and stakeholder confidence in the Welsh bac, the research shows that there were mixed views. In my own experience, quite a lot of young people had mixed views as to the value of the Welsh bac, and, indeed, the extent of the work that they had to do to achieve it, sometimes feeling that they hadn't done an awful lot, actually, and were quite surprised by the attainment that they achieved. We have to be very careful with anecdotal evidence, I know, and this is some time ago, but are you content that early problems with the Welsh bac have largely been resolved and confidence is growing?
I think you have to remember as well that the Welsh bac that has been just recently sat by our young people is different to the Welsh bac that was in existence for several years beforehand, and it's important to recognise that, because it has become a slightly different qualification. The skills challenge certificate specifically is quite different to what was done before. Philip uses the phrase, 'It's a bit of a Marmite qualification.' People are either very positive and very pro the Welsh bac or they really don't like it. We keep coming back to the fact that the skills that the Welsh bac are looking at is what employers and higher education say they want young people to have, so it is about improving the Welsh bac and making sure that it is as good as we can make it for learners in Wales.
Okay, thank you. Llyr.
Thank you, Chair. Morning. I've been looking at the vocational qualification strategy that was published more or less a year ago now, at the beginning of this year, and I'm just wondering how you will be measuring the success, or otherwise, of that strategy.
How do we measure success in that strategy? The strategy is based on two major planks, I suppose. One is our sector review process, and having done health and social care, now we're in the process of bringing in 19 new qualifications, to replace the over 200 qualifications that were there before. To look at the success of all of that, you're looking at a very long timescale, because, to be fair, you have to go through that process, get the qualifications into centres, and then see them delivered. And so, the success of the process, I feel, will be several years down the line, because what we want to see is those qualifications being more valued by learners and by employers.
So, will you be looking at any quantitative metrics as well, in terms of numbers?
How would we compare? If we tried to look at quantitative figures, it would be extremely difficult to go from the 200-and-odd qualifications that are currently taken to the 19 brand-new ones. And so, I think we will be looking at people's reactions to the qualifications—do they feel that they are a better guarantee of individual skills? So, we will be looking at that area.
The other thing that we do is we are looking at monitoring high-impact, high-uptake qualifications as well, as well as our sector reviews. And so, we have just completed our first run, which was looking at first aid. A huge number of individuals are taking first aid qualifications, and it's pretty important that they are right. That has resulted in actions that we have taken, and the success of that, hopefully, we will be able to look at in the future, that those qualifications are a better reflection of people's skills. It's not an area of work that lends itself easily to any kind of quantitative measurements; qualitative measurements are probably far more straightforward on this.
Okay. That's fair comment. I'm just wondering as well: how dynamic is the strategy? How often is it going to be updated to reflect the situation on the ground, because things change?
I was going to say—so, every year, we'll be having a look at it. Fundamentally, with strategy, you try and develop it with a sort of medium to long-term view. So, when we're developing our strategic plans, we're thinking of a three to five-year time span for them. Equally, we know that things change very dynamically, particularly with vocational qualifications at the moment, as a consequence of changes in policy in England—so, the introduction of T-level programmes, the introduction of end-point assessments in apprenticeships, rather than qualification frameworks. So, all of those things are very dynamic. You couldn't have anticipated some of those things two years ago. So, we're constantly keeping a review of how relevant our strategy is to the landscape.
If I could just add one thing to the earlier point about measuring the success of the strategy. So, sector reviews are two parts. The first part is actually quite a long part; it's a year of—we think it takes about a year to look at a sector properly. That results in a report, and the report is identifying the issues that we might see in relation to the qualifications within that sector. One of the ways of measuring our success is the degree to which those issues get addressed through the actions that we take subsequently.
So, if we're looking at something like health and social care, there were issues with the proliferation of the number of qualifications and the complexity of the landscape, progression routes that were broken, and content that wasn't relevant to Wales. We're looking at a simple thing of moving from 240 qualifications, which weren't designed to fit together, to 19 qualifications, which are designed to fit together, with progression routes that are designed in, rather than haphazard, with content that's related to legislation in Wales, rather than legislation in England. All of those things, you would say that the actions that we're taking, in developing a new range of qualifications, are the sorts of actions that will be relevant to the issues that we found.
Okay. And given that we've gone through this process, in terms of health and social care, how would you say the sector has responded to the restrictions, and how well prepared are stakeholders for the forthcoming changes?
So, very positively. There's been an awful lot of engagement, both through the sector review and subsequently. We're very well engaged with Social Care Wales and with the NHS Workforce, Education and Development Service, the education service in the NHS. They're part of our project board, looking at the development of these qualifications. Clearly, we've made a big step forward this year, in that we've restricted the qualifications to one form of the new qualifications, and we've gone through a big public procurement exercise to procure awarding bodies to deliver that. It's a consortium between WJEC and City and Guilds that are going to be delivering that.
So, we've really reached the point now where there's real traction, in that there are things happening that are outside of a procurement process. So, that's meant that there's an awful lot more engagement going on at that moment. We have regional events going around at the moment looking at consulting on the content of the new qualifications, so there's ample opportunity for people to engage in what they think the content should be. But, equally, that's going to lead in to change management because whenever there is a big, strategic change in the landscape like this, it's not only a case of getting the qualifications prepared and available for learning providers to deliver, it's also making sure that everybody's engaged.
One of the things that we do by restricting and going through this process of commissioning is, actually in the contract, we're commissioning change-management processes. So, again, it's something that we can prescribe and we can put greater importance on change management. We will be looking to work with the awarding bodies and Social Care Wales and others to promote a greater understanding as things become more real. So, it's all been a little bit abstract until really quite recently and now it's starting to become real, we'll see more and more engagement ramping up.
Okay. What about issues around portability? You mentioned changes in England as well. How are you addressing some of those issues or concerns that may be about the portability of the new qualifications?
Portability is something that we discuss all the time because, as you know, our principal aims are about making sure qualifications are appropriate for learners in Wales and, clearly, portability matters. In terms of the ability to take a qualification in Wales and then have it recognised and used if you want to then move to England, that is essential. We feel that Social Care Wales—yes, Social Care Wales; sorry, I know they've changed their name recently—they are really critical to some of this in discussing with their counterparts in England as to acceptability. We will hit that with all the sectors that we look at. We're looking at construction in the built environment at the moment. Portability is absolutely critical and, in particular, the trade card that they need to be able to go onto a construction site. So, all of those things are really, really important, which is why we're engaging with the Construction Industry Training Board over construction. I think I can reassure you that portability is absolutely at the forefront of our minds when we are making these changes and taking these forward.
And what about fees, because that's the other one, given that there isn't much competition in that respect?
So, again, it's the advantage of the commissioning process. Fees are something that we consider when we're contracting. So, when we're looking at bids from awarding bodies, we look to lock fees in for the first couple of years of the qualification and then relate them to an index, like CPI or the like, in terms of any increases. So, we can have more direct management of fees. When we were looking at assessing bids from awarding bodies, there were criteria in schools that were put in place so that we could look at what the proposed fees were relative to the average fees in those qualification sectors. So, we can put more controls in, but it's worth recognising as well that we have fee-capping powers should we need them and that we can always—. You know, if we were to see anything that we considered to be exploitative in terms of pricing as a consequence of having sole share of the market, then we have the ability to put fee capping in place.
Just one more question, if I could, on your review of the essential skills Wales qualifications. You intended to publish the findings in the summer, I think now you're saying later this year, so you've got three weeks to go—
Next week. There we are. That's good enough. Okay, thank you.
Okay, thank you. Hefin.
Okay. I was looking at page 41 of your report and there were three things that jumped out at me that I wanted to raise. First of all, it was that you presented your initial thoughts at the conference for pioneer schools—with regard to curriculum reform—in July. How confident, given that work, are you that pioneer schools are understanding the link between a new curriculum and the role of qualifications?
So, I think there's an awful lot of—it is a chicken-and-egg situation, almost, in that pioneer schools and the AoLE groups have been wanting to have some sort of indication of what's going to happen to qualifications before they make their move on what content looks like. Whereas, we've taken the position, 'Well, actually, you need to work out what the curriculum is going to look like and then we'll tell you what we think should happen with qualifications.' It has taken a little bit of time to increase an understanding of what the relationship between curriculum and qualifications is, and I think we've reached a point now where we've almost liberated the AoLE groups to think about the curriculum more widely without worrying about what the qualifications impact is, and got them to think about this sequencing of, 'We'll think about the curriculum and then we'll think about qualifications.' Now, there's still work to do there. What we are doing is engaging quite strongly with the AoLE groups.
What we want to do as the next stage is: we have an observer in each of those six AoLE groups and in the new year, we want to get those groups to think, 'Okay, now that you've done some thinking about what the curriculum looks like and what you're trying to achieve from a curriculum perspective, what do you think that means for the qualifications within that area of learning?', so that we can start to iterate things, because it will be an iterative process.
Some of the feedback I'm having from pioneer schools, for example, is that they are still very uncertain about the curriculum. So, this needs time. Have you got the time to do this?
I think we're moving into a time-critical period. I think the next six months will be critical for the new curriculum in terms of making steps forward in defining what it's going to look like. I think the delay that has been introduced is a useful delay. I also think that the sequencing of things—. This idea that, in secondary staging it, the change follows that year 7 group as it progresses and gives more time for qualifications.
You don't think the delay will lose momentum, as Professor Donaldson might—
I would be more concerned about rushing it and getting it wrong than taking time. So, if we think about the new curriculum and the implications for the teaching profession, I think they're going to be pretty profound, and what one would need to do is to have plenty of time for teachers to get to grips with what they need to deliver. I don't know if you've engaged with any of Mark Priestley's work where he talks about a meta and a meso layer—this is getting terribly technical, isn't it—but the meta layer being what's defined in the national curriculum—
I'm happy to receive a reading list. [Laughter.]
—and the meso layer being things like resources and qualifications and the like. Now, my fear is that unless you get the meta layer right, the layer above, and the principles really embedded and the teaching and learning properly understood of what's required there, it'll start to place too much of an emphasis on the meso layer, which will be resources and qualifications. And then what we would end up with is teaching to the test, and if there's a vacuum at the meta layer, what that would mean is that teaching to the test wouldn't just be years 10 and 11, it would flow right the way back.
Which then doesn't prepare people for the world of work.
Absolutely. And it defeats the purpose of the curriculum at that point.
Okay. And, with that in mind, you said that 60 per cent of adults in Wales—on page 41 again—had confidence that qualifications were fit for purpose. One of the things you said earlier was that public confidence equates to public understanding; does that mean that 40 per cent of the public don't understand what you're trying to do?
I think it's worth—. The public confidence report was done at the point where Qualifications Wales came into existence. So, it was almost like a baseline and there are issues associated with these sorts of surveys. That figure comes from an omnibus survey, which went out to a general polling group, and their understanding of it will relate to their personal relationship with the qualifications system. So, somebody who has children going through it, or grandchildren going through it, will have a direct view of confidence in the system. A lot of people were 'don't knows' in that remaining 40 per cent. I can't remember the exact percentage, but it was something like 13 or 14 per cent who didn't have confidence—
Fourteen per cent.
Fourteen per cent. So, there were an awful lot of 'don't knows' in there and I think that reflects the fact that people didn't have an opinion, because they didn't have a direct relationship with it. What we're doing with public confidence surveys as they move forward is we're actually trying out, this year, a number of different mechanisms of engaging with the wider general public, so that we've got a number of different measures that are coming in that we can look at. So, it's not easy to have an absolute measure from that sort of survey.
Okay. And one more issue—sorry, I'm moving quickly just because of time—regarding underspend. You said that some of the grant allocations had not been taken up. Is that correct?
So, the grants—one of the major areas of grants that we have are around Welsh-medium provision. So, it's encouraging and it's making money available to awarding bodies for them to make their qualifications available through the medium of Welsh. Now, I think you'll probably find this with most public bodies that have got grant award schemes—it's quite difficult to get full uptake of grant funds. So, I don't know many public bodies that are able to actually give public money for these sorts of things. Now, what we've done this year is, we've changed our approach to Welsh-medium grants quite considerably. We've done a lot more promotion with awarding bodies, we've started looking at what the barriers might be for awarding bodies in progressing with Welsh-medium provision. Because it's not just about money; there are other issues that prevent them from moving forward. So, we're trying to understand how we can overcome some of those. What we have this year, and we'll be reporting in our accounts this year, is, hopefully, a position that is much better, but we don't actually get to know that until quite late in the year. We've had expressions of interest from awarding bodies, which exceed the amount of money that we've put in, that we've budgeted, for Welsh-medium assessment this year. It's whether all of those expressions of interest actually translate into grant claims or not. So, we're in a much better position this year.
So, we'll ask you again next year, then.
Ask you again next year.
Ask again next year.
Thank you. Your report refers to a number of adverse incidents that have happened during the year. How many of those would you regard as avoidable, and what specifically are you doing to reduce the number of adverse incidents next year?
So, I think it's worth recognising that, in a system that's as big and complex as the qualifications system, incidents will happen. You know, it's a direct consequence of millions of question papers travelling around the UK, at a particular point in time. One of the frequent security breaches is a very minor thing of somebody being presented with the wrong question paper. So, they're timetabled for paper 1, and they're presented with paper 2. The exam officer may realise that almost immediately and take the question paper back, because the candidate's looked at the front, but that becomes an incident, which is reported. And if you have more than 2,000 question papers, as an indication, that's going to happen from time to time. So, actually, the number of incidents is very small, relative to the size, scale and complexity of the system.
There are always opportunities to try and improve things, though. So, one of the reasons why there's an increase in the number of incidents this year is we've been very careful to talk to awarding bodies about being more open about any incidents. Ofqual has done a similar thing in England, so there's been an increase in incident reporting, because we've asked any minor incident to be reported to us, such as that example of somebody being issued with the wrong question paper, and then it being taken back. Many of the issues that we saw were a result of the scale of the system, because we still have a situation with papers in England, and the size of the operation in England. As things become more devolved, and it becomes much more just about Welsh qualifications, we'll probably see the number of incidents reduced, because we'll be looking at things that directly relate to Wales, rather than across the UK.
So, for example, there was a very high-profile incident with a question paper error this year, in terms of Romeo and Juliet, in an English literature paper. That was on a reformed qualification in England, but because there was one learner in Wales who was taking that paper, we reported it as an incident here, because of that one learner. But, clearly, there were more than 10,000 candidates in England who were affected by that. So, the scale of the impact in Wales was very, very much smaller.
Okay, thank you. Mark.
Following up on that, are you suggesting that, in future, you wouldn't expect even one person in Wales to be taking such English qualifications?
No. So, I think it's worth recognising that the system in Wales for state-funded schools is that they should take the Welsh policy qualifications, so those that have been designed specifically for Wales. Independent schools are at liberty to use the market, and they can choose to take qualifications that have been reformed for England or for Wales. Clearly, they make the choice themselves. So, there will always be the possibility of some learners in Wales taking them, but we would see the number of English specifications being taken reducing, I think.
And what judgment are independent schools tending to make on that choice, and how does that reflect on the differences between the two systems?
It's mixed. So, some independent schools are taking Welsh qualifications, some are taking English qualifications. They'll make a decision themselves, and it may be, if they're a boarding school, that they're recruiting more of their pupils from England, and therefore taking English policy qualifications because it's what's relevant to their cohort, so to speak. For other schools, it may be a case of going with the greater number—so, looking at the number of awards that are being made in England, and going with English policy ones. So, each school will make its own decision.
I'm still not clear about your first answer, because I thought you were saying that, over time, this would become less of an issue, and you'd just be focused on Wales-only qualifications, and you won't have to worry about getting involved with a Romeo and Juliet error in an English paper just because there's one person in Wales. But I don't quite see how you're getting from here to there.
Well, I think as the market pans out, we'll probably see the cross-over between the two reducing. So, that one candidate who was taking the Romeo and Juliet paper—it wasn't a large number. It may well be zero next year that are taking it, because it may have been just one private candidate who was taking it. So, that may drop off our radar next year in terms of a qualification of interest.
If we do see a small number, perhaps, of pupils in independent schools taking an English qualification, is there any value-add for Qualifications Wales getting involved in that? Wouldn't it make more sense to allow perhaps the UK regulator in England to have oversight of that, rather than having to duplicate their efforts for such a tiny number of candidates?
We do. So, we have an agreement with Ofqual where they would take the lead, a regulatory interest lead, where they have the majority of learners. So, in the instance of that particular Romeo and Juliet paper, Ofqual are in the lead in managing that incident and it's incumbent on the awarding body to keep us informed of what's going on, rather than us taking an active interest.
Okay. You were saying in your evidence—you emphasised the importance of the portability of qualifications, so that GCSE means the same thing in England as it would in Wales or Northern Ireland or Scotland. Why, in light of that, are you sticking to the A to G grading scheme rather than the 1 to 9 that they're introducing in England?
That was a decision that was made before we came into existence. That was from the review of qualifications 2012-13. All of the reforms that have followed on from that in terms of the new range of GCSEs have been designed with that in mind as one of the fundamental design principles. The review of qualifications said that that decision would be kept under review, and we will continue to keep it under review. So, if we saw a driver to move to 9 to 1, then we would make a recommendation. It would be something that would need to be considered with Government, because it probably moves outside of qualifications policy and into more general education policy.
And it's your duty to keep that under review and make recommendations to the Government if you feel it necessary.
On what sort of timescale are you doing that review?
So, we don't have a direct review. I think what we would look for is: if there's any evidence that Welsh learners are disadvantaged as a consequence of that policy, and if there's any evidence or any suspicion that they may be, then we would need to undertake a more formal review of it.
I think what's worth remembering is that currently there's a mixed economy in England as well, so there's A* to G and 9 to 1 as the reforms are going through over a number of years. Of course, it will take a long time for A* to G to be a memory, even in England, where people will be presenting qualifications to higher education and employers for many years under that. So, we don't see a burning platform in terms of review, but we will keep it under review.
Of course, it also comes back to this idea of what lies ahead in terms of the new curriculum. That would be an opportunity for a more fundamental review of many things, and that would probably be one of the components of that review.
Could I ask how you're coping with the 4 per cent reduction in your budget?
We're coping. We were very pleased that our budget for next year has been confirmed as a standstill budget. So, we have cut our cloth according to our money, which you would expect us to do. And so, we've got a business plan that we're developing. We've got processes in place. We are coping with our resources that we have at the moment.
Doesn't the £1.1 million underspend suggest that you've got quite a bit of cloth still left?
I think the £1.1 million underspend—if you look at the reasons and the rationale for it from last year, it was very much to do with our set-up. We did not have our research and statistics team in place until much later than we'd anticipated; it took quite a lot of hard work and recruitment to get them in place. And not only did we not have staffing in place, therefore we didn't incur staff costs, but some of the work that we'd planned they weren't there to do, and so there was a knock-on effect. We had lots of discussions with Welsh Government about this, because clearly it's a valid question to ask, isn't it, but it's very much around our initial set-up, bearing in mind we're only two years old now, and now we are fully staffed and up to speed on everything like that. So, that's slightly different now.
I think it's also worth reflecting on our medium-term finance planning. So, we're anticipating another smaller underspend, but some more underspend this year. Some of that will depend on the grant uptake, so where we've had more expressions of interest than we'd originally budgeted, we've got some money that we can provide to awarding bodies in further grants. But as a new organisation, all of our staff started at the same time, which means you don't have that mixed economy of people being at different points in the pay spine. What we'll have is we'll have everybody progressing through the pay spines at roughly the same sort of time, which places some pressure on us financially over the next couple of years as people reach the top of their pay spines. So, one of the things we're doing is, clearly, looking at our finances year on year, but also thinking about what our medium-term finances are.
And in relation to that, we're also starting to think about what the impact will be of curriculum reform and what additional resources we will need in order to accommodate the changes that are necessary there, particularly thinking we're doing these sector reviews. There's frankly no point in doing a sector review unless you're prepared to and able to do something with the findings. That would mean that we would have to run VQ and GQ reforms in parallel, where up until now we've done them in series. So, we think that there would be additional cost pressures on us associated with curriculum reforms, and those will build over the next few years.
So, there are a number of pressing—well, not pressing yet, time-wise—but areas where any accumulated surplus will be in demand.
Following up on something Darren Millar was saying to you earlier, I was a little confused about this obligation to have sufficient materials, and then you referred to the regulated and non-regulated sector. Are you saying that the non-availability of textbooks in Welsh is outside your purview and not your problem and nothing to do with your 'sufficient' obligation, as yet undefined?
Clearly, we have a wider interest in it, but we don't have regulatory powers over it, because these textbooks are produced by commercial publishers that we don't recognise—so they're not our recognised bodies. Welsh Government provides some grant funding for textbooks and it's within their policy areas directly to work on translation of textbooks and the like. So, it's more directly within Welsh Government's purview than ours.
But you were saying—finally from me, Chair—that you had these Welsh-medium grants available that weren't being taken up. Why don't you make some of those available for textbook publishers to speed up their work in this area?
It would probably be ultra vires for us. It's beyond the scope of our Act, in other words, to give money directly to—
Doesn't that depend on how you define 'sufficiency'?
There is grant money available at the moment. That comes through Welsh Government, so Welsh Government is grant funding the translation of textbooks.
So, it's Welsh Government's fault—
Yes. Well, it's Welsh Government's responsibility.
Okay. We've come to the end of our time. So, can I thank you both very much for attending and for answering all our questions this morning? You will be sent a transcript to check for accuracy in due course, but thank you very much again for attending.
Thank you very much.
The committee will now break until 10.45, but if Members could not rush off, please, so we can do a quick wash-up.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10.30 a 10.45.
The meeting adjourned between 10.30 and 10.45.
Can I welcome everybody back for item 3 this morning, which is a scrutiny session on the development of the new curriculum? I'm very pleased to welcome Kirsty Williams AM, Cabinet Secretary for Education, Professor Graham Donaldson, chair of the independent advisory group, Steve Davies, director of education at Welsh Government, and Claire Rowlands, deputy director of curriculum, Welsh Government. So, thank you all for attending this morning and thank you, Cabinet Secretary, for the paper that you provided in advance. If you're happy, we'll go straight into questions.
The first questions are from Llyr.
Good morning. I think it's fair to say that your decision to alter the timescale has been broadly welcomed. I don't want to rehearse here again the reasons for that, but maybe you could elaborate a little bit about the fact that it's now going to be a phased introduction and how you're going to manage the situation where you have a new curriculum and the previous curriculum sort of being implemented side by side.
Thank you, Llyr. I think it is useful to put on the record once again, actually, the reasons behind my decision to alter the timetable and to look to a phased approach rather than a big bang. I'm very clear, and all the feedback that we have—and I'm sure Members will have heard it too—is that there is broad support for the concept of the new curriculum and what the new curriculum will look like and, most importantly, what it will do for our children and young people. But there was concern within the profession that the original timetable had the potential risk of being possible to deliver to that timetable but, in doing that, risking a successful implementation.
It's clear that, for the curriculum to be the success will want it to be, we need to ensure our profession is in the right place to deliver it, and we needed to give more time to ensure that we got professionals and schools in the best position to make these changes in approach. So, listening to feedback from experts, we made the decision to elongate the timetable, but I've been absolutely clear in every discussion, speech and opportunity I've had to talk about it that this is not about taking our foot off the pedal; this is not about losing momentum. This is extra time for a purpose, and that is to ensure that we get the profession in the right place.
With regard to a phased roll-out, there were a number of options that we looked at—whether that would be a full implementation, otherwise known as 'the big bang', making everybody do it at once from September, or whether we could do a year-on-year roll-out implementation from ground zero, so just starting at reception, or whether we could have the partial sector implementation, which is the option I've chosen.
I ruled out the big bang because, again, I just thought that that would be incredibly difficult for the sector to take on board and risk successful implementation. The year-on-year roll-out from year zero would mean that there would be an even greater timescale before children could access the new curriculum. So, a partial sector implementation, going with, as you will know Llyr, the entire primary sector first and year 7, seemed to me to give us the best and most realistic option for roll-out. Also, we looked at some international evidence where other countries have successfully rolled out a new curriculum, whether that be New Zealand, which had a phased roll-out, British Columbia, which again had a phased roll-out approach, and the Yukon province. So, again, these are areas where they've had a phased roll-out to the curriculum.
I know that concerns especially have been raised by Darren in questions in the Chamber about, especially in the secondary sector, where you will have year 7 on the new curriculum, and the rest of the school on the old curriculum. Actually, and maybe Graham would have an insight into this, I think that's a much more manageable situation for secondary schools to find themselves in than simply saying to them that they've got to get the teaching profession ready to implement across the entire cohort of the school. By starting with year 7, that's usually, in most secondary schools, about 20 per cent of the cohort, so that's a manageable way in which we can introduce the new teaching techniques, introduce the new curriculum. I think our profession is well versed to teaching old-spec qualifications to some of the school, new-spec qualifications to other parts of the school, implementing new approaches. But perhaps Graham would give a view on whether that creates more problems for the secondary sector, or whether an alternative would have been even more difficult and put more strain on professionals.
One of the major pieces of learning I think we have, if we look at the history of educational reform and what's been happening in other countries, is that where it tends to go wrong is that you don't create the context and the conditions for the reform to be done well. In other words, you get on and are keen to implement the reform as quickly as possible and don't spend the time creating the context and conditions to allow it to be done well. Therefore, I think one of the real strengths of what's happening here in Wales is the extent to which those lessons have been learned, and the whole attempt to create the context and conditions for success is an integral part of that. You can see that in the most recent mission statement from Welsh Government. If we then take it into the phasing side of things, big change is difficult. It's difficult for a school, it's difficult for an education system. I think that the notion of a kind of a cliff-edge big bang, especially where it's spanning primary and secondary, would be a very dramatic challenge to the system to be able to be ready on day one across the entirety of an education system to move to a new curriculum. So, I think the phasing approach is a sensible way to go about helping to ensure that we get the context right, so, as you phase it, you're getting the professional learning right, you're getting the leadership in advance of it right, and you're creating the conditions around the accountability system that means that as this is put into practice, it has the best chance of being realised in high quality, not just being done, but being done well.
I'm just interested in what advice you and the independent advisory group would have given the Government, because the last time you appeared before us, you were pretty adamant that the Government should stick to its guns in terms of the timetable, and that there was a risk of losing momentum. And I think you suggested that if you give them another couple of years then things will drift for a while, and then it's only in the last six months that the work will be done anyway. So, what has changed in that respect, in your view?
I think, as the process has developed—and I've had the opportunity to engage with the process as it's gone on—I formed a view that it would be better to just take a little bit longer over the process, not so much to do with being able to get the technical side of it right, because I think that could have been done within the original timescale, but stretch it just to create the conditions, as I said earlier, that would ensure that it could be done well. So, as the Cabinet Secretary said, I think the key thing is that stretching the timescale does not mean we just take longer to do it, but actually we don't lose any momentum as the process goes forward.
How do you keep that momentum up, then?
I think that's a really interesting point, and that's one of the concerns that, if I'm honest, I had when we were discussing across Government about whether to make this change to the timetable—whether people would just sit back and, as you said, just do to the work in the last couple of months. So, we've been very clear, and we have set out a very concise timetable, where we have set expectations of what we want to be done. And that has been shared with schools and with the teaching profession. We've got very clear dates set into the timetable of when we will have what we are calling checkpoints—so, a checkpoint with the assessment group to check in with the work of the AoLEs. There are set points in the calendar going forward where we would expect the AoLEs to have completed the piece of work, to make that available to the assessment group, and to have that double-checked and tested. One of those meetings was just the last two days. So, the AoLEs were told, 'You need to get work ready by the beginning of December, because there will be a two-day meeting of the assessment group to test that particular work', and that's happened over the last two days; Graham can give you an insight into what that looks like. So, we've got those dates. So, the next date is 30 April-1 May; they know there's another two-day session on those dates, already planned into their diary. There are new dates in July. So, we've been very clear about setting those dates, so the expectation of when work will be completed by, delivered by, and have that tested by other parts of the system.
So, just for clarity then, in relation to the four-strand implementation stuff—there was the original timesale. Strand 3, populating the areas of learning and experience with content, and developing support materials, was due to complete by December—this month—but that's changed now, has it?
So, we've updated the four-strand implementation schedule to take account of the actual timescales. Now, the diagram that was previously circulated in July 2016 has been updated and, most importantly, clearly, circulated to schools. And we've brought copies of some of the stuff that we've set out—they're publicly available documents, we're not just landing them on you today. We've just brought them along, just in case Members have not seen them before, and there's copies there of the infographics that we've sent out to people. And Members are more than welcome to take them, if they'd like to see them, as an example of how we're trying to communicate these changes. As I said, we're not springing them on you today—they are publicly available.
So, strand 3 is now due to complete by—is it April 2019?
So, we're working forward now. And the other thing, Llyr, which I think, you know, being honest, we have to admit to, is that, previously, we kind of saw the strands as very discrete pieces of work. So, strand 1 would be completed, strand 2 would be completed, strand 3. In reality, we're constantly having to make them more fluid arrangements. So, when you're starting to develop the—for instance, where we are now, with the 'what matters' concept, starting to populate those AoLEs, we're having to go back and look at strand 2 to see if there's a coherence across the piece. I think it was a mistake, really, to characterise the development as individual, discrete pieces of work, because we're constantly having to check back on ourselves: is the strand 3 piece of work actually compatible to what we were doing in strand 1, is it compatible with strand 2? So, it's much more fluid, and I think it was a mistake, really, to try and describe it previously as individual, discrete blocks of work. Because, in reality, that's not how it's working out. But, as I said, there are infographics there around the timescale, which Members may be interested in seeing, and as an example of how we've been communicating the change to the sector.
And you're now confident that the new timescale, clearly, is—
Well, I've been absolutely clear, Llyr, to the officials, if I was changing the timetable, I was only going to change it once. And we don't—. We are—. I am confident, and I am working to this timetable and to the delivery of this, and, more importantly than what I think, there is confidence from all our stakeholders and our partners that the timetable is the right one.
Okay. Thank you.
I think that the whole issue of communication of these new deadlines we've set ourselves is also crucial externally. So, we have a second and a third set of documents, A3 documents, we'll look at. But these are now with schools, they will have their notice-board-sized documents. So, we've set ourselves expectations that not only will we be challenged here to meet, but the profession itself have, right up to 2022, what outcomes and what readiness will we have at each of those stages.
For people—other stakeholders, then, shall we say—around the edges of this process, when and where would people like myself be able to see some of these tangible outputs, really, in terms of emerging content for curricula, that kind of thing?
The reports, the initial reports, were published in the summer. They're published; they're available.
What I'm asking is: your intention is to provide all that publicly available, as the process emerges and evolves.
Yes. And what's important as well is that our communication effort is going to need to expand. So, as we're in a position to give people more information—you know, this is quite a nebulous process. So, as we're in a position to give people more clarity, then the nature of the people that we're talking to and communicating with will need to expand. So, for instance, Graham recently did a session with Cardiff governors—so, governors of schools in the Cardiff area—to talk to the governors about where we are with the curriculum. We will need to build up our comms, not just to schools and headteachers, but we will need to expand that to governors. We're very keen to get feedback from children. So, as we begin to populate the AoLEs, we're very keen to have feedback from children about how they view what we're talking about. We'll be working with the children's commissioner who is a part of the independent adviser group, and she's committed to working with Welsh Government to set up children's feedback sessions so that we can talk to children about, 'This is where we are now. What do you think about that?' and 'Is that the kind of thing that you would have liked to have seen being taught in school?' So, as we get more detail, we're able to start to begin to broaden the number of people, bodies, stakeholders that we can communicate with.
Okay, thank you. Darren, on this.
Yes. Cabinet Secretary, you mentioned my concerns about the issues that secondary schools might face, in particular. Professor Donaldson, you referenced the—I think we used two phrases, 'cliff-edge' and 'big bang' approach, to describe a non-phased implementation. Why are you satisfied that it's okay to do a non-phased implementation with primary schools and not with secondary schools? The same challenges apply, do they not?
In the context of the primary school, you have one teacher dealing with the class as a whole, and you have a school that is looking at the way in which they collectively build young people towards the four purposes that are in the curriculum. It would be much more difficult in a primary school to have parts of that working because there's a smaller staff and you work with that staff as a whole in order to get the whole school moving in that direction.
Secondary school, you're talking about a different scale, with different numbers of staff involved, and it becomes much more difficult to engage with the staff as a whole on a big-bang approach. Therefore, in primary, I think, to create the ethos of the primary school as a whole that's built around the new curriculum and the four purposes is very possible, and, therefore, you can look at it as a whole-school move. In a secondary school, I think that becomes much more complex and, therefore, it's more pragmatic to engage on a phased approach.
Obviously, in a secondary school as well, though, you have individuals who are delivering a curriculum to year 7s, year 8s, year 9s, because they tend to be subject-specific, so they're going to be required to deliver to both an old curriculum and a new curriculum, are they not? Isn't that going to add even further complications to an already stressed workforce?
I don't think it's as binary as that. There are already secondary schools that are in the existing key stage 3. They're doing quite a lot of the things that are part of the new curriculum reform. So, I think it's perfectly possible, although the expectation would be that you'll do it on a phased basis, running thorough 7, 8, 9, the reality is that schools will be able to think much more generally about the nature of the entirety of that pre-GCSE period. And that will vary from school to school.
The critical thing, as I see it, is that we need to create the context within which heads and their staff can approach this in a way that is going to fit the realities of the school. That will vary from school to school. As I say, some schools, and I've been in them, are very well along the road in terms of a lot of the underlying principles of the curriculum reform; other schools are much further behind on that. I think that the notion of the phased approach creates the flexibility to allow secondaries to operate in that kind of way. I think that's different from the context in a much smaller primary school.
Don't get me wrong—I welcome the fact that there's been a delay, because I don't think that people would have been ready, frankly, for the timescale that was previously set. But I do think there's a potential additional complication, particularly for newly qualified teachers as well who are coming in, being equipped to deliver to the new curriculum's requirements, but then having to deliver to the old curriculum requirements as well, particularly if they go straight into secondary school environments.
Can I ask as well what consideration was given to middle schools, who are going to be responsible for delivering both primary and secondary education?
Well, Darren, I think Graham is right to talk about the context. In a primary school—the nature of teaching in a primary school is much more already aligned to the ethos around Donaldson. In a secondary school, where you've got discrete and specialised subjects, that's where the greatest challenge is going to be. The fact that we can work more slowly in those secondary sectors, and build that out from year 7 actually, I think is a lot less stressful for teachers than being told that they have to change their entire approach, their entire scheme of work, for all the year groups that they may be involved in from year one. This gives teachers the time to build up their capacity. Now, in middle schools, which we have some of, through-schools mostly—
An increasing number.
—and an increasing number, they are already well versed to this issue of transition. One of the benefits, I perceive, of a through-school basis is that flexibility and that that sometimes artificial, from a child's point of view, cut-off point at 11 years old is blurred, is more blurred, in that secondary school. Different approaches, depending on the needs of the child, already are being developed in those schools. So, I think, in many ways, those schools will probably be in a very good position to manage this transition. If you look at the alternative: what's the alternative? The alternative would be to do it all at once. That would be much more stressful to the secondary sector. And, of course, Darren, we've tested these options with the sector themselves. We've asked schools, 'What is more manageable for you? What gives us the greatest chance of success of the curriculum in your school?', and the option of a phased roll-out has been one that has been welcomed by the profession.
Can I give you another alternative, and can I ask you, Professor Donaldson, whether this was considered by the group that you lead? And that is a phased approach that rolled it out in each of the individual six areas of learning and experience, rather than across year groups. Was that something that was considered?
Actually, interestingly, it's something—going back to my Scottish experience—that was part of a reform in Scotland going back many years. It wasn't explicitly discussed in IAG. That wasn't part of the IAG discussion. But it was something—certainly I'm aware of that as a method of doing it. In some ways, that's even more complicated at a school level. Certainly, in a primary school, to have teachers who have a day that is highly flexible in terms of the way in which young people learn and, for part of that day, you're—
I'm talking about the secondary schools in particular.
Well, it's actually similar in secondary schools, in terms of the nature, when we're talking about areas of learning and experience. If it was purely subject departments, you could possibly have argued for that—although it wasn't terribly successful, I have to say, in the Scottish context, but you could argue for that. But where you're talking about areas of learning and experience, where you've got a range of subjects that are all involved in it, it becomes much more difficult to do so.
Part of the message of the reform is that, although there are six areas of learning and experience and there are cross-curriculum responsibilities, these shouldn't be seen in compartments. And if you begin to—. If you launch a reform in compartments, then the message that comes across is, 'This is a compartmentalised reform', whereas the intention is, 'This is a reform that is very holistic, much more holistic than was the case with the previous national curriculum.' So, it's a new way of thinking about the nature of youngsters' learning and experience. Therefore, to cut it in the way that that kind of phasing would suggest would run counter to the reform.
And did the group—
Only one question, Darren, because we're moving on.
Well, it's the one question that hasn't been answered so far: what about newly qualified teachers who are being trained and equipped to deliver a new curriculum, but required then, once they enter the school environment, to deliver an old curriculum?
Can I just come in there? We're already working with the universities now on the development of their programmes. We are re-accrediting the programmes. The submissions came in a couple of weeks ago. We're currently working with all current providers, looking at—we're already talking and engaging with them around the digital competence framework. So, our teachers who are being trained now are being prepared for that. As we develop the detail in terms of the content of the curriculum, but also our approach to professional learning, we expect the universities to be preparing those people at the same time as we will be preparing our core teachers within schools. So, they are very involved currently in their understanding of what's being developed. Some of the universities—Trinity Saint David—are also in a detailed way involved in our approaches to assessment and progression. So, our expectation is that our institutions who are providing our initial teacher education are readying themselves and readying the teachers, newly qualified teachers, to enter the profession better ready.
For both curriculums.
No, they will be expected to deliver the—. Yes, both curriculums, because if they're teaching in a school they will have to cover both of those areas.
And you're confident that they'll be equipped for that.
Thank you. Mark.
Professor Donaldson, you mentioned the Scottish background. To what extent does the reform of the curriculum in Wales draw on what was done in Scotland?
The work that was done in Scotland goes back to the early part of the century. It started in 2002-03, and Scotland was one of an increasing number of countries across the world that were adopting a different approach to thinking about the nature of the curriculum. Essentially, past practice has tended to define a curriculum as an aggregation of subjects, so the curriculum grows in relation to the number of subjects in the curriculum and then the content of each subject, and the 1988 national curriculum was a very sensible attempt, I think, to ensure entitlement to a broad curriculum. That was absolutely the thinking that led to the creation of the national curriculum back in 1988. The difference that is now taking place in many countries across the world is starting to think of the curriculum as how it shapes young people as people, as well as in relation to the learning. So, instead of seeing the curriculum as an aggregation of learning, it's seen as a curriculum that is driven by purposes, and then you determine what it is that's taught and the way in which you teach it according to the nature of the purpose that you're trying to achieve. That was the approach that was adopted in Scotland, and actually is an approach that's been adopted in many countries across the world, including some who are very high performers in the Programme for International Student Assessment, and actually beginning to—like Singapore—think in that kind of way.
You mentioned PISA. Given what's happened to educational attainment in Scotland, particularly as measured on the PISA results, is it sensible for us to be following that approach in Wales?
I think the key to what's happening here in Wales is not to copy but to learn from the Scottish experience, and I think that's exactly what we're trying to do. In a sense, Wales should be grateful to Scotland for some of the mistakes it's made, as well as the nature of what it's trying to do. The big message—the huge message—from what's happened in Scotland is the point I was making earlier about context. What Scotland did was to create a curriculum and then expect it to be taught, instead of thinking about: how big is this change for the teachers? How big is this change for the nature of how we operate as an education system? Can we put in place the conditions that make it likely to succeed before we introduce it, rather than after we introduce it? Scotland did it afterwards. I was asked in 2010, when I'd retired from the inspectorate, to undertake a review of teacher education in Scotland. Now, that was three or four years after the curriculum had been introduced, and the report I produced, 'Teaching Scotland's Future', was a very radical attempt to say, 'Actually, we need a different kind of teacher to make this reform work.' So, I think the Scottish experience gives us quite a lot of lessons to learn about how you introduce curriculum reform in a way that's liable to lead to success. So, it's learning of that nature, rather than simply following a Scottish lead. This is an international movement that's taking place in relation to the curriculum.
Absolutely. I'm acutely aware of the situation in Scotland and, actually, John Swinney and I have met on a number of occasions to talk about the challenges that we both face as nations wanting to reform our education systems. I think it's important to note that, first of all, we're not starting from the same place that Scotland started. There is a very different approach—issues around literacy and numeracy. Those frameworks are already embedded within the Welsh education system. They're not being lost during this reform process. They will continue to be part of the framework of the new curriculum. One of the lessons from Scotland was the lack of a middle tier. It's really interesting; following discussions that we've had with the Scottish Government, they're now moving towards the development of a middle tier similar to our middle tier here in Wales. They've been down to have a look. Our officials have been up to talk to them. It's interesting to see them looking to replicate some of the structures that we've got. John Swinney is doing that at the moment. I think the key thing for me about looking in detail at Scotland is the issue around implementation. So, the principle was fine. It's actually: where did that get lost in the implementation? And that's why we're spending so much time thinking very carefully, as Graham has said, about the context in which these reforms are delivered.
On curriculum and assessment, again, this is one of the problems that I think the Scottish system had. They developed the curriculum very discretely from issues around assessment and progression. That was bolted on, later on, to the process. We've learnt that lesson. This is an integral part of what we're doing and, in fact, we are working very closely with Professor Mark Priestley from Sterling. Now, Graham will know he's been quite critical of the implementation of the Scottish curriculum. We deliberately want that expertise here in Wales. I met with him recently. He's part of the assessment group, and, as I said, he's been very critical of what's happened in Scotland. He's used his learning and his expertise so that we can avoid some of those issues where, potentially, the implementation has not gone as smoothly as it could have in Scotland. So, we've got one of the biggest critics of the Scottish system—independent of Government—working with us to make sure we don't make some of those same mistakes. We're very aware of this, we're conscious of it, and we're taking deliberate steps. And like Graham said, what's really important is that we see this as a whole-system reform and we're doing it in conjunction with our ITE providers. It's not just about what's happening in schools; it's what's happening in how we train our teachers initially; it's about how we have the continued professional learning of our teachers; it's about higher education; it's about Estyn and how this is going to be assessed and judged by Estyn. We're doing this as a whole-systems approach rather than just discretely within the curriculum. I think we're taking every step to take advantage of the fact that Scotland have made mistakes, and John Swinney would be the first person to talk about the challenges he's facing, and we're working very closely together. And, as I said, we're working with some of the biggest critics of that system in our system to make sure that we don't make those mistakes.
Thank you. Could I ask Professor Donaldson: could you summarise what your advisory group has achieved in, I think, just over a year since you last saw the committee, and in particular where you've made things different than they would otherwise have been?
Perhaps, by answering that question, I will just elaborate on the role of the independent advisory group within the overall reform programme. I'll maybe start by saying what it's not: what it's not is a star chamber, or something that sits outside and sits in judgment on how the programme is working. It's an advisory group that works with the programme but is independent of decision making inside the programme. So, the independent advisory group has no locus in terms of decision making, but what it does is to engage with those who are running the programme on a regular basis to work with them as a kind of critical friend in the process, asking questions about this, offering advice from the nature of the people who are on the group. And therefore, when you're looking at the influence that that IAG has had—actually, the question is probably better addressed to officials and to the Cabinet Secretary than it is to me—but the nature of the interaction is one where it's pretty constant, because, between the meetings of IAG, my role as chair of IAG is to engage with the structure on a very regular basis, continuing to provide that kind of independent advice to the programme, asking questions of the programme, partly trying to ensure that was part of our remit—that the original intention of 'Successful Futures' and the nature of that reform, that the reform itself remains true to what it was originally that we were trying to do, and that's part of what I'm charged with doing inside the process.
So, if you pick any part of anything that's happened inside the programme in the last year, there will have been a role, there will have been influence in terms of interacting and working with that to try to help shape something that's going to work well in the long run.
Perhaps before I put to the Cabinet Secretary that question as to where you may have brought, or at least influenced a different approach, could I ask you, Professor Donaldson, when you say 'engagement with Welsh Government', at what level are you—? First, I mean, how much of your working week is spent on this? And second, of the three people you're sitting with on our panel today, what's your relative degree of involvement with each of them in terms of time and engagement in your work?
It's hard to quantify. If I maybe give an indication over a month, say, as a period of time, the kind of things that I would be doing as part of my role, a significant part of what I do as part of that is to go into schools. So, I will spend time in schools talking to staff, talking to children, looking at their understanding of how the reform is developing and discussing that with them in order to try and gather intelligence—in advance, proactively—about where the reform is going and things that might need to happen in order to avoid issues arising in the course of the reform programme itself. So, time in schools is a very important part of what I do, and schools, of course, will say things to me that they wouldn't say to the Cabinet Secretary, they wouldn't say to officials and wouldn't say to Estyn. So, I do get—
Do they expect you to pass it on?
Well, they expect me to filter it. [Laughter.]
On a no-names basis. [Laughter.]
So, there's that aspect of it. I also engage with the areas of learning experience themselves—the work that's going on. The first two days of this week, I was part of the curriculum and assessment group discussions that are engaging with each of the AoLEs plus the academics and experts from elsewhere who are on the curriculum and assessment group. So, that's a fairly detailed engagement with the technical issues that underpin the way in which the reform is being taken forward. So, there's that aspect of what I do.
I have meetings with the Cabinet Secretary on about a six-weekly basis, and, at those meetings, the first question that the Cabinet Secretary always asks me is, 'What do I need to know and is anything going wrong?' and that's the nature of the discussion that we have at that stage. It's my job to try and articulate concerns that I have that are emerging from those discussions that I have. I also meet regularly with the senior officials in the process and those senior officials also appear at IAG meetings. So, the first item on the IAG meeting would be with Claire, for example, to talk through where the programme has got to, the kind of issues that are being dealt with and a way of going forward. And then there's a discussion with the official about the nature of how that is happening.
So, month to month, it varies, and it depends on the nature of the meetings, but it's quite an extensive involvement. It's an unusual role in the context of the way in which reforms work more generally. It's a role that has the potential to influence the project, but I don't, at the end of the day, have the power of decision, so things may happen that I'm less keen on and things that I am keen on—that's not the point. The point is that I'm trying to inform the process as it goes along.
Thank you for your work. Finally from me, I think I gave you warning, Cabinet Secretary: can you, perhaps, give us one important example where you've done things differently because of the work of the IAG?
I think it's important to recognise, as Graham said, that we meet formally on about a six-weekly basis. And that's without officials being present, because I want to hear the reality of the situation, and that's not to say that Steve and Claire pull their punches, but just to have a perspective from outside of the Government, and Graham is right—
And his perspective on how your officials are working.
Absolutely—you know, 'How's it going?' and, 'What do I need to worry about?' 'What's worrying you?' and 'What do I need to worry about and what are the changes we need to make?'
We sometimes do some of the school visits together, which is always helpful as well. What I have found valuable is the feedback from schools, because I think Graham is right: sometimes, schools are willing to say things to him that perhaps they wouldn't have the opportunity to say to me, or if they did have the opportunity, maybe they would not want to talk about it. And it's an honest appraisal of how the programme is being delivered. If we're being blunt, we've had to make some structural changes within Government to add some pace to the reform and that's as a result of advice that Graham gave to me. He felt that things weren't moving as quickly as possible. There's also a need to beef-up our communications exercise and be much, much more clear and strategic with our partners out in the field, because Graham was coming back to me saying, 'Look, there's a bit of confusion out there, maybe there's a lack of clarity; you need to be much more direct and clear'. Graham continues to give me advice, such as, as we were talking about just now, that he feels we're at a stage where we do need to broaden that communication and we need to engage a wider group of people. Hence his recommendation to me is that we do need to work with the children's commissioner to engage young people. So, for me, it's invaluable to be able to have those opportunities, on a formal basis, to have those discussions.
I think what's also important to remember is that the group also has other members who are helping us deliver our reform. So, Ann Keane, for instance, is part of the group but also is the person who is helping us set up our leadership academy. It's really important that we get cross-over and a consistency and a coherence around the other reforms that we're doing. So, it's not just Graham that I see who is a member of that group, but we also see other people who're members of that group and who are working, perhaps, in other areas of complementary reform alongside the curriculum.
I'm very grateful to Graham. To have somebody with Graham's international experience advising us I think is a wonderful opportunity for us, and I'm very grateful to Graham for his work and his candidness, and the fact that it's not very glamorous, and he's not averse to having a McDonald's with me in Caerphilly because that's the only place we can have lunch. It's not very glamorous sometimes, is it, Graham? Perched on one of those stools.
The next questions are from John. We've got a lot of questions to get through, so can everybody be concise, please?
We've covered the timescale for the areas of learning and experience, and design and the various strands—strands 2 and 3—and you've indicated, Cabinet Secretary, that it's more fluid, perhaps, than might previously have been thought. I just wonder if there's anything you can add. We've got the chart now. Executive summaries were published in terms of strand 2 in the summer. Is there anything you can add to what you've told us on what's in the chart, in terms of when we can expect further executive summaries detailing the results of the work going on?
What we're currently working on at the moment is the 'what matters' phase, and perhaps Claire can give some detail of the 'what matters' approach. So, these are the broad, big questions that we would expect children to have knowledge of and experience of when they leave school. So, in science, even if you're not going on to be a specialist scientist, to be an active citizen and an informed citizen there are certain things in the world of science that we would expect you to know—some big concepts and big ideas—and that's where we are at the moment. Those are being tested.
So, if I give you an example of what matters with regard to health and well-being, because I know that the committee is very keen at the moment, looking at issues around health and well-being. Some of the 'what matters' statements there are a recognition that experience in my life will have an effect on my physical and my mental well-being. So, we need children to understand that something that happens to them will have an impact on both their physical and their mental health, and out of that, then, is: what do we need? How can we develop programmes of work and teaching that support that concept? The concept of communication, recognising that people will communicate and write in different approaches to influence decision making. So, that's the stage where we are at the moment, and that's what we've been doing the last two days—on what matters.
Yes, I think you've described it very well, actually. So, it's the key things, the key concepts, the key ideas in any subject, discipline or AoLEs that we'd expect a young person to have experience, knowledge and skills in by the time they leave school. They're an organising structure then for the curriculum, so that's the consistency across each of the AoLEs.
In terms of your point about when we publish, so, the Cabinet Secretary talked about those key checkpoints. They're probably in the handout you've got there. So, at key points now we will be having a check-in with the curriculum assessment group, as we have done for the last two days. They give feedback, as does the independent advisory group, actually. The IAG has given us technical feedback also on each stage of development that has an influence on the direction that we go. But at each checkpoint we get feedback from that group and then we publish. So, there will be in the new year, once we've dealt with the feedback we've got from these two days, a point where we will publish what we've got, and we will do that at subsequent checkpoints, so that it's well understood where we're at, and what those 'what matters' statements are that are being developed. Also, the progression assessment work that the Cabinet Secretary talked about being embedded in how we're conducting reform, that will also be reported on as we go through.
Yes, so it's like a way of working back, isn't it? So, humanities—an example statement: people interpret and represent the world in different ways. That's what we expect humanities to be able to deliver to somebody. So, then there's a rationale behind that, but then you also say, 'How do we measure progress in that understanding?' and then we work backwards from that. So, at the moment the curriculum is very much built up like this, whereas we're working back from the four purposes—what kind of citizens do we want at the end of this? If we're going to have ethical, informed citizens, which is one of our purposes, they need to know that people will interpret and represent the world in different ways. Then how do you work that back down and create progression, so that teachers know how to move children through those concepts.
Could I just ask you then, Cabinet Secretary, in terms of health and well-being, and strand 3—
We've got questions—
Hopefully, it's in the curriculum. I'm very pleased that you and Graham have been in McDonald's in Caerphilly—
It's not very healthy. [Laughter.]
So that you can impact the need to only indulge in fast food once a month, or whatever, to our pupils so they live more healthily. But, in terms of physical activity, and I've raised this many times, Cabinet Secretary, and we know we had Tanni Grey-Thompson's report in terms of this big step forward we need to make in terms of making it a more meaningful and central part of the school experience, with all the lifelong health and well-being, quality of life benefits that would flow from that, can you say anything at this stage that would give reassurance to those who are concerned on that agenda?
I would find it difficult—. The point is it's not for me to tell teachers what they teach their children. But it would be difficult to conceive of a health and well-being area of learning and experience that would not have physical literacy and physical well-being as part of that curriculum. Off the top of my head, I can't quite remember, but one of the schools is currently at the moment, as part of their pioneer work, working specifically on physical literacy as they develop the pioneer. So, it's very difficult, John, to envisage a situation where you could achieve the purposes of the curriculum, deliver an area of learning and experience on health and well-being, and not have physical well-being and being able to be confident and make good choices around physical well-being being a part of it.
Absolutely. And on the physical literacy framework, which is part of the work that Sport Wales did with us, the health and well-being AoLE group have been working closely with Sport Wales, and they've been looking at that framework. All of that is being considered in this work.
Okay. Shall I move on quickly, Chair, to the regional consortia?
Very quickly now, because we've got a couple of key areas to cover.
In terms of the regional consortia and their role in curriculum reform, that's been strengthened, we hear from you. Can you tell us how that's supporting the process of designing the curriculum?
This comes back to one of the areas where we've had feedback from Graham about strengthening that middle tier and their ability to help this programme. So, each consortia will have a designated person whose role it is to work with the pioneer schools and the cluster networks, to share information, good practice, and to keep them informed. So, that's one example of a step forward where we've strengthened the role of the consortia, and clear expectations that that person should be actively working with pioneer schools and the network around the sharing of information and good practice. Steve.
Yes. Just a number of other structural decisions we've taken. So, each of the regions are now represented on our programme board. And they submit reports on the progress they're making, alongside Welsh Government's reports to that programme board. So, they are central to the delivery of this. We've matched that with our expectations of them with the resources that we've allocated to them to work with schools. But we've moved significantly in the past six, nine months, in terms of extending the involvement of the regions, as you've pointed out. They're central to the delivery of it. They're closest to schools.
Thank you. Hefin.
I can recommend lots of independent healthy places to eat in Caerphilly, and I'm sure Steve Davies can advise you on that. [Laughter.]
I'll check with you next time, because I'm sure Graham would expect something better. [Laughter.]
An independent place.
I've met with heads of non-pioneer schools and heads of pioneer schools, so I've done what Professor Donaldson has done and had this dialogue directly with the schools, and I just wanted to share some dialogue with you before leading into my question. The head of a pioneer school said,
'We can understand the concerns of some of the non-pioneer schools' heads about the pioneer process. Ultimately they wanted some detail about the shape and content of the new curriculum—information they thought the pioneer schools had. In reality, we didn't know a lot more than them, so there was not a lot to share. The development process has been torturous and maybe pushing back the deadlines has alleviated some of the pressure.'
Can you tell me how the core brief is going help alleviate that pressure?
The development of the core brief sets out very clearly the roles and responsibilities of the pioneer school. It sets out very clearly the role and responsibility of the headteacher of a pioneer school. Working with the regional consortia, that school should be very clear about the expectations of them and their role and responsibility of working within those networks.
There's a balance to be struck, isn't there, between overloading schools with loads and loads and loads of information. First of all, we have to recognise: (1) we are in the middle of a process. Perhaps people would like more information, which—I have to be honest—at the moment is not available to them. I understand that, because people want certainty; but we are in the middle of a process.
What we are doing is beefing up our communication exercises. You've seen some of the new infographics that we've sent out; there are more that you can look at. We've got three headteacher conferences this particular autumn term. To date—so, we've done two of them and I'm doing the third one next week—we've engaged with close on 600 headteachers, where they've heard directly from me but, more importantly, they've heard directly from people who are involved in the process and they've had workshops on individual AoLEs.
I have to say, I recognise that some of these communication issues were issues at the beginning. I want to be kept honest in this process—I don't want to just be told what officials think I want to hear. One of the recommendations was that we would contract and we would commission independent reports and evaluations as we went through this process. That Arad report was published in November. That demonstrates that there has been a step change in the levels of communication and understanding. That independent analysis suggests to us that, certainly from the pioneer schools' perspective, there's a high level of awareness and understanding. That report gives us recommendations of what we can do better, and we can share with the committee our response to those recommendations about how we think we're meeting them or what we're going to do next. That independent analysis would suggest that there has been a step change in the understanding of and the communication from Welsh Government.
It wasn't intended as a criticism of you, I was trying to share this qualitative data. I appreciate the high degree of honesty that you've given us. I wanted to share this qualitative information, so, with that in mind, I'd like to share some further insights from a pioneer school that has emerged since the core brief. What they've said is,
'The core brief for pioneer schools has helped clarify our roles and we've all been tasked with linking with other schools by the consortia.'
So, that's a good thing. But, they've said, again,
'There isn't a huge amount for us to share at this point. We've made the decision to try out some in practice and our year 7 curriculum is our first stab at it. However, we've got to be really careful that we quality assure what we're doing, and I don't really want to share what may turn out to be bad practice.'
So, there's a reluctance in the pioneer schools to share where they are experimenting and trying new things—you know, experimentation should allow mistakes and learning from mistakes. If they're going through that process, they don't want to share until they're ready. So, pushing to share may cause some problems as well—would you agree?
I can understand that a school would want to protect its reputation and would not want to be in a position where perhaps they could be accused of giving duff advice—that's a natural human instinct. The evaluation is an important part of it and that's why we will have the Camau project, which is the University of Glasgow and University of Wales Trinity Saint David working together with international experts to look at best practice in this particular area, to give some kind of intellectual rigour and some principles to underpin that practice. That's why it's also so important that Estyn is an integral part of this process, because that's another reason that would stop schools experimenting—if they thought that Estyn was going to come down like a tonne of bricks on them. That's why it's important that Estyn are a part of this. But, you know, I'm sorry that that school feels that way, because I don't think we have created a situation or a context where schools would be criticised or pointed a finger at—
I don't think it's that. I don't think it's a feeling of criticism, but it's about recognising the reality here and what would be best practice. Every individual headteacher has got to make a judgment about what best practice would be and whether sharing that information before they feel it is ready to be shared would be a good thing. Now, the broker, I'd assume, would be the consortia.
So, are the consortia well enough equipped themselves to be the brokers for that kind of sharing of practice?
Well, I believe they are, and they should be. That's why we've brought them to be more integral to the process and strengthened their role within th