Y Pwyllgor Plant, Pobl Ifanc ac Addysg - Y Bumed Senedd
Children, Young People and Education Committee - Fifth Senedd14/11/2019
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Dawn Bowden AM|
|Janet Finch-Saunders AM|
|Lynne Neagle AM||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Sian Gwenllian AM|
|Suzy Davies AM|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Dr Nigel Newton||Cydymaith Ymchwil, Sefydliad Ymchwil Gymdeithasol ac Economaidd, Data a Dulliau Cymru, Prifysgol Caerdydd|
|Research Associate, Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research, Data and Methods, Cardiff University|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|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 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.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:32.
The meeting began at 09:32.
Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the Children, Young People and Education Committee this morning. We've received apologies for absence from Hefin David and there is no substitution. Are there any declarations of interest from Members, please? No. Okay, thank you.
Item 2, then, this morning is a session on curriculum reform. I'm very pleased to welcome Dr Nigel Newton, who's a research associate at the Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research, Data and Methods at Cardiff University, who has led a research project into the new curriculum and particularly the impact on the most disadvantaged learners. His report was published earlier this week.
I understand we're going to have a presentation from you and then an opportunity to ask you questions. So, thank you very much for coming.
We do very much appreciate your time and we're looking forward to hearing what you've got to say.
Great. Shall I begin? Well, thank you very much for having me. One of the important things, in a sense, to bear in mind in the presentation is that, depending on who we talk to about the new curriculum, we have optimism on the one hand and positivity, and on the other hand, worry and concern. What our research tried to do was to address that issue empirically, focusing on the perspectives of teachers within the pioneer schools. So, what I'm going to do is talk for just about 10 minutes, showing some of the key findings from the part of the project that I conducted.
There was a hub-and-spokes model, so I worked with colleagues in five other universities across Wales. We were all looking at different aspects of the same issue—the potential impact on disadvantaged learners of the way in which the curriculum was being developed. My particular focus was then on pioneer schools and also the administration of the survey.
So, this was a mixed methods study that involved, to begin with, in-depth interviews with pioneer leads and with teachers in pioneer schools with a higher than average number of pupils eligible for free school meals. So, that, in a sense, is the indicator that we've used to do with disadvantage. Those interviews, alongside, then, the feedback from my colleagues working on the other projects, fed into a survey that then was administered to all teachers in pioneer schools across the country. And that involved teachers in primary, secondary, Welsh and English medium, and special schools. So, we had a good response to that. Perhaps there's one caveat to that: 81 schools responded—why the others didn't maybe raises a question there, but still we have a good sample size.
Now, the really important thing in the sample size in relation to the survey, which is where I'm going to draw much of what I present just now, is that we're able to distinguish, then, between the perspectives of the pioneer leads, the teachers who have been working closely with them in terms of developing the curriculum, and then those other teachers in the schools who haven't had any involvement in the development process, in the curriculum process. And we're able to see as well the difference of opinions between school leaders and the classroom teachers. And that, as you'll see, will be important.
So, in a sense, one of the first things that we asked was just, 'To what extent are you well informed about the curriculum? And what do you think about the specific aspects of the curriculum that were in the public domain at the time when we conducted the research?' As might be inspected, the pioneer leads, on the whole, all felt well informed, familiar with the different aspects of the curriculum, and positive about it. But the more we questioned, the more specific the questions, the more unease and concern we saw in the data. Now, if I can illustrate that with some of the figures here on this slide.
Firstly, just in terms of being well informed, the pioneer leads—93 per cent say that they're well informed. That figure drops to 39 per cent for those teachers with no specific role in the development. Now, that's important just to keep in mind when we're thinking about the very model of development of the curriculum with the pioneer schools. We talk about pioneer schools, perhaps sometimes, as if they, as a whole, are developing the curriculum, when in actual fact, maybe it's only a small group of teachers within those schools who are actively involved in curriculum work. So, that's an important caveat, or an important thing to bear in mind, in the first instance.
When we ask more specific questions, then, for example, about the 'what matters' statements, as you can see, thinking about the teachers who have no specific involvement, about half of them felt familiar with it—with the 'what matters' statement—and the other half didn't. If we just focus, then, on the half that did feel familiar with it, what we see, when we asked them about whether they're happy—about 26 per cent, who are not involved at all, were unsure or unhappy. Now, when we look at more specific questions, then, and we drill down to issues, for example, to do with the place of knowledge in the new curriculum, about the ease of adapting teaching to the new curriculum, teaching within the interdisciplinary areas of learning activity, and teachers having greater choice of content, we see that this uncertainty, or negativity, increases. So, ranging from 41 to 24 per cent of respondents. Now, the important thing of that last figure is that that includes both teachers who are involved and not involved, which indicates that the more specific the questioning, the more unease and uncertainty there is.
Now, what can explain that? Well, if we go back to the interviews that I conducted with the pioneer leads and with the teachers in schools that were developing the curriculum, one of the phrases that came out a lot was 'mindset change'. This was a big mindset change that they had to experience. It's become a phrase that is perhaps overused, and we can sometimes think of it in terms of you just have a training session and you've got this mindset change that allows you to kind of do something differently. What the pioneer leads were talking about, and the other teachers, was the sustained involvement in the process: the frequent meetings that they had, the discussions with colleagues, the research that they read—to find themselves in a place where they felt confident about what the new curriculum was, how they could develop it, and what benefits it might have, involved all of this process over a considerable period of time. That, then, obviously, raised in their minds concerns about, 'How could that be replicated for all teachers? If we felt that that is the kind of change that we've had to go through to be in this position, how can all teachers experience something similar?'
Now, this is all concerning, because when we look, then, at the groups of pupils that teachers feel would be benefited from the new curriculum, we see that there isn't any group that more than 45 per cent of teachers felt would be benefited by the introduction of the new curriculum. And that drops to just over 30 per cent for pupils from more disadvantaged backgrounds.
So, given that—not a considerably positive sense that this will actually bring benefit to these groups—how is it that we so often hear positive and optimistic views about the potential of the new curriculum? Well, in part, perhaps this slide—although, I realise it's got lots of bars in it and lots of colours—might help explain something of what's going on. What I'd draw your attention to here is the darker blue and the grey bars. Those are the perspectives of school leaders in schools with above-average numbers of pupils eligible for free school meals. And what you can see there is that they're considerably more positive about the potential benefits of the new curriculum than their classroom teachers.
One of the other bits of data that we picked up on was a lot of expectation that with the changes, accountability systems would change too, and measures of pupils' attainment and qualifications would change. What we can deduce from this is that perhaps what those senior leaders are hoping is that maybe the difference in performance of their pupils wouldn't be as evident with the new curriculum as it currently is. Now, what we know, for example, from other research is that the highest performing pupils or the highest performing schools tend to be schools with very few children eligible for free school meals, and they're less optimistic and enthusiastic about the new curriculum, in general. And, again, it's working for them, so why change things? But for those schools that are struggling under the current system, then this is perhaps seen as being an opportunity for other kinds of success to be measured and be beneficial to pupils.
Now, what we don't know is whether what's happening here is that the new curriculum is seen as being something that will, in a sense, take the issue of the attainment gap between the more advantaged pupils and the less advantaged pupils off the table, or whether it will just change how those things are measured, which will narrow it. But we don't know that at the moment.
What this data reveals overall is a number of tensions. So, there's a tension between school and teacher flexibility, and what that might bring about, but also the fear of variability across schools—that not all pupils will have the same experiences. One of the hopes is that the changes to assessment will be keeping with the reforms, but one of the fears alongside that is: will that mean that all pupils have equal access to post-16 study or employment opportunities.
One of the hopes is the benefits of a broader curriculum that's more child centred, but one of the fears is whether pupils will miss out on subject-specific knowledge because of that kind of curriculum and how it might be provided to some pupils in a different way to others.
Now, I'm going to stop here, although I've got some other slides that I'll leave up, which we could refer to in questions. But I'm going to just stick this last one up, because, in a sense, I just wanted to spend a minute—. I realise this is quite small; it's definitely small up there, isn't it? But what this points to, or what I've tried to do in this slide is point to the key thing that teachers feel has the potential to bring benefits to pupils, and that is the freedom to create more engaging and interesting lessons, which then leads to increased motivation to learn and better achievement. That's in response to what's seen, and we can see that many of the responses are a response to what are seen as the problems in the current curriculum.
But to get to engaging and interesting learners and more interesting lessons, teachers need the flexibility, and assessment needs to change to reflect that variation. For those things to happen, more resources are needed, more professional training is needed. How do you manage the variability? How do you maintain standards?
And then, if you look to the right-hand side of that, there are the issues that start to raise concerns. This is why, the more you question teachers, the more concerns are raised, because then we get into the unanswered issues: will there be time to develop this content? Will there be time for teachers to become good and effective curriculum designers? Will there be more funding across the board for the more experiential learning opportunities? What is the potential, then, for those pupils from more disadvantaged backgrounds, those schools without access to additional resources from parents, for example, and parents associations—what are the potential consequences for them?
So, that's my 10-minute summary, which was probably more than 10 minutes,, but, hopefully, not wasted.
Thank you. That was very helpful, so thank you for doing that. We've got some questions now from Members. I've got Siân first.
Fe wnaf i siarad yn Gymraeg. Diolch yn fawr iawn am y cyflwyniad, sy'n tanlinellu beth rydym ni'n ei glywed yn anecdotaidd, neu yn sicr beth dwi'n ei glywed yn anecdotaidd wrth siarad efo athrawon.
Fe wnaf i ddechrau eto. Ydych chi'n clywed? Diolch am y cyflwyniad. Yn sicr, mae o'n tanlinellu rhai o'r pryderon mae athrawon yn eu cyfleu imi yn anecdotaidd, felly. Mae beth rydych chi'n ei ddweud yn cyd-fynd efo beth mae rhywun yn pigo i fyny arno fo, allan yn trafod mewn ysgolion ac yn y blaen. Rydych chi wedi canolbwyntio ar ysgolion arloesol yn unig. Petaech chi wedi mynd â siarad efo ysgolion sydd ddim o fewn y gyfundrefn arloesi, a fyddai'r darlun hyd yn oed yn fwy pryderus o ran lefel yr ymgysylltu, o ran y penaethiaid, hyd yn oed, yn yr ysgolion sydd ddim yn rhan o'r gyfundrefn arloesol, a pham na wnaethoch chi siarad efo croestoriad mwy? Pam wnaethoch chi benderfynu jest mynd ar ôl y garfan yma?
I'm going to speak in Welsh. Thank you very much for that introduction, which underlines what we're hearing anecdotally, or certainly what I am hearing anecdotally from speaking with teachers.
I'll start again. Can you hear me? Thank you for your presentation. It certainly does emphasises some of the concerns that teachers have been conveying to me anecdotally. What you're saying does chime with what one picks up when one goes out to talk in schools, and so on. You have concentrated on pioneer schools only. Had you gone out to speak to non-pioneer schools, would the picture be even more concerning in terms of the level of engagement, with the headteachers, even, in schools that are non-pioneer schools, and why didn't you go to talk to a larger cross-section? Why did you just decide to pursue this cohort?
Thank you for the question. I suppose there are two parts to it. Let's look at the first part. I think we conducted the survey in the way in which we did so that we could distinguish the teachers who were involved with the development process from those who were not, within the pioneer schools. We felt that that might give an indication of how teachers in non-pioneer schools may—. Well, we would expect that those teachers would still be more familiar with the new curriculum and more engaged in the process. In actual fact, what we found was that they probably weren't. But we wanted to look at how the curriculum was being developed, and we wanted to examine, in a sense, that process of development as well, which is why we focused just on the pioneer schools.
The subsidiarity model is built around that concept of, 'If we've got these schools that are leading the development, then this will be something that can be more effectively translated to other schools, because it's built from the experiences of teachers on the ground.' So, that's why we focused on it. There was some evidence— . So, in the interviewing of the pioneer leads, one of the questions I asked was, 'Have you done any work with your partner schools, the non-pioneer schools? What are your perspectives on their involvement in the process?' There was very little engagement, other than perhaps the odd meeting to share something about what they had been doing. And several pioneer leads talked about the partner schools waiting to see what would happen, and some said, 'Well, they're not just waiting, they're hoping that it will go away, that it won't happen'. And I think that that, really, is partly an indication as well of the pressures that schools are under, with such limited resources that there isn't capacity to do something that you haven't been funded to do.
Now, one of the concerning things is clearly that what the evidence points to is the substantial amount of professional development and training that teachers will need. And from the evidence, even within the pioneer schools, there isn't that level of confidence, so that begs the question of how those non-pioneer schools are really going to get ready and feel confident about what they're doing.
Well, that's the worrying aspect, because you're pinpointing a problem within the schools that are supposed to be up to speed on this. If you went outside of those pioneer schools, it's even more worrying, the picture that would emerge, probably, isn't it? So, what you're saying, basically, is that unless there is an injection of money to enable the schools to release their teachers to go on professional development, we have a really big problem going on here.
I might not be able to go as far as saying that, but what is clear is that, perhaps, the challenges of professional development to get ready for this new curriculum are greater than have so far been acknowledged in the resourcing.
I just want to say one more thing, too, which came to mind, which I don't think is common knowledge but it's in the report: one of the findings that we saw is that, in actual fact, very few of the pioneer schools have above-average numbers of pupils eligible for free school meals. So, it's also worth bearing in mind that, within the pioneer model itself, you've got the more successful schools. You've got schools as well that at least—and the survey indicated that—view themselves already as being progressive, innovative schools, which is why they signed up and volunteered to participate in it and why they were awarded it.
Can I just follow up on a couple of points on that? You mentioned, and it's in what we've heard already, that schools were telling you, pioneer schools included—well, primarily—that they didn't have enough funding to develop the curriculum. Have I understood that correctly?
No. No. So, the pioneer schools, the pioneer leads and the teachers that I interviewed within the pioneer schools, talked about the opportunities that they've had to do things differently because of the additional funding. So, what their worry was: well, how much would it cost for that additional funding to be given to all schools and how unlikely that is to be the case? Then, how would we develop it in the way that we see that it needs to be developed?
So, they have their seed money and that's gone directly to the pioneer schools, not just to consortia, because I know they've had—. A lot of money has already gone into this, but trying to understand where it's biting and having an effect is important, but that's a really important point that you've just mentioned there—that if you roll this out, then that level of cash has got to be rolled out as well.
The other thing was about the actual development of the curriculum itself. And I'm a bit worried that if, even from within schools and from the hub-and-spoke schools, they're not feeling included in the development of the curriculum—and I can't see how this couldn't have come up in your conversations—how even those pioneer schools were considering how they would incorporate the views of other stakeholders. We've got a couple of controversial elements in this curriculum, which will be compulsory, and if the relevant stakeholders aren't included, there are going to be ructions, I suspect. Did they give you any indication at all about who's being included in curriculum development or is it still at this very skeletal stage?
Certainly when we conducted the interviews, some of the pioneer leads have had conversations with other organisations and businesses in their local community and within the third sector, but not all of them. And certainly, we know from other research that's been carried out that the level of sense of involvement from other stakeholders isn't high at the moment. So, that's as much as I can say—
Okay, that would have bled into the questions you were asking, I'm sure.
I'm just wondering whether you've got anything concrete to point to that, to show that. Do you have any data that shows how many pioneer schools have been involved with other stakeholders? Because we are being told that the pioneer schools are the spoke, and that's the hub, and that everybody else is being involved in all of this, but, anecdotally, we know it's different, and you're saying it's different. We need evidence, really—hard evidence to show that, actually, that isn't happening.
So, there was a report by the Institute of Welsh Affairs, which bears on this. I can refer that to you.
Can I just finish off my question, then, and ask whether, again, in those discussions about what you could see about who's involved in curriculum development, there's any indication at this stage about the voice of children themselves in developing the curriculum?
So, in some of the schools, the pioneer leads talked very positively about the involvement of their pupils in thinking about the kinds of content and the kinds of topics that they explored. It was evident, from the conversations with teachers developing the curriculum, that that was viewed as being something that was being done, which was considered important. But that's to do with the kind of things that are taught within the areas of learning and experience; that's not the bigger picture—
Well, yes, this is what I'm coming to. At what level does the voice of the child disappear from this process?
Yes, that's right.
Okay, thank you for that.
Okay, thank you. I've got a couple of questions. You've said that most of the pioneer schools are schools with lower levels of free school meals, so was that like a self-selecting thing as far as you're aware—they were the schools that put themselves forward?
Yes, I think so.
And in the ones that did have a higher level—because I'm assuming there were some in there that had a reasonable level of free-school-meal pupils—what different attitudes did you discern between the teachers in the schools with the more disadvantaged pupils and the teachers in the schools with the more prosperous families?
There are two parts to that. One is that the interviews that I conducted were in the pioneer schools with above average numbers of pupils eligible for free school meals. So, we wanted to get the insights of the pioneer leads and the teachers in those schools. What they reported was borne out as well in the survey data, which is that schools with a higher percentage of pupils eligible for free school meals are significantly more positive and optimistic about the new curriculum than other schools. Again, that's really, slightly—. We have to look at the various other bits of evidence to understand that.
One is the hope that the assessment will change. The hope as well in some schools—. We know that when there's talk about a more relevant curriculum, what they're actually referring to is more vocational options for some groups of pupils. Now, whether that happens or not is another question, but it raises the issue of whether all pupils to 16 will have access to the academic knowledge that will allow all of them to potentially progress on. And it raises the question about at what point vocationally related content does actually serve the interests of young people. Because we know from other data that there are very few employers who want to employ 16-year-olds and few who want to employ 18-year-olds. So, in a sense, gearing towards that, with issues to do with the unknowns as well, to do with the apprenticeship models currently available, and the lack of coherence between the one and the other, that should raise some concerns as well.
Okay, thank you. Can I ask you about graph No. 5 that you showed us? When they were asked:
'Which, if any, of the following groups of pupils do you think could be affected (positively) by the introduction of the new curriculum?',
those with lower academic ability scored the highest on the graph. What's that about then? Is it going to be easier? Is that what they think?
Yes, I think there is the hope that there will be different pathways to gain the same qualifications. So, different routes to gain the same qualification. And that's predicated on the hope that the qualifications will change in a way consistent with how teachers are understanding the rest of the curriculum. In a sense, that raises the other—. I think we can only answer that by stepping back and thinking, 'There is this one unknown quantity in the way in which the curriculum has been developed up until now, which is that assessment hasn't—.' We don't know the details of it. We have a concept of progression, which is viewed, on the whole, positively, and has lots of positive benefits to it, but that's not the same as how pupils will be summatively assessed and be given a qualification at the end. And without that, with so many other elements, working out the coherence for teachers is very difficult.
Okay, thank you. Suzy's got a supplementary on that.
Yes, I might be straying into somebody else's area here a little bit, but I wouldn't mind somebody answering this—well, you answering this now. Looking at chart No. 6, which is the six people in each category here, what has struck me about this is that, regardless of the type of school we're talking about, the classroom teachers have more or less the same responses; it's the school leaders that have the really different views about things. How much is that skewing chart No. 5? I think this is really interesting; the classroom teachers broadly have the same views on this.
I think the significance of this slide is more to perhaps explain why these numbers are as low as they are. I would have to get out the report to give you the numbers. There was quite a high number—. There were more classroom teachers than, obviously, senior managers who responded to the data. But, it was still a pretty good number. So, my sense is that the mean between those two is obviously what we have in this slide.
Again, if we think about the implications for classroom teachers of changes to practice, and we consider the demands upon them as they are, then what the difference here between senior managers in schools and teachers indicates is that teachers are much less confident about their ability to translate the new curriculum into benefits for these groups of pupils at this stage in the process, than the senior managers are thinking about perhaps—we don't know for sure—but thinking about how the whole school will look, how those pupils will spend their school time with what kind of assessment, with what kind of qualifications.
Okay. As I said, we keep straying into other territory. It wasn't the distinction particularly between the senior managers and the classroom teachers. I just asked that question about whether it affected the graph above, which it does. What really interested me is that the classroom teachers all pretty much think the same.
Well, there was significant—. I mean, if we looked at—which we did—the other questions, there were significant differences based on the levels of pupils eligible for free school meals. So, to all the questions, teachers in high FSM schools were more positive to—. I mean, if I go back to this slide. To all of those questions about your attitude towards specific aspects of the new curriculum, the teachers in high FSM schools were more positive than those in—
The green line is slightly longer in most of these, but not all of them.
I accept that. Okay, thank you, thank you.
Is there anything else you want to ask on that, Dawn?
No, that's fine.
Sorry, I didn't think we were going to get quite in that over there.
Thank you. Some of the things that I wanted to ask have already been asked. I know that when I have gone around my own schools in my own constituency, headteachers are very concerned about the new curriculum coming forward. The points that you've raised about funding: they just see it as another burden on already heavily burdened shoulders.
For me, also, reading some of this, I'm very concerned about children with additional learning needs and children who have had adverse childhood experiences, who are trying to fit in with their peers within schools and things. I know that headteachers are worried now that there isn't enough support financially or otherwise for children with ALN. There's a lot of measure on the free school meals, but within many classrooms in my constituency are children who, frankly, need tremendous support, be it for mental health issues and some of those difficult, lower academic levels and everything.
For me, I want the new curriculum to be able to be, if you like, enjoyed by every pupil, and I'm not convinced as yet that the way that some of the research has been undertaken really reaches out to those more difficult-to-educate pupils. Now, you've mentioned—. You talk about the promise and perils of the approach being taken to the new curriculum for Wales. That's your terminology. Could you just explain a little more around that please?
Sure, but could I just pick up on the ALN? One of my colleagues is an ALN specialist and was focusing on the development in relation to ALN learners. Her report is one of the appendices to the report. She described, in a sense, two narratives in relation to ALN learners: on the one hand, the fact that the changes to pedagogy that seem to be central to the development of the new curriculum would be good for all learners and particularly good for ALN learners and to their benefit, and then others who felt that might be the case, but then our ALN learners still need additional support and they weren't clear whether that was going to be given or whether the assumption would be because this would be beneficial to all learners, including the ALN learners, that it wouldn't be necessary, which obviously then raises concerns. So those two elements run through so much of the data, these differing perspectives and no-one knowing the answer as yet.
To the promises and perils, there's no doubt that for many teachers this is seen as an opportunity to rethink pedagogy and to rethink the relationship between teachers and issues to do with assessment. So, if you think, for many teachers at the moment, the burden of assessment and accountability affects teaching in ways that are seen as being detrimental to the learner and constraining on pedagogy. So, there's a hope that with valuing progression, with greater focus on fostering well-being, on the more experiential curriculum, that pupils can benefit, then teachers can feel more free to provide the kinds of lessons that they think will motivate learning and help pupils see the relevance of what they're studying.
But as I, sort of, indicated in those tensions, the perils of it are that that more experiential kind of curriculum we saw as central to the foundation phase, for example, we see as a key component of the curriculum for excellence in Scotland, and it's very inconclusive whether that's done anything to reduce the attainment gap. Some would argue that it's exacerbated it because not all pupils can benefit as easily from a more experiential kind of curriculum.
Just one of the things that came out of the interviews, for example, was that a primary school teacher talked about how some groups of learners, the less academically able learners, found the more experiential elements of the curriculum really engaging and interesting in ways that she thought were really positive, but the more able pupils in the primary school really found it boring. They just wanted that knowledge to be given to them. They wanted to feel as if they were making more concrete progress in acquiring knowledge.
In the secondary school, in a sense, the reverse was the case, that the more able pupils felt more confident in initiating their own projects, in having more of a say in what they were looking at and how they were going to do it in the more experiential aspects of teaching of the new curriculum. But the less able pupils struggled with that lack of structure and maybe didn't have some of the resources that the others had available to them to help them make the most of it.
So, that raises, then, the potential of disparities in access to knowledge, in experience of education, which, as things stand now, might be difficult to discern. It might be difficult as well to tease out which groups of pupils might be benefiting and which might not be.
Can I just come back on that? One thing I've noticed in the eight and a half years I've been an AM, in the early days I don't think I knew of many pupils disengaging with the education system. In the last 12 months, 18 months, I've become quite concerned by how many children are either not going to school for whatever reason, or the parents are not sending their children to school, or they're ending up in pupil referral units because they're disengaged from the whole exercise. How will this new curriculum, if you like, help as regards that? If you look at the numbers of pupils in our pupil referral units across Wales—you only have to look at my own constituency for me to be concerned, but across Wales the numbers are frightening—how will this new curriculum help to bring some of those back into mainstream education? That, for me, is what cuts the mustard.
Certainly, for many teachers, the greater flexibility that they'll have in terms of their choice of content is part of the answer to addressing that problem—to provide different groups of learners with different opportunities.
And if I may come back, you say ALN like it's like a little area of need for children with ALN, but there's a spectrum within the ALN where some need a tremendous amount of support, and some, maybe, at the other end, not so much support. And for me, every child should have the entitlement and right to as much support as they individually need. Within this new curriculum, given the funding challenges in Wales, how is that going to be addressed?
I can't answer that question, I'm afraid.
That's a political question, isn't it, really? Siân, it's your question next anyway, but it's kind of been touched on.
Yes, we have. I was just going to ask, in your research, you looked at primary and secondary, and you looked at Welsh-medium and English-medium—did you find any differences? Did you find more positivity within the primary school sector?
A little bit. It wasn't very significant, but there was a little bit more positivity. And there's a little bit more confidence too based on the fact that so many of the teachers are already used to working in a more interdisciplinary way. They feel slightly more confident about adapting their teaching to the AoLEs than in secondary.
So, the focus needs to be on the secondary—
I think there are other challenges in primary, and one of them is this aspect, which I've just touched on, in terms of progression of all the pupils, so that all the pupils benefit equally from the changes. So, I think there are challenges in primary. And with resourcing as well—many of the primary schools commented just as much about the resourcing demands of the new curriculum of providing the more experiential elements, and the digital competency framework as well, and the information technology resourcing for that.
And then Welsh medium/English medium?
There was no significant difference.
And what about the size of the schools, between rural schools and smaller—? Where there more challenges there or fewer—?
One of my colleagues, particularly, looked at rural schools—
Sorry, I'm looking at somebody else's—.
That's fine. I won't comment in detail on that report, but it's one of the appendices. What she talks about is that, again, for many rural schools, the teachers already teach, even at secondary, in a more interdisciplinary way, so that aspect of the new curriculum is perhaps seen as less of a challenge. But the teachers in those schools talked about the difficulty of attending training and the difficulty of collaborating with colleagues in other schools. And that was seen as a concern and an issue that they weren't sure how they could resolve.
I know we've done a fair bit on that question already, but I wanted to ask you, as well as the distinction between primary and secondary schools, did the school leaders, in particular, raise this issue of the boundary between year 9 and year 10, and about whether the concerns between year 7 and 9 were less articulated than those for years 10 and 11?
I can't answer that question from the survey data—
That's fine, if you didn't—.
—because we didn't specifically ask the question. I didn't interview senior managers. Lots of the pioneers had some leadership role within their school. The only bit I can say is that, at the moment, the pioneer process, as has been actually enacted in the pioneer schools, tends to be not in year 6, with your transition, and not in years, obviously, 9, 10 or 11. So, they tend to be in year 7 in secondary, some in year 8, and then there's the concern about, 'Well, now we need to—'
Think about exams.
Exactly. Okay, thank you. Just on this final point of flexibility, because I think you've covered the question I wanted to ask on this, but you did refer to accountability in how current assessment has skewed behaviour, if you like. But one of the questions that we're all going to have to face at some point is what accountability is going to look like. The greater the flexibility, the more robust the accountability system. Obviously, I'm not going to challenge the idea of assessment being about pupil progress, but at some point we're going to need certainty on how to hold a school leader, I guess, accountable, and all the way up there to the Minister. We need to be clear about that. Did that come up at all in the discussions you had about what they wanted accountability to look like, apart from not what it's got now?
No, and, in a sense, that was one of the interesting findings—that concern that accountability wasn't what we've currently got and that it was consistent with other aspects of the new curriculum. But actually what it would look like—nobody provided any comment.
I'd just say about that in general, one of the things that I know my colleagues who looked at the foundation phase observed was the need for transparency about decision making, so that in terms of how you prepare pupils for whatever assessment there is, or how you give them different options in relation to how they're going to be assessed, the decision making that goes into that needs to be open. It needs to be open to scrutiny, it needs to be able to be looked at. That then becomes a vehicle for, perhaps, a little bit more clarity on what works and what doesn't.
Okay, thank you for that.
Okay, thank you. Janet.
Just talking about the main findings from the research into the other five elements, the spokes of the project, we've touched on additional learning needs, we've touched on rural schools. Obviously, digital competence, expressive arts, mindfulness and well-being—what other research do you recommend is carried out in this area?
Right. So, the research that we'd really like to see carried out is research of what's actually going on within the classroom, what the changes are to practice that teachers are making in enacting the new curriculum, and to observe that, actually, in what's called an ethnographic study in the classroom, seeing how pupils respond to that. Because it's one thing to talk about changes to pedagogy, the new opportunities of the curriculum, but we'd like to see, actually, what are the decision-making processes that teachers are making, what are the significant changes that they're making to their teaching. That would be one of the things that we would definitely recommend. And then to do that for those different groups of learners, just as we've done in this study, looking at rural schools, at the digital competency and the more vulnerable learners, the ALN learners, to focus again on their experiences, but actually in the classroom.
Okay Can I just say I find your research extremely interesting?
Aspects of it.
Yes, but, look, I'll put up this slide. One of the things that we had in our minds, and you'll have to excuse me, I use a cooking analogy to explain that the curriculum isn't like an instruction manual for assembling a bookcase—there's a lot more to it than that. But we know that the Welsh Government are aware of the work of Claire Sinnema, who did an evaluation of curriculum reforms in New Zealand, and one of the findings of her study resulted in this model, which said, at the end of the day, successful reforms have to change practice, and everybody needs to be on board on that change of practice. To get to that change of practice, you have to have high-quality support. Now, you evidence that high-quality support by regard for the new curriculum being then strengthened, and that leading to strengthened confidence in both the benefits of the curriculum and in the ability to deliver it. So, in a sense, our research was trying to look at that level of regard and confidence as an indicator of: was there high-quality support? Are there likely to be good changes to practice?
Now, the evidence seems to point to the fact that the pioneer leads definitely had this high-quality support and they can see, and some of the colleagues they've worked most closely with, there's been a cascading of that support. But for other teachers in the pioneer schools, there's still a big gap. It's how to bridge that, and it's having some empirical evidence to support that that is so needed.
Okay. Are there any other questions from Members?
Yes, just a final question on empirical evidence. Obviously, what's happening here has been inspired, shall we say, by Scotland. Presumably, there's a fair chunk of research available now on what's been happening in Scotland. I know it's not quite like for like, but it's close enough.
Yes, there is.
Okay. Well, can I thank you very much for attending? It's been a really useful and interesting session. We're very grateful to you for giving us your time. We've valued the opportunity to discuss your research. As usual, you'll be sent a transcript following the meeting to check for accuracy. But thank you again for your attendance.
Moving on, then, to item 3, papers to note: paper to note 1 is a letter from Protecting Home Education Wales. Paper to note 2: e-mail from the trustee and Welsh liaison for Education Otherwise. And paper to note 3: a letter from the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services regarding early childhood education and care, in response to the letter we sent after our evidence session. Are Members happy to note those?
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
Item 4, then—can I propose in accordance with Standing Order 17.42 that the committee resolves to meet in private for the remainder of the meeting? Are Members content? Thank you.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:28.
The public part of the meeting ended at 10:28.