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Speech by Jeremy Miles, Minister for Education and Welsh Language.

First published:
5 April 2023
Last updated:

As we look back over the first year of the Curriculum for Wales, it must be said that your continued commitment to the reform programme and your desire to maintain momentum has been impressive. The last few years have been incredibly challenging, but nevertheless we’re actually starting the work of delivering the curriculum from a position of strength – and that’s down to your leadership. We trust you to lead.

All over Wales, there are wonderful and inspiring examples of schools showing the difference that curriculum reform can make to learners and teachers.

Last year, I said that the process of rolling out the curriculum would take time. Only from September this year will all schools be teaching the new curriculum, and it won’t be extended to all years in all schools until 2026 onwards.

We will support you with the work: since I spoke to you about this, the Welsh Government has provided more resources, has continued to bring practitioners together as part of a national network – and has published school improvement guidance to underpin this. But today, I’m going to be talking about the further support that is on the way.

Just like last year, I’m pleased that Owen Evans has joined me again today to talk about the work of supporting education reforms.

Over the past year, as our reforms have taken root – at a time when schools and practitioners are under pressure – we have heard, from your experiences, how we can help further. Our budget of £35 million for curriculum reform and professional learning over the coming year is proof of our commitment. I will be outlining a few more steps today.

In a period of reform when there are so many developments and demands, it can be difficult to keep track of how one element relates to another, of the vision as a whole and when everything is set to happen. Consequently, this can be challenging in terms of planning and preparation.

So this week, I announced 'Our national mission: high standards and aspirations for all'. This document is a kind of roadmap – it sets out our priorities for education, the timetable for achieving them and the support available.

The roadmap doesn’t include new actions, but it’s important to have them all available in the same place – and with timelines that will hopefully prove useful. It also highlights my commitment to lifelong learning, by positioning our support for schools alongside our support for colleges and higher education institutions in one holistic system.

Now, I want to look at a few elements, and update you on what’s in place and the support we’ll provide.

Firstly, whether it’s nursery, school, college, university or adult learning, the priority for me is the same – enabling all learners to reach their full potential, regardless of background.

Next week, I will be making a statement in the Senedd on our work to tackle the impact of poverty on attainment – following on from my statement in the Senedd last year and the speech I made to the Bevan Foundation. We’ll share the update on Dysg, so that you can see what’s ongoing.

To be effective, the actions we all take must operate across the whole system. I want to work with you to ensure – together – that our approach to tackling the effects of poverty on educational outcomes exceeds the individual elements.

Two fundamental aspects of this approach are the pupil development grant and area schools.

The pupil development grant, now £130 million, has a key role to play. As school leaders, I believe that you are best placed to decide which solutions – based on evidence – will be most effective for your learners. The next step is that we will shortly publish updated grant guidance – to help teachers plan and use this funding strategically.

And as headteachers, you will know how important it is to reach out to families, communities and other agencies to provide the best possible support for learners. That’s why we’ve invested significantly to increase the number of family engagement officers employed by schools. I can therefore confirm that I will be providing a further £2.5 million to allow an increase in the provision for family engagement.

We also continue to fund the positions of local school managers to help schools work in partnership with their communities.

Over the next two years, a budget of £40m of further capital will be made available to local authorities to support schools to become area schools. This fund will enable schools to create deeper links with the local community, and learners’ families.

Finally on this subject, we know how important it is to support learners with oracy and reading and that a whole school focus can help very significantly in this respect. You will see in the coming days that we intend to publish a toolkit for oracy and reading, and I hope it will be a useful resource for you as practitioners.

Colleagues, we all want our learners to benefit from high standards but also high aspirations. Every child’s capacity to aspire is equal.

Key to unlocking all of these aspirations is learners’ progression and the progression project – Camau i’r Dyfodol will shortly publish its first phase report on progression. This highlights the excellent work you have done. Progression is about the individual’s journey of learning, and as highly skilled professionals you are experts in that.

But the practical lens on what this means in the classroom is essential. So what are we going to do to make sure you have the practical tools you need?

Firstly, collaboration across schools is essential to planning progression - no school can develop their curriculum in isolation. So during the summer term, we will be working with schools to test what a shared language of progression looks like. Working in clusters is central to the success of this curriculum and I’m heartened by the really good examples that we see across the country. This has got to be a priority for all.

Secondly, there are more resources on progression available now than ever before. The supporting materials section on the Curriculum for Wales Hwb page includes:

  • Guides on using the principles of progression
  • Support for assessing learners and evaluating their progress over time, including a template for assessment design
  • Practical ways to come to a shared understanding of progression

These are practical, simple resources that help you take progression forward in a school context and provide prompts as you develop your approach. I encourage you to draw on these materials if you haven’t had a chance to do that already.

Thirdly, hundreds of practitioners across Wales have already participated in National Network conversations on progression and assessment, giving them the time and space to reflect, and to share approaches. So as a next step, today we’re making all of our National Network materials available - as accessible, bilingual playlists on Hwb, making it easier to have those deep, engaging conversations needed as part of curriculum co-construction.

Fourthly, Camau i'r Dyfodol has developed some takeaway materials for this event today, setting out what we’ve learned from the first phase of the project, and the implications for you as school leaders as you continue on the journey to implementation. This brings the latest research in Wales and internationally on progression together with the experiences of teachers and leaders. And our next step is that in the summer term we will publish the next release of practical supporting materials which builds on this research.

And fifth, this year we also launched our pilot on Understanding by Design: giving schools time to practically engage with thinking on curriculum and assessment design and planning for purposeful progression in learning. And as a next step in that, we will be publishing supporting materials based on this learning later this year.

Our vision for curriculum reform is and must be inclusive of learners whatever their needs, including those with Additional Learning Needs. I want to emphasise how essential it is that curriculum and ALN reform should be seen as part of the same whole. 

We are seeing steady positive progress towards implementing the ALN reforms and we are being told that person-centred practice is now bringing real benefits - but despite this, I am hearing about the demands particularly on a ALNcos whose role is critical to the success of these reforms and that schools need more time to embed effective change.

I know how determined you all are to get this right. And it is essential for our learners with ALN that these reforms are implemented effectively. So in light of the pressures that you have been telling us about, I am extending the implementation period for the act from three years to four years (September 2021 to August 2025). I am also nearly doubling the funding to partners for ALN implementation so £12 million in 2023 to 2024 and 2024 to 2025 so that you all, as heads, can strategically review and invest in the resources that you need in your schools.

And the learner is at the heart of all that we are doing.

Earlier this week I published some more information about the relationship between our reforms in curriculum with qualifications. We need to value the range of knowledge, skills and experience which each individual learner has acquired when we recognise their achievements and progression. Qualifications will always be a crucial part of this. But we also know that employers and education providers want to see the whole learner and the depth and range of the skills and experiences they have had in school.

And our new materials bring learner progression and achievement together with our new approach to school evaluation and improvement.

I announced in January that we will work with practitioners to develop a new approach to school information and improvement: one which puts learners and learning at the centre. Reporting should be based on what matters and, we need to eliminate unnecessary reporting, reporting which duplicates or which does not genuinely add value to our learners’ educational journey. I want a streamlined, coherent approach to information across our education system.

I know that my decision to reinstate Key stage 4 measures based on qualification outcomes at school level has not been universally welcomed. The rationale is that this is a temporary arrangement in our journey towards a more holistic information ecosystem, consistent with the ethos of the curriculum. And it will not, for reasons of timing, apply to learners learning under the Curriculum for Wales. So i was keen to avoid the additional workload of introducing yet another set of measures which would be interim.

Our energies need to be spent on designing what follows, so my officials are currently speaking with a range of schools – helping develop our thinking on this new information ecosystem and as a next step, in the summer term, we will establish a practitioners’ group to develop more detailed proposals.

And as I said to you last year I will say again this year in the clearest possible terms, so there is no mistaking our intentions: under the Curriculum for Wales, information about progression is about self-evaluation not about accountability. Accountability is vital, but it is separate.

We will also work with our partners across the education system to develop a streamlined approach which reduces workload, simplifies and clarifies. 

And separate to this, it is the right point in our reform journey for us to review the roles and responsibilities of some of our supporting partners in the middle tier, to ensure, together, that they properly reflect the new reformed landscape. 

Schools need of course the very best support, centred around a common system-wide purpose and shared goals in the context of a self-improving system. So we will look afresh together at how we collaborate for school improvement in the next phase of the journey. And I will share more information about how we will do this in the weeks ahead.

The last thing I want to touch on is professional learning. Last year I spoke about an offer which is coherent and accessible, as well as comprehensive. I hope you would acknowledge that we have made big strides since then, not least by introducing the national entitlement.

Our next step now is to make sure that you can have confidence that the professional learning available is at its most current and authoritative in a changing landscape. So we have been going through an evaluation of our professional learning resources and before the end of the summer term we will launch a new kitemark scheme which will give practitioners the assurance they need.

As you know we have also agreed an additional national professional learning inset day for this year and the next two academic years. Alongside the £12 million professional learning grant, this contributes to the time and space that you need to continue on your curriculum rollout journey and our next step is to publish guidance on using this time, which we will do next month.

I want to stress that teaching assistants must have the opportunity to engage in professional learning as part of inset days and as part of your school improvement journey. They play a critical role in supporting learners in the classroom, and it is vital that they continue to develop their professional skills and understanding like any other practitioner and professional learning grant allocations will in future now reflect this too.

In closing, the Curriculum for Wales depends fundamentally on your leadership. On ongoing review, reflection and development. And the National Network conversations will continue to learn from your experiences – and the network is critical in the evolution of the curriculum so I would encourage you to take part.

It will increasingly shape the support, professional learning and resources available in responding to your reflections.

I want our messages to be simple, straightforward and supportive. As all schools roll out the new curriculum in September this year, we will also review our expectations on curriculum rollout to build on what we have learned together. If the network tells us there is a need for more detail, we will develop this with you, and we will ensure it is consistent with the ethos of the curriculum.

This is about clarifying and refining, not about changing and extending.

Well that is what I wanted to say about our reforms. I just want to finish with a few words regarding the strike action that we have seen in Wales. I am not going to lie – the negotiations have been difficult I think for us all. You all know the position that we are in– like your school budgets, inflationary pressures have meant the Welsh Government have less, not more money available. But we have used every lever available to us to help try and reach an agreement with our union colleagues. You have all faced a lot of disruption over recent years – we want to make sure you don’t see any more. So while over the border the Government has spent a month refusing to even talk to unions, I hope you will recognise in Wales we are making progress. I would like to thank our union partners for that. And I can give you my word that I will do everything in my power to ensure that schools stay open, disruption is minimised, and that a resolution reached.

I started by saying that you have made the best possible start to our curriculum journey and i am deeply proud of our achievements as a system. Reforms of this scale take time to get right and there is further to go.

But we must not lose sight of our fundamental goal: firstly to raise the aspirations of every child, and secondly to help them fulfil them, and to let no barrier of disadvantage stand in their way. And I am delighted that we are on that journey together. 

And as our partners on that journey, I want to say to you quite simply: I trust you, and I am grateful to you for your leadership.

Diolch yn fawr.