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Speech by the Cabinet Secretary for Education, Kirsty Williams AM. Delivered at the Pioneer School Network Conference.

First published:
21 September 2016
Last updated:

Bore da, good morning. I am delighted to be here with you today.

To be blunt: I believe education reform is our national mission.

This national mission, which I will make a key theme of my time as Education Secretary, involves learners of all ages, a united teaching profession committed to excellence, and world-leading universities and colleges forging the strongest bond with employers, international partners and communities at home.

No one is more important to this mission, than you, our pioneer schools. I thank you for being here today and for your commitment to improving education for the children and young people of our nation. Our summer results show that much has been achieved, however we know, I know, there is much further to go if we are to achieve our ambition to have a world leading education system.

A new broad, balanced, inclusive and challenging curriculum for Wales, built on strong foundations, lies at the very heart of what I want to achieve for our children and young people. So I’m really glad to be here today to talk about that ambition and my commitment to the education reform agenda.

These are exciting times. Curriculum reform offers a great opportunity to the Education sector in Wales but also represents a significant challenge for all those involved – particularly you, the Pioneers.

Your commitment and active involvement are essential if we are to create a curriculum that is engaging and attractive to our learners but which is also applicable in the classroom.

So I thank you for accepting the challenge and for agreeing to be at the vanguard of this change.

As you know, A curriculum for Wales: a curriculum for life set out the Welsh Government’s response to Successful Futures and received cross-party support when it was published.

It describes how the new curriculum will be developed with you - education professionals across Wales, with the aim of it being available by September 2018 and used to support learning and teaching from 2021.

I support that vision and I know, with your help, we will design a curriculum that is both world-class and able to serve the needs of our children and young people for many years to come.

As part of this vision, I am convinced that we must listen to professionals and especially to you, the Pioneers, at every stage of the process. I want to let teachers get on with teaching and allow leaders to lead. I also want to listen to parents and children so that their ambitions inform our agenda. They, rightly, demand the best from our education system. That is why our relentless focus must be on getting the basics right, raising standards and being ambitious and confident in our reforms.

This event signals an important step in the process. Bringing all pioneers together into one network will mean that your knowledge, expertise and experience can be shared and combined so that the united Pioneer network is as effective as it can possibly be.

To get the best outcome for our learners, you will need to work together, informed by each other’s work, sharing good practice and using ‘A Curriculum for Wales – a Curriculum for Life’ as your steer.

You will be called onto draw on the most up to date research and best educational methods from across the globe. As teachers and leaders, you should be life-long students. Learning from each other, continuously improving, and studying best practice whether it’s in the next classroom, community or continent.

‘Collaboration’ and ‘co-operation’ will ensure that the wealth of good practice you hold and collect is shared and these must be our watch words in achieving our common goal.

My officials will, of course, support you in this by arranging more Pioneer events, and drawing in relevant expertise and other professional support where together we identify the need.

And we will continue to fund your release from school duties so you can keep your focus on this all-important work. In return of course I expect you to honour the commitment you have made.

A great start has already been made. A lot of groundwork has been done and foundations for the new curriculum have been laid.

And, of course, the Digital Pioneers have been forging ahead with the Digital Competence Framework, which I was delighted to launch formally earlier today at Ysgol Bro Edern, one of the Digital Pioneer schools.

The urgent need for a Digital Competence Framework was highlighted by the report of the independent ICT Steering Group in 2013 and by Professor Graham Donaldson in Successful Futures.

That’s why the development of the Framework was prioritised.

As the first element of the new curriculum to be made available, I would like to congratulate all those involved, not only for developing a quality product but for doing so within a very tight timescale. Thank you.

You can be proud that you helped establish a Framework that will put Wales in a world-leading position in terms of integrating digital skills across the curriculum.

Digital competence is a fundamental skill in our modern world. It will form one of three cross-curricular responsibilities, alongside literacy and numeracy.

The Framework focuses on developing digital skills that are useful in everyday life and transferrable to the world of work.

It is designed for all children in Wales. It covers the development of skills from the earliest stages, encompasses ‘Routes for Learning’ and also provides our more able and talented young people with challenge.

I know that the Pioneers who have developed the Digital Competence Framework will be sharing more on this with you later today, together with Professor Tom Crick.

I’d like to thank Tom who has been such a big influence in moving this agenda forward and has provided support and expertise throughout the process.

I am sure you will agree the Framework is an impressive product. But I would emphasise that this is not the end of the DCF story.

The Pioneer Network, and partners such as the Regional Consortia will need to continue to work together to identify:

  • what support practitioners will need;
  • where support should be targeted; and
  • what materials and resources are needed to help all practitioners and teachers to use the Framework effectively

as well as working to integrate the Framework across the Areas of Learning and Experience as they are developed.

This will be an ongoing process responsive to the needs of the profession, with an initial Professional Learning Offer to support practitioners in implementing the DCF due to be in place from this time next year.

We know digital skills are essential for all our young people. They will need to compete in the knowledge economy of the future – working with and through technology that has not even have been invented yet.

None of us can predict what that technology and how it interacts with the world will be like in 10 years time.

But we do know the Digital Competency Framework will help equip our children and young people with the skills they need to be confident shapers of that future rather than just passive consumers of it.

It is an important element in a package of measures we are putting in place to improve digital learning. In the coming months I will be saying more about how we can work together to give children and young people greater experience of skills such as coding from an early age:

  • I envisage better pupil access to coding workshops and coding clubs across Wales;
  • I envisage enhanced engagement with business and employers in the provision of digital learning; and
  • I envisage new levels of support for you and your colleagues so you can play a full part in this exciting aspect of our education system.

One of the first elements of this support is a self assessment tool, developed with Pioneer schools, to help teachers identify their priorities for support. You will be able to access this when you next log on to Hwb.

Hwb will also host a range of resources linked to specific strands of the Digital Competence Framework.

New resources, supporting other aspects of the curriculum, have been added to Hwb since the beginning of term. This includes three new safeguarding modules published this week, in partnership with the NSPCC.

These resources will support teachers in keeping learners safe.

As part of our effort to continually improve the Hwb offer, we have also improved the reporting and assessment tools to support assessment for learning and the new Hwb Classrooms feature will allow learners to collaborate in a safe online environment.

Hwb, of course, will remain an important support tool for all teachers – I would ask that you encourage everyone in your schools and networks to make use of it and help us to continuously improve it.

With more and more schools making use of services such as Hwb and Hwb+ and cloud applications, it is vitally important that schools have fast, secure and reliable access to the internet.

Internet access enables teachers to provide dynamic and engaging lessons, pupils to carry out research and submit work online and parents to keep track their child’s progress.

I am pleased to announce that, as a result of the significant investment made by the Welsh Government under the Learning in Digital Wales Grant Programme, over 1400 schools in Wales are now connected at a minimum of 10 megabits per second for primary schools and at least 100 megabits per second for secondary schools.

This represents the vast majority of schools in Wales. However, a small number of schools could not benefit from this initial investment due to the significant civil engineering costs that were required.

That is why I agreed with the First Minister that access to superfast services for all schools should be prioritised within the national programme.

Working with the Superfast Cymru programme we will ensure that all schools in Wales have access to the internet services they need in order to provide the very best education. Rest assured that I will be pressing to ensure that this development progresses as quickly as possible.

Looking more broadly than the digital world, and on a morning of announcements, I am delighted to announce the launch of the enhanced Professional Learning Passport (PLP) for the education workforce.

The PLP is hosted on the Education Workforce Council’s website and is a key feature of our Professional Learning and Support approach. It is one of the foundation stones in supporting and developing our self-improving system.

For the first time practitioners in Wales are able to record their professional learning in a single secure online portfolio that captures all of their professional learning and supports their professional growth.

The PLP underpins practitioners’ career pathways and supports them to record, reflect on and identify the most appropriate professional learning opportunities so they continue to develop their practice. It also supports ‘peer to peer’ professional learning.

But it will only make a difference to professional learning and influence reflective practice if everyone uses it. So please engage proactively with it and help us develop and shape it to reflect your needs over time.

I want to ensure the next few years are used to support you and all practitioners to be ready to use the new curriculum.

The PLP is designed to help practitioners to develop. We already know that the quality of teaching is the most important factor in raising standards, closely followed by effective leadership.

It is therefore essential that teachers, and those that support and lead teaching, are equipped with the skills to provide learners with the very best teaching.

Many of you will have attended the Professional Teaching Standards workshops with Mick Waters so are aware of important new developments.

These new standards capture the skills and behaviours that our teachers need to have to meet the challenges of a new curriculum and to maintain teaching’s status as a high value profession.

Our new standards need to deliver on a number of fronts:

  • they need to act as a gatekeeper for the profession so that we attract the very best teachers to Wales to help create a vibrant and high performing profession;
  • they need to inspire and enthuse by providing a focus for career-long professional learning and growth, including leadership development at all levels; and
  • they need to fire teachers’ ambition – both for their profession and critically for all of their learners.

Something so fundamental cannot be developed in isolation – that is why we are involving many of you in this work.

It is, and will increasingly be, a feature of the way we work in Wales that we listen to the profession and build on the rich experience that exists in our schools.

Over the coming months Pioneer Schools and Initial Teacher Education providers who have volunteered will be trialling the new standards to find out what works and we will use this feedback to inform further development.

I am aware some of you had an early start this morning in order to get together and plan how this will be happening! The intention is to be ready to consult more widely ahead of introducing the new standards from September 2017.

I will be following this work with interest and look forward to hearing how it progresses.

Your invaluable input as practitioners, together with the robust evidence-base provided by Professor Donaldson in Successful Futures and the expertise and support from people like Professors Tom Crick and John Furlong, regional consortia and Estyn gives me confidence that Wales is on the right track to creating a curriculum and education system that will successfully serve its learners for many years to come.

You, together with regional consortia will develop a package of measures to help practitioners adopt and use a new curriculum that will be flexible and responsive to the challenges presented by the increasing pace of change across all aspects of our society, in Wales and across the world.

But teachers must be empowered to deliver it, so measures such as improved access to high speed internet, the Practitioner Learning Passport and new professional teaching standards will provide the environment for great teaching to thrive.

We all know there are challenges ahead, but that is to be embraced not avoided. We are making important choices about our collective ability to shape an education system that is modern, excellent and innovative.

Together we can engage learners’ minds, together we can expand learners’ horizons, together we can build a better future for the children of Wales.