Wales, an inspiring model for England

Report by Prof Richard Hatcher, Birmingham City University

Imagine a country where education is based on trust in schools and teachers. Where the school curriculum is based on broad areas of learning and experience, not on discrete subjects, and a continuum of learning, not divided up into stages. Where assessment is based on mainly on teachers’ formative assessment, with standardised testing kept to a minimum. A country where there are no punitive inspections, no academies, no free schools.

You don’t have to look as far as Finland. This is the future of education in Wales if the Donaldson Report Successful Futures is implemented by the Welsh government – and initial responses have been positive. 

It is significant that Graham Donaldson was formerly Senior Chief Inspector in Scotland, and has based many of his recommendations on established practice there – highlighting just how far out on a limb the English school system has become.

Here are some extracts. Please read the complete article:

A new direction for education in Wales, an inspiring model for England


Rejection of a narrow prescriptive curriculum and high stakes testing

‘The high degree of prescription and detail in the national curriculum, allied to increasingly powerful accountability mechanisms, has tended to create a culture within which the creative role of the school has become diminished and the professional contribution of the workforce underdeveloped. The extent of legislative control and associated accountability mechanisms… have inhibited professionalism, agility and responsiveness… Much of the curriculum as experienced by children and young people has become detached from its avowed aims and too focused on the short-term. At its most extreme, the mission of primary schools can almost be reduced to the teaching of literacy and numeracy and of secondary schools to preparation for qualifications.’ (p10)

Donaldson proposes organising the curriculum as six broad areas of learning and experience, with literacy, numeracy and digital competence being the responsibility of all teachers.

The report comments on the limitations when cross-curricular learning is marginalised, and the need to apply learning “more holistically in real life situations”. Education for active citizenship is central:

‘Engaged citizenship requires the kind of understanding of democracy, human rights, interdependence, sustainability and social justice that should inform their personal views and sense of commitment… Active citizenship requires the confidence and resilience that underpin the ability to exert influence and participate in vigorous debate. That confidence should be built on a strong base of knowledge and respect for evidence.’ (p28).

Progression – an end to stages and levels

The report rejects the idea of stages which ‘can hinder progression’ and lead to short-term hurdle-humping. It also rejects the concept of levels which give a false view of smooth linear progression: ‘Learning should be seen as akin to an expedition, with stops, detours and spurts.’

As an alternative, it suggests progression steps as reference points on a road map – ‘not a judgement’. These will be described from the learner’s point of view: ‘I have…’ for experiences or ‘I can…’ for outcomes.

Assessment led by teachers

The report places weight on assessment by teachers, which can cover a wider range of learning. ‘Assessment arrangements should give priority to their formative role in teaching and learning.’

It recommends that external, standardised testing should be ‘kept to a minimum in view of its impact on the curriculum and teaching and learning’. It should be ‘as light-touch as possible… The Welsh Government should no longer gather information about children and young people’s performance on a school-by-school basis but should monitor performance in key aspects of the curriculum … on a sample basis’.

A progressive alternative to both the Tories and Labour in England

The Donaldson Report marks out a progressive agenda for curriculum and assessment in schools in Wales very different from that of the Tories in England, and from the policies of Tristram Hunt. Labour’s election manifesto made no mention of how the new National Curriculum is damaging education, nor any proposal to stop it. It was silent on whether the primary curriculum would continue to be dominated by numeracy, an impoverished notion of literacy, baseline testing, phonics and SPAG tests.

The implementation of the Donaldson Report in Wales will provide a tangible alternative for us in England, one close enough for cross-border visits and information-gathering which can inspire our own struggle against present policy and our vision for the future.

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