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Blog post Part of special issue: Doing cynefin: Exploring ideas on belonging, connectedness and community in the Curriculum for Wales

Can the Curriculum for Wales and ‘cynefin’ enable children’s participative rights in schools?

Jacky Tyrie, Senior Lecturer at Swansea University Michelle Brinn, Lecturer at Swansea University

When considered in conjunction with a long-standing commitment to children’s rights by the Welsh Government, the development of the Curriculum for Wales (CfW) may be a perfect opportunity for Wales to embed participative rights in education. In this blog post, we will consider if the underlining principles of the CfW (specifically ‘cynefin’) can be a facilitator for children’s participative rights.

Curriculum for Wales and cynefin

Cynefin is tricky to define (Chapman et al., 2023). Within the CfW it is defined as: ‘the historic, cultural and social place which has shaped and continues to shape the community which inhabits it’, with the central aim to respond to the uniqueness of each community. Consequently, the CfW is designed to be a responsive and flexible curriculum centred on four purposes, six Areas of Learning and Experience and cross-curricular skills. Within the parameters of this framework, schools are encouraged to co-construct their own curriculum according to the needs of their community, engaging with, listening to and acting upon the voice of the community within its development. As a result, each school is encouraged to embrace and respond to their unique cynefin within the co-construction of their curriculum.

Participative rights

Children’s rights are a set of entitlements with moral and legal underpinnings, which are outlined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), a widely accepted global policy on children’s rights. In Wales, children’s rights have been embedded in legislation and policy. One of the underpinning principles of the UNCRC is a participation right (Article 12), a more nuanced understanding of which is to involve children and young people in making decisions, to have voice, be heard, be involved and to make choices that are responded to or acted on (Chicken & Tyrie, 2023). This is encapsulated in Lundy’s (2007) model (Figure 1) wherein four key elements of Article 12 are found: Space, Voice, Audience and Influence.

Figure 1. The ‘Voice’ model. Lundy (2007) shows the four factors that allow the involvement of children in decision-making in connections with Article 12 of the UNCRC

Participation rights in Wales: can we do it?

At first glance, the CfW embraces children’s participative rights through an active exploration of the individual stories (voices) and multiple histories that make up their school community. Consequently, cynefin and the CfW embody the central tenet of participation, that of ‘listening’ to children. Nevertheless, reflecting on Lundy’s four-part model (2007) it may be that the exploration of cynefin within the curriculum satisfies only three out of the four categories, in as much that children and young people may be given space, voice and an audience with their individual stories, but the influence to affect change with these stories may be missing.

‘While the CfW and cynefin have the potential to fully support children’s participation rights, without a transition to participative pedagogy and ongoing support for all involved, this cannot be taken for granted.’

The CfW framework has been designed so that schools (and their communities) have a large part in creating their own curriculum. Nonetheless, there remain several issues within this concept. First, Gatley (2020) notes a lack of internal coherence within the CfW which, unless understood, may impact the successful co-construction of an effective curriculum. Second, the co-construction of the curriculum is dependent upon a degree of teacher participation not previously seen within Welsh curricular development, which may require ongoing and continuous professional development to succeed (Donaldson, 2015). Finally, in addition to teacher agency, parental and child agency are fundamental. This requires the social construction of the child as ‘competent’, to fulfil the final requirement of ‘influence’ within Lundy’s model.

While familiar within early years pedagogy, the degree of agency necessary within Lundy’s model (to enact Space, Voice, Audience and Influence) may be an unfamiliar concept for many parents and teachers (Chicken & Tyrie, 2023) and so may require a significant paradigm shift for those involved. Consequently, while the CfW and cynefin have the potential to fully support children’s participation rights, without a transition to participative pedagogy and ongoing support for all involved, this cannot be taken for granted.


Chapman, S., Ellis, R., Beauchamp, G. et al. (2023). ‘My picture is not in Wales’: Pupils’ perceptions of cynefin (Belonging) in primary school curriculum development in Wales, Education 3-13, 51(8), 1214–1228.

Chicken, S., & J. Tyrie. (2023). Can you hear me? Problematising the enactment of UNCRC Article 12 in Welsh Early Years Classrooms, exploring the challenges of ‘children’s voice’. The International Journal of Children’s Rights, 31(2), 301–325.

Donaldson, G. (2015). Successful futures: Independent review of curriculum and assessment arrangements in Wales.  

Gatley, J. (2020). Can the new Welsh Curriculum achieve its purposes? Curriculum Journal, 31(2), 202–214. 

Lundy, L. (2007). ‘Voice’ is not enough: Conceptualising Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. British Educational Research Journal, 33(6), 927–942. 

Swadener, B. B. (2020). Introduction: Young children’s participation rights. In J. Murray, B. B. Swadener, & K. Smith (Eds.), The Routledge international handbook of young children’s rights. Routledge.