The current curriculum reforms in Wales (Welsh Government, 2020) represent a significant shift in thinking and organisation. As well as the introduction of the ‘four purposes’ to drive curriculum development, and areas of learning and experience (AoLEs) as curriculum organisers, one of the most significant changes as recommended in Donaldson (2015), was the abolition of key stages and the introduction of progression steps that would signal staging posts in a ‘well-grounded, nationally described as continuum of learning ’(Donaldson, 2015, p. 53).
The CAMAU research project is a joint venture between the University of Wales Trinity St David and the University of Glasgow (Hayward et al., 2018), part funded by the Welsh government, to support the development of ideas about progression in learning with Welsh educators who were tasked with drafting the new curriculum framework. With our work underpinned by the integrity model of change (Hayward & Spencer, 2010), a team of researchers worked with each of the six AoLE groups through a multistage process designed to both support their emerging thinking and learn about the process of current curriculum development.
The authors drew from their experience working alongside teachers within the humanities AoLE and (in a new article in a special issue of the Curriculum Journal) have reported on four tensions identified through the process of developing a progression model for the new curriculum (Hughes, Makara, & Stacey, 2020). It is hoped that sharing these will not only contribute to the current reform discussions in Wales, but also to greater understanding more broadly of issues in the conceptualisation of learning progression within the humanities disciplines.
The first tension identified was between progression organised by subject discipline as opposed to a multi- or inter-disciplinary approach – for example, whether to conceptualise progression separately within disciplines such as geography and history, in relation to humanities-wide skills and knowledge, or some combination of the two. The second tension was in the balance between progression in knowledge, skills and values. This was especially important given the decision to arrange the curriculum within AoLEs using ‘statements of what matters’. The third was in identifying a model to adopt for learning progressions. While educators found it easy to identify issues with the current levels-based system, it was harder to identify a new way of signalling progression within what was sometimes described as a ‘spiral curriculum’. The final tension lies in balancing the complexity of learning with practical considerations for a national curriculum. The implications for changes in culture and professional habits are considerable. As teachers increasingly take some responsibility for school-level curriculum design, the assessment system shifts focus towards supporting future learning (rather than summarising what has gone before). Therefore, collaborative professional learning and an understanding of learning progression will become increasingly important.
‘For a new approach focussed on learning progressions to be sustainable, the next phase of curriculum development must balance educational, personal and professional, and systematic integrity.’
While there are no ‘right answers to resolving these four identified tensions, for a new approach focussed on learning progressions to be sustainable, the next phase of curriculum development must balance educational, personal and professional, and systematic integrity (Hayward & Spencer, 2010). To achieve this, professional learning will be key. Teachers will need to understand the tensions that exist in relation to how one conceptualises learning within their discipline, how the new progression frameworks differ to previous models, and the purposes to which they will be put.
The importance of an understanding of progression in the development of the school-level curriculum cannot be underestimated, and our work so far suggests that time and careful engagement with not only national policy but also a new way of engaging with children’s work will be needed to shift thinking away from ‘proving’ performance and towards ‘improving learning. Questions remain about the best way to develop shared understanding of progression at a finer level of detail, and to ensure that the nationally described descriptions of learning continue to be empirically tested and, if necessary, revised. If teachers do not comprehend the goals of the new curriculum then their efforts to ‘implement’ it will invariably fall back on existing practices and ways of thinking (Priestley, 2017).
This blog is based on the article ‘Learning progression in the humanities: identifying tensions in articulating progression in humanities in Wales‘ by Sioned Hughes, Kara Makara and Dave Stacey, published in a new special issue of the Curriculum Journal on ‘Re-educating the nation? The development of a new curriculum for Wales’, published in both English and Welsh.
Donaldson, G. (2015). Successful futures: Independent review of curriculum and assessment arrangements in Wales. Cardiff: Welsh Government. Retrieved from https://gov.wales/sites/default/files/publications/2018-03/successful-futures.pdf
Hayward, L., Jones, D., Waters, J., et al. (2018). CAMAU Project: Research Report (April 2018). Glasgow & Lampeter: University of Glasgow & University of Wales, Trinity Saint David. Retrieved from http://eprints.gla.ac.uk/163362/1/163362.pdf
Hayward., L., & Spencer, E. (2010). The complexities of change: Formative assessment in Scotland, Curriculum Journal, 21(2), 161–177.
Hughes, S., Makara, K., & Stacey, D. (2020). Learning progression in the humanities: Identifying tensions in articulating progression in humanities in Wales. Curriculum Journal, 31(2), 276–289. http://doi.org/10.1002/curj.28
Priestley, M. (2017). Approaches to specifying areas of learning. Stirling: Stirling Network for Curriculum Studies.
Welsh Government (2020). Curriculum for Wales. Retrieved from: https://hwb.gov.wales/curriculum-for-wales