Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Successful Futures

I woke up this morning to the news that there is to be a "radical national curriculum overhaul proposed for Wales". Professor Graham Donaldson today published his report titled 'Successful Futures', the result of almost a year long review into the curriculum and assessment in Wales.

A lot of radical and exciting changes recommended, with much for educators in Wales to mull over and discuss in the coming months during a period being called, 'the great debate'. I've only really just scanned over the 124 page document, but here are some of the headlines I've picked out:

- Six new areas of learning and experience from 3 to 16:
Expressive Arts
Health and Well Being
Languages, Literacy and Communication
Mathematics and Numeracy
Science and Technology

- The current separation of the curriculum into phases and key stages should be removed. Statutory schooling should be seen as a coherent and progressive whole, including the move between primary and secondary sectors.

- Progression Steps should be identified within each Area of Learning and Experience at three-yearly intervals over the period of statutory education.

-  Literacy, numeracy and digital competence should be the responsibility of all teachers. These are so fundamental to thinking, learning and life that they should be developed and reinforced across the curriculum as a whole.

Digital Competency Framework
Interestingly yesterday's blog finished with the question of whether Prof. Donaldson would take on board the findings of the ICT Steering Group Report or do something slightly different? The clear answer is that he has agreed with the recommendations in the report, in fact the main headlines on the news reports I've seen this morning have mainly mentioned how digital competency should be equally as important literacy and numeracy. I'm particularly happy that the Professor is using the term 'digital competency' and not 'digital literacy'. As I mentioned at the end of this blog post from last year, "Digital Literacy: the context for Wales and definitions", I particularly like the term digital competence as digital literacy, in my opinion, is a slightly ambiguous term.

So, let's pull out some key phrases from the report that refer to digital competency:
"Digital competence is increasingly fundamental to learning and life and that it should have similar status within the curriculum to that of literacy and numeracy." (pg. 40)
"The Review therefore recommends that literacy, numeracy and digital competence should be Cross-curriculum Responsibilities for all teachers and people who work with children and young people." (pg. 40)
"The ability to use digital technology skills creatively is an increasingly common feature of the modern workplace, for example for developing simulated models that test out ideas safely and inexpensively or when using complex medical equipment that needs to be reprogrammed to match the patient’s individual needs." (Pg. 41)
"A digital competence progression framework and an accompanying ‘Routes to Learning Digital Competence’ would need to be developed, taking account of the recommendations of the ICT report. Different aspects would be included and highlighted within the most relevant Areas of Learning and Experience, for example within Languages, literacy and communication for aspects relating to language and communication, and Science and technology for scientific interfacing, data handling and process design." (Pg. 41)
The actual recommendations are:
6. Children and young people should have their learning developed across the curriculum through three Cross-curriculum Responsibilities that should be the responsibility of all teachers: literacy; numeracy; and digital competence
7. A digital competence framework and an accompanying ‘Routes to Learning Digital Competence’ should be developed and be included as a Cross-curriculum Responsibility. 

Computer Science
Interestingly I can't see a reference to the word Computing being used instead of ICT, which was one of the recommendations of the ICT Steering Group. Under the new Area of Learning and Experience called 'Science and Technology' we are introduced to 'computer science' only:
"(T)he introduction of computer science – spanning, for example, the kinds of thinking skills used in computation (including analysis, use of algorithms and problem solving), design and modelling, and developing, implementing and testing digital solutions." (Pg. 51)
"The Science and technology Area of Learning and Experience will draw on physics, chemistry and biology, engineering, design technology (food, textiles, resistant materials), craft, design, graphics and, importantly, computer science.." (Pg. 51)
So distilling the information from above into something my brain can handle, here's my simple basic interpretation:
- a new Digital Competency Framework that should be the cross curriculum responsibility of all teachers, and have similar status within the curriculum to that of literacy and numeracy
- computer science would sit in the new Area of Learning and Experience called Science and Technology.

Initial Thoughts and Comments
I'm going to need far more time to read thoroughly through this report to get to grips with everything Prof. Donaldson has proposed, but there are some initial questions and thoughts that come to mind:

- This is certainly a far reaching report and if fully accepted, in my opinion would fundamentally change education in Wales for the better, especially in the use of digital technologies.
- Teacher CPD will need to be addressed. The Digital Competency Framework will now place emphasis on all teachers applying digital skills across all curriculum areas. For example, databases, spreadsheets, modelling and simulation have long been problem areas, as reported by Estyn. Something will need to be done to improve skills and confidence in these areas (and others), and also by providing help in spotting the appropriate opportunities to apply the skills in the curriculum. 
- Teacher CPD to support computer science. England brought in computer science elements into their new Computing PoS in September 2014 and there have been several reports saying that many of the schools are not confident in effectively teaching this aspect.
- Are there enough available digital technologies in some schools to support the Digital Competency Framework? For instance, if a primary school of about 220 pupils has a set of 15 laptops and a small number of slate/tablet devices, can they effectively support the framework if teachers only have access to them for possibly half a day a week? 
- Where do the digital skills get taught? This is possibly more an issue in the secondary phase. Is there a digital skills session that teaches a particular skill and then applied via the framework in a subject area? Or is the subject area ie. history, expected to teach that ICT skill (every teacher being a teacher of Digital Competency, Literacy and Numeracy)? Back to my first comment about teacher CPD needs. 
- What are those digital competency knowledge, skills and attributes that we want to develop? Basic functional skills; effective searching; online collaboration and sharing; finding and analysing data; creating and communicating information; safe, responsible and respectful use of the internet technologies? A lot to 'unpack' there.

All questions and thoughts (and I'm sure there will be an awful lot more) to throw into 'the great debate'. I can't wait, exciting times ahead :-) 

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