04 SES 07 A, Envisioning Inclusion: Transnational Perspectives
Wales is currently undergoing the most significant changes to its education system since political devolution to the then National Assembly for Wales in 1999. Previously, Wales has followed the direction of England in curriculum policy, being subject to various iterations of the prescriptive National Curriculum. Since 2015, Wales has been developing a new purpose-led curriculum (Donaldson, 2015), in line with international trends towards school autonomy, in determining curricular content, child-centred pedagogy and a focus on so-called “21st century” competencies (OECD, 2020). Alongside various system-level reforms (Welsh Government, 2020b), the new curriculum is committed to providing high-quality, inclusive education for young people in Wales. The final version of the new Curriculum for Wales was published in January 2020 (Welsh Government, 2020a), with a phased start for learners from September 2022.
The changes centre around the dual development of the Curriculum for Wales and the Additional Learning Needs (ALN) system — a new statutory support system for children and young people aged 0-25 with a learning difficulty or disability. The ALN system will be enacted by September 2021 (Welsh Government, 2018a). This paper investigates the alignment and coherency between these major -— but distinct — education reforms, and critically evaluates the visibility and integration of ALN into the curriculum more broadly, from both an emerging policy and practice perspective.
Whereas the current system has been criticised for being segmented and inconsistent (Chaney, 2012), the new ALN system will bring together early years (pre-3 years old), 3-16, and further education (16+) to create a unified system for ages 0-25. This aims to provide greater consistency and continuity in provision, and ensures that rights are protected regardless of the severity or complexity of needs (Welsh Government, 2018b). This change comes alongside international efforts in developing inclusive school cultures in order to raise achievement for all children (EASNIE, 2018). However, whilst the new ALN system in Wales focuses on support for individuals with identified ALNs, it currently does not place focus on the need for inclusive education for every child.
Therefore, it is necessary to look at the curriculum context in order to question how the needs of all children are met within the Welsh education system. In order for a curriculum to be inclusive, Norwich (2008) argues that the following is needed for both mainstream and special education: “same general aims, different pathways/teaching approaches; same areas and pathways/programmes, different teaching approaches; same general teaching approaches with some differentiation” (Norwich, 2008); it is through this lens that we focus on a national case study of Wales.
The new Welsh curriculum is set up in a way that should allow these goals to be met with the same aims and programmes running across the mainstream and special sector. Furthermore, it aims to provide practitioners with the autonomy and agency to adapt both their content and delivery to provide the differentiation needed to create an inclusive classroom, with the potential to create truly inclusive teaching practices across the curriculum.
Consequently, it appears that between the two major reforms there is the potential for creating a more inclusive system whereby individual needs are catered for within a flexible national curriculum. However, what remains unclear is whether these reforms have been designed or implemented in a way which will allow the wider education system in Wales to function as desired. Therefore, using evidence from relevant policy documents and interviews with key stakeholders, this paper critically evaluates the potential opportunities and challenges of Wales’ education system reforms and any discontinuity — perceived or real — between the new curriculum and ALN system in Wales.
Practitioners have played a key role in shaping the new curriculum through a co-construction process via a “Pioneer” schools model (Power, Newton & Taylor, 2020). This aims to increase agency and autonomy over how and what they choose to teach; as a result, practitioners will have the scope to tailor their local curricula to meet the needs and interests of every learner. Furthermore, this co-construction approach has deviated from the prevalent curriculum policy reform process in the UK, with practitioners now involved as active curriculum policy-makers (Crick & Priestley, 2019; Crick & Golding, 2020), alongside subject experts, academics, policy officials, industry and third sector representatives. Thus two complementary research methods were utilised in order to examine the continuity and coherence of education reform in Wales. Firstly, document analysis of relevant policy literature and related secondary data was conducted in order to determine the coherence between policy and published guidance for practitioners. This analysis provided insight and understanding into the level of alignment between the reforms, and especially whether the documentation relating to the reforms appears to be intended as ‘stand-alone’. Secondly, semi-structured interviews were conducted with key stakeholders within the education reform process in Wales. These interviewees were selected in order to examine two broad themes: process and practicality. Thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006) was utilised to determine key themes in the interview data. Process: Individuals involved in the development of the reforms were interviewed in order to better understand the processes that took place during the design and implementation of the two distinct reforms. This included policy leads in the Welsh Government, ALN "transformation leads" within the four regional education consortia in Wales, as well as practitioners directly involved in the co-construction of the new curriculum. Practicality: In order to determine whether the two reforms will work together in practice, practitioners and ALN coordinators in schools were interviewed about their perception of the reforms, its pace, alignment and overall coherence, and how they would work in practice from 2021 onwards.
Building on recent work (Knight & Crick, forthcoming), the results indicate that the new curriculum and ALN reforms have the potential to offer significant progression towards a truly inclusive education system in Wales. However, a number of themes emerge from the data that suggest there are a number of challenges that may prevent this from being realised in practice, in both the short and medium term. Furthermore, the cross-party political support for the various system-level reforms over the past four years may potentially be tested as we move into electioneering for the Welsh Parliament in May 2021. From investigating the process by which the reforms were designed and developed, it appears that there are clear concerns over the alignment and coherency between the two systems; this is also supported by the findings from the detailed analysis of the policy documents. Furthermore, data from practitioners shows concerns over expertise in both subject knowledge and inclusive teaching pedagogies (Crick & Golding, 2020; Power, Newton & Taylor, 2020). Through this critical evaluation of an emerging national case study of education system reform in Wales, with a focus on the gap between the aspiration, policy, and reality of inclusive education, we will also identify a number of recommendations across policy and practice — alongside ongoing changes to initial teacher education, professional learning and school leadership (Harris, Jones & Crick, 2020) — to provide the foundation for portability to other regions and jurisdictions.
Braun, V. & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77-101. Chaney, P. (2012). Additional learning needs policy in the devolved polities of the UK: a systems perspective. Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, 12(1), 28-36 Crick, T. & Golding, T. (2020). Building a New National Curriculum for Wales: Practitioners as Curriculum Policy Makers. 33rd International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement (ICSEI 2020), Marrakesh, Morocco Crick, T. & Priestley, M. (2019). Co-construction of a national curriculum: the role of teachers as curriculum policy makers in Wales. European Conference on Educational Research (ECER 2019), symposium: “Teachers as policymakers: the co-construction of national curriculum policy”, Hamburg, Germany Donaldson, G. (2015). Successful Futures: Independent Review of Curriculum and Assessment Arrangements in Wales. Cardiff: Welsh Government. Available at: https://gov.wales/successful-futures-review-curriculum-and-assessment-arrangements EASNIE: European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education (2018). Key Actions for Raising Achievement: Guidance for Teachers and Leaders. Available at: https://www.european-agency.org/sites/default/files/Key%20Actions%20for%20Raising%20Achievement.pdf Harris, A., Jones, M. & Crick, T. (2020). Curriculum leadership: a critical contributor to school and system improvement. School Leadership & Management, 40(1), 1–4 Knight, C. & Crick, T. (to appear, 2021). The Role of Culture and Context in Shaping an Inclusive Curriculum: A Case Study of Wales. ECNU Review of Education, special issue on “Childhood, Curriculum and Culture in Diverse Contexts” Norwich, B. (2008). Special schools: What future for special schools and inclusion? Conceptual and professional perspectives. British Journal of Special Education, 35(3), 136-143 OECD (2020). Achieving the New Curriculum for Wales. Paris. Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Available at: http://www.oecd.org/publications/achieving-the-new-curriculum-for-wales-4b483953-en.htm Power, S., Newton, N., & Taylor, C. (2020). ‘Successful futures’ for all in Wales? The challenges of curriculum reform for addressing educational inequalities. The Curriculum Journal, 31(2), 317-333 Welsh Government (2018a). Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act. Available at: https://gov.wales/additional-learning-needs-and-education-tribunal-wales-act Welsh Government (2018b). Additional learning needs (ALN) transformation programme. Department for Education and Skills. Available at: https://gov.wales/sites/default/files/publications/2018-09/additional-learning-needs-aln-transformation-programme-v2.pdf Welsh Government (2020a). Curriculum for Wales. Available at: https://hwb.gov.wales/curriculum-for-wales Welsh Government (2020b). Education in Wales — Our national mission: update October 2020. Available at: https://gov.wales/education-wales-our-national-mission-update-october-2020-html
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