Raising Standards Together

Education in Wales: Our national mission

Speech by the Cabinet Secretary for Education Kirsty Williams.

National Mission Launch Speech

Intro

Noswaith dda pawb – Good evening everyone. Thank you all for taking the time to be here tonight.

Firstly, I’d like to give a personal thanks to our MC for the evening, Owen Evans.

As many of you might know, this is one of the final public events in Owen’s last week in Government as Deputy Permanent Secretary, before he joins S4C as Chief Executive.

Personally, since joining Government I have benefitted from his wise counsel, can-do attitude and always positive approach to even the most challenging issues.

And he’s always ready with a recommendation for a good restaurant or place to visit – even if that does include heavy metal venues from Aberystwyth to Helsinki!

Seriously, he has overseen many changes in education in the last few years and will leave big shoes to fill. Diolch, Owen.

Working together

In Welsh education, we are building on strong foundations.

The global experts on education performance, the OECD, recently recognised that government and the sector are working closely together. And that there is a commitment to improvement ‘visible at all levels of the education system’.

Therefore, our action plan – Education in Wales: Our National Mission – is not a document that’s been cooked up in a back-office somewhere in Cathays Park.

It’s the result of being open to ideas, feedback and review.

  • The international expert community, including the OECD, that’s helping to shape leadership development, our focus on well-being and professional learning opportunities;
  • Our pioneers working in partnership on the curriculum and making huge strides in digital competency;
  • Our partners in Estyn, the Unions, the Consortia, Qualifications Wales and the Education Workforce Council making crucial contributions to a genuine self-improving system;
  • And most importantly parents and learners themselves, with teachers, demanding the very best from our education system.

This is why we describe these education reforms as a national mission.

We have a collective responsibility to raise standards, reduce the attainment gap and deliver a system that is a source of genuine national pride and public confidence.

Schools are having to prepare our young people for jobs that have not yet been created and challenges that we are yet to encounter.

Quite frankly – at a learner, school and national level – education has never been more important.

National mission

However, the idea of education as a national mission is not completely new, or mine alone.

In fact, the Royal Charter that established our venue this evening – as a National Museum – set out the objective of “advancement of the education of the public, by comprehensive representation of science, art, industry, history and culture of, or relevant to, Wales.”

Fine sentiments I’m sure you’ll agree.

But our 21st century national mission of education reform is not about grand Edwardian buildings or creating new institutions.

It’s about something far more important.

It’s about setting – and achieving – the very highest expectations for our young people, for our teaching profession and for our country.

This institution, the national library and others were the architecture of nation-building in late 19th and early 20th century Wales.

We now have the opportunity to be a new generation of nation-builders.

And it’s happening right across the country - through our pioneer schools, international experts, universities, business and third sector community.

And I’m delighted that we will hear directly two of our pioneers, Elan from Dyffryn Conwy, and Luke from Cadoxton, later this evening. It’s also great that Ian Fordham from Microsoft is here, who has been working with us as we lead the way on digital competency.

You – We - are building a transformational national curriculum and education system.

With a renewed commitment to improving both the knowledge and skills of our young people, we will raise standards across the board.

Already we have much to be proud of.

But there is recognition that, together, we can be even better.

Today marks a crucial point on that journey.

We’ve reflected on the OECD’s clear advice to us as a Government.

Stay the course, but do more to communicate and clarify. Focus on leadership and deliver a new curriculum in a timely manner.

I know from my meetings and visits right across the nation that there is much shared optimism. There is much world-class practice. There is much we’re getting right. And countries around the world are paying attention to our innovation and progress.

But I also know that there have also been some myths and misinformation about the new curriculum and how it’ll be developed and delivered.

Our action plan is clear about the way forward.

Curriculum

I have taken the time to reflect on those conversations with teachers, parents, educators and unions, and the challenge and advice from the scrutiny committee in the Assembly for example.

It is right that we roll-out the new curriculum rather than introduce it as a big bang overnight one September. International evidence is clear on this.

But we must also provide the right preparation time for schools and teachers.

Not time to stand still, but time to provide feedback, further engage with the new curriculum and be fully prepared for the new approach.

So, work on the AOLEs continues at pace and I’d like to thank all involved for their commitment, innovation and energy.
The new curriculum and assessment arrangements will be available for schools to feedback, test and refine in Easter 2019.

Following that period, all schools will have access to the final curriculum from 2020, allowing them to get fully ready and prepared for statutory roll-out in September 2022.

And as I just said, our approach will be a roll-out rather than a big bang.

Therefore it will be introduced from nursery to Year 7 in 2022, rolling into Year 8 for 2023, Year 9 in 2024 and so on as each cohort moves through.

So, just as democratic devolution is often described as a process not an event, the same is true of curriculum reform.
As the OECD said in its recent review: “To support the realisation of its education objectives and ultimately its vision of the Welsh learner, Wales should continue its curriculum reform… ensuring that its reform journey is comprehensive and effective.”

Let me be clear.

Together, we will deliver on our new curriculum, taking the time to get it absolutely right.

But, building in that extra time – through roll-out and an extra year – doesn’t mean slowing down.
It means we will deliver on those connected priorities that are essential to maintaining high standards, and setting even higher ambitions.

  • Ensuring a high-quality education profession;
  • Identifying and inspiring leaders to raise standards;
  • Inclusive schools dedicated to excellence, equity and well-being;
  • And, improved robust assessment, evaluation and accountability within a self-improving system.

Standards & attainment gap

I’m not going to take up time going through a long list of policies and actions here this evening.

But those who know me, who work in the department perhaps or have spoken to me during my time as Minister, will know that ensuring that each and every learner has the same chance to reach the highest standards is at the very heart of my personal mission in this job.

And it’s now at the heart of our national mission for education.

As an opposition leader in the Assembly – in budget negotiations - I focused on securing the Pupil Deprivation Grant.
In Government I have prioritised increasing and extending that support – through the renamed Pupil Development Grant - for our learners from more disadvantaged backgrounds.

We can always do more, but we are reducing the attainment gap and there are countless stories from parents and teachers about how the PDG has opened up transformative opportunities and experiences.

Our action plan brings that same commitment to raising standards for all.

It is fundamental that we support a high-quality teaching profession, prioritising on-going professional learning and strong leadership, which sets and delivers on high expectations for our learners, schools and whole system.

And part of those high expectations will involve a model of assessment and evaluation for schools that will clearly identify what schools are accountable for and that focuses on improvement at all levels.  I will be saying more on this in the next few weeks.

We will work together to deliver on this national mission.

As a government, and as a minister, you have my guarantee that we will invest in those priorities and open up opportunities for leaders and teachers.

But as we empower teachers, leaders and support staff to take a lead, I will not accept any lowering of ambitions.

Many of you will have heard my concerns over the last year about issues around BTEC science numbers, blanket use of GCSE early entry and the unintended consequences of focusing too much on that C grade boundary and not aiming higher and stretching those capable of more.

I won’t repeat those arguments again here.

But I am unashamed in saying that we must combine equity with excellence.

I’m confident that we are working together to address certain practices that lowered expectations and gamed the system.

If we are always committed to putting the interest of the learner first – and ensuring they can reach their potential – then we won’t go far wrong.

That’s my guiding principle. And I know it’s one that motivated every teacher on their journey from the training college to the classroom.

It is also a commitment shared across Government, as set out in our national strategy – Prosperity for All – that the First Minister launched last week. Our focus is on building a Wales that is both ambitious and learning.

Conclusion

We now have to grasp with both hands the opportunity to create something that will be envy of the world.

Our national mission belongs to each and every learner, parent, teacher and leader in Wales.

Taken together, our reforms will meet the challenges ahead and deliver on the high expectations we all share for our young people.

These are exciting times for education in Wales.

A shared mission to inspire healthy, enterprising confident young people, equipped with the knowledge and skills the need now and for the future.

It won’t always be easy. Perhaps it’ll never be easy.

But anything that we achieve cheaply, we know is worth less celebration. 

Satisfaction will come through even higher standards, better futures for our young people, and recognition from parents, business and the international community that Wales is leading the way.

Our innovative approach – and willingness to work and learn with the best in the world is already attracting attention.
But we can achieve even more. We are learning from the best so that we can be even better.

And we are doing it the Welsh Way.

  • Combining equity with excellence;
  • Being open to challenge and advice; and
  • Working together to raise standards for all.

There has never been a better time to be involved in Welsh education.

Now is the time to make a difference.

Together we can achieve our national mission.

Diolch yn Fawr.

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