Implementing the Donaldson Review in Wales

Electoral Reform Society,

Posted on the 16th June 2015

Following the announcement by Education minister Huw Lewis that the Donaldson Review would be implemented in full, our education adviser Rhodri Griffiths examines the Donaldson Review on Education in Wales and asks: ‘how can young people become informed citizens of Wales and the world?’

Welsh Government’s decision to accept the findings and implement the recommendations of Professor Donaldson’s review in full, is welcomed by ERS Cymru. The decision to do so provides an exciting opportunity for those involved in education in Wales to play a prominent role, in shaping an education system with a clear purpose and vision appropriate to the future needs of our pupils and young people in Wales.

The proposals flowing from the Review are radical and fundamental, and imply deep and enduring change. There are positive endorsements of Welsh Government policy, particularly in relation to the Foundation Phase, the Welsh Baccalaureate and the Numeracy and Literacy Framework; and there are criticisms and strong messages for Welsh Government. This adds to the Review’s credibility.

Professor Donaldson and his team of advisers bring great experience and authority to this review, and have produced a constructive and compelling argument for the need for change. The Review’s recommendations are well-substantiated throughout, with evidence from independent research from Wales and beyond, with international examples from education systems worldwide. In addition, reference is made to a number of existing and forthcoming Welsh Government publications and reviews.

Donaldson talks of the need for a far more inclusive approach to curriculum change, working with teachers in partnership to develop a curriculum, which is attractive and engaging for learners and provides the breadth and balance for all of our pupil’s aspirations. He calls for Welsh Government to be more trusting and ‘hands-off’, to be less focused on short-term priorities, and more focused on the purposes of education itself and the long-term vision for education in Wales. Donaldson calls for a radical overhaul of assessment, and for teachers to have the flexibility to be more creative in the classroom with greater opportunity for professional development.

The scale of the changes will take time to implement and Donaldson calls for education to be taken out of the political limelight and for all political parties in Wales to commit to this reform programme.

‘Experience from elsewhere suggests a long-term plan – both Northern Ireland and Scotland have been engaged in their reform programmes for a decade. Building a robust basis of support across all stakeholders and political parties is key if Wales is to achieve the sort of sustained and sustainable approach to change necessary to underpin these proposals.’
Successful Futures: Independent Review of Curriculum and Assessment Arrangements in Wales (Donaldson Page 93)

It is gratifying that the Welsh Government has put their faith in Professor Donaldson and his team, and it is now time to develop, under his steer, a carefully phased-in, inclusive and comprehensive implementation plan for his recommendations. This implementation plan should be inclusive, working with all those charged with delivery to create a high quality and transformative education system for the pupils and young people of Wales.

For Donaldson, ‘a central theme in the Review has been the need to be clear about the overall purposes that the curriculum is seeking to serve.’ It is a compelling statement and Donaldson identifies four key purposes:

The purposes of the curriculum in Wales should be that pupils and young people develop as:

  • Ambitious, capable learners, ready to learn throughout their lives
  • Enterprising, creative contributors, ready to play a full part in life and work
  • Ethical, informed citizens of Wales and the world
  • Healthy, confident individuals, ready to lead fulfilling lives as valued members of society.

It is the third and fourth purpose which carries greatest resonance with the Electoral Reform Society Cymru. How can pupils and young people in Wales become ‘ethical, informed citizens of Wales and the world’ and ‘lead fulfilling lives as valued members of society’ without an understanding of how democracy and the different levels of democracy affect them in Wales?

Furthermore, there are further questions in light of the announcement in the St. David’s Day agreement, to potentially extend the franchise to young people from the age of 16. Do we have in place in Wales an education system which equips pupils and young people with the necessary understanding of democracy, democratic values and democratic processes to feel confident enough to exercise their right to vote?

ERS Cymru believe that few teachers in Wales would argue against the need for pupils and young people to understand how democracy affects them, but there is unease about political education. This is understandable but ultimately risks leading to inertia. Working with pupils and young people is a privilege. It carries the responsibility of encouraging and developing young minds without influencing and indoctrinating. It requires great skill and knowledge, and is something that Donaldson acknowledges in terms of the need for highly skilled teachers.

And Donaldson has strong views on citizenship quite correctly stating that

‘Our children and young people need to be rooted in their own cultures and to have a strong sense of identity as citizens of Wales, the United Kingdom, Europe and the wider world. Engaged citizenship requires the kind of understanding of democracy, human rights, interdependence, sustainability and social justice that should inform their personal views and sense of commitment. Children and young people need an ability to deal with difficult and contested ethical issues such as those that can arise from developments in science and digital technologies. Active citizenship requires the confidence and resilience that underpin the ability to exert influence and participate in vigorous debate. That confidence should be built on a strong base of knowledge and respect for evidence.’
Successful Futures: Independent Review of Curriculum and Assessment Arrangements in Wales (Donaldson Page 28)

The existing curriculum in Wales provides opportunity for pupils and young people to study ‘Active Citizenship’ but ERS Cymru believes that there needs to be a more explicit understanding of democracy and democratic processes if all pupils and young people in Wales are to engage more effectively in politics and become ‘ethical, informed citizens of Wales and the world ready to lead fulfilling lives as valued members of society.’

If we are to use electoral registration and voter turnout for 18 to 24 year olds as an indication of this level of understanding and engagement, then there is an even greater need to consider how this knowledge of democracy can be more effectively delivered in our education system.

Welsh Government’s acceptance of the findings and recommendations of the Donaldson Review provides us with an opportunity to consider how we develop an understanding and interest in politics and democracy for future generations.

Rhodri Griffiths is a former teacher, the Electoral Reform Society Cymru education adviser, a former member of the Welsh Government’s Education for Sustainable Development & Global Citizenship Panel, and former education adviser for Oxfam Cymru.

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