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The Donaldson Report – A CDSM Perspective (Part 2)

Earlier this year, Welsh Government published a comprehensive, independent review of the curriculum and assessment arrangements in Wales, written by Professor Graham Donaldson. Now, in a two-part series on the Donaldson Report (Successful Futures), CDSM explore the headline findings and provide a context from our perspective as an Education Technologies company based in Wales. In this second post, we’ll look at the implications of the report for teachers, the classroom and technology in the classroom.

happy students in computer class - donaldson report

As already discussed in our first post, at CDSM we feel that we have a huge role to play in the implementation of Donaldson’s recommendations. We broadly support all of the report’s proposals, and strongly believe that it provides the opportunity to make a real difference to future generations in Wales. However, we understand that others may be a bit more tentative. After all, the report represents significant change that can only be achieved with time and, ultimately, teacher re-skilling. Teachers are at the forefront of this change, and so these fears represent very natural reactions.

At CDSM, we believe it’s our duty to support teachers, schools and regional education consortia through this transition. Our innovations in education technology, our understanding of pedagogy, and our commitment to their profession enables us to make teachers’ lives easier and their everyday tasks less time-consuming. We want to be there to aid them in their re-training, always listening for their pressure points and hearing their requirements. We’ve seen, many times, how useful the private sector can be in developing the holistic, niche or bespoke innovation that fulfils a need and ultimately helps teachers, schools and authorities to improve the services they provide. As the supplier of Hwb – which has become the gateway for a centrally-provisioned national toolkit – as well as region-specific services, CDSM is in a privileged position to work at the heart of this historical change.

One of the more profound changes is summed up in Recommendations 6 & 7 of the report:

“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.”

– Successful Futures, page 42

The focus and drive to implement the LNF in recent years has been an all-consuming task for teachers, local authorities and regional education consortia alike. Embedding a digital competence framework across the curriculum promises to be even more challenging. Teachers will need to be able to support the use of digital technologies throughout their lessons, whether they are teaching Drama, History or ICT. We know from experience that not all teachers feel comfortable or equipped to do this, and so again we find ourselves in a position where our services and expertise can make a difference. We’re already working with Welsh technology and teaching professionals to create a training programme that will help to alleviate much of the ongoing concern around this recommendation. Through our technologies, we’ll be facilitating communities of professionals who can support and learn from each other in order to become the teachers this report requires.

schoolboy with laptop and teacher - donaldson report

Although the report goes to lengths to make clear that it does not favour one teaching method over another, it does make some key recommendations about the very nature of the classroom itself. Children and young people want lessons to be more relevant and engaging, with more practical lessons, more fun, more interactivity, and more out-of-classroom activities. We know from a number of studies, including one by the US department of state (summarised in this CDSM infographic), that a blended learning approach has real benefits to learning and retention. In this sense, blended learning is mix of classroom based and non-classroom-based learning (e.g. e-learning).

We aren’t suggesting that Professor Donaldson was specifically advocating e-learning when referencing non-classroom-based learning, but it’s clear that well-constructed learning in this format has a significant role to play, both in adding variety to lessons and homework, and providing different stimuli and challenges for the learner. It’s also an approach that aligns with the Digital Competence Framework, and supports other key recommendations of the report. For example:

“Children and young people should develop their own e-portfolio, possibly including ‘e-badges’, to record key achievements and experiences.”

Successful Futures, page 83

“Significantly better and more creative use should be made of technology in the teaching and learning of Welsh and also modern foreign languages.”

Successful Futures, page 60

The classroom will undoubtedly maintain a physical form for some time yet but, for learners of all ages, it is now well-established in a virtual form too. Learning no longer takes place solely in school or at home, but through all interactions with the digital world. Through Hwb, a learner now has the ability to record that interaction, aggregating the learning seamlessly into an e-portfolio which can be used as both a revision aid and as evidence for assessment/evaluation.

CDSM have a role to play in formative and summative assessment too, with tools that create a variety of testing activities for use in multiple environments. The key differentiator in Hwb is that these tools form a part of the learning and development cycle, engaging the learner as an active participant, rather than simply providing a benchmark on their ability to learn and repeat.

“Testing, both multiple-choice and open-response, is an important element in the repertoire of assessment techniques. Regular classroom testing is a long-established feature of teaching and learning. The construction of tests that do more than focus on recall and simple application is, however, both complex and time-consuming.”

Successful Futures, page 79

“Innovative approaches to assessment, including interactive approaches, should be developed drawing on the increasing potential contribution of digital technology.”

Successful Futures, page 80

Donaldson Report - children in classroom

From a teacher’s perspective, technology already available in Hwb enables the collection of a young person’s learning. It tracks their progress automatically, and provides real-time analysis of achievement. It also offers instant feedback, and can be used to engage parents, carers and other stakeholders in the learning process – something the report cites as important:

“There is likely to be a greater emphasis on recording procedures that enable teachers to keep track of each child and young person’s learning…”

Successful Futures, page 77

“Increased use of digital media should be explored to help to improve the immediacy of feedback to parents and carers and engage them more directly in supporting learning.”

Successful Futures, page 83

Outside of the classroom, CDSM continues to have a responsibility to provide solutions for key stakeholders in our education system. We’re already working with the regional education consortia to provide technological systems and structure for School Improvement and External Verification processes. So, from our point of view, references in the report to assessment and verification are a welcomed inclusion.

“Where the results of assessment are to be used for purposes of comparison, issues of reliability in teacher assessment should be addressed through effective moderation; where the prime purpose of assessment is assessment for learning there is less of a need for reliability between schools.”  

Successful Futures, page 80

Assessment and verification are, without a doubt, important factors in ensuring that the next generation of young people have a consistent and comprehensive education, no matter what part of Wales they are from. In a conversation that has largely focused on curriculum and process modernisation, Professor Donaldson’s highlighting of these less talked about (but equally important) facets will ensure that they receive the attention and consideration they deserve.

If this series of blog posts has one message, it’s that all of us here at CDSM are excited by the changes recommended in the Donaldson Report. We can’t pretend that the transition to a truly forward-thinking education system will be easy, nor can we pretend that it will be quick. However, we can guarantee that we’ll do everything we can to make the transition an engaging, empowering process – one that supports and benefits all of our teachers and learners in Wales.

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The Donaldson Report – A CDSM Perspective (Part 1)

Earlier this year, Welsh Government published a comprehensive, independent review of the curriculum and assessment arrangements in Wales, written by Professor Graham Donaldson. Now, in a two-part series on the Donaldson Report (Successful Futures), CDSM explore the headline findings and provide a context from our perspective as an Education Technologies company based in Wales. In this first post, we’ll look at the task, the principles and some key recommendations, giving our perspective on the intended outcomes.

The Task

Schools Traffic Sign

“In recognition of the potential pitfalls of overload, complexity, and redundancy in the [current] curriculum, the Review was asked to stand back and to take a fundamental look at the ways in which today’s schools can prepare young people for an exciting but uncertain future.”

Successful Futures, page 11

CDSM believe that Wales has to ensure its learners are ready to play a role in the local and national industries that govern the prosperity of the nation. Only a wholesale transformation can make this possible. To try to adapt the 1988 curriculum in piecemeal fashion could add years of frustration to the process.

The Principles

School Science Class - Donaldson Report looking at School Improvement

“The purposes of the curriculum in Wales should be that children 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”

Successful Futures, page 29

While CDSM admit that a broad set of purposes, like these, can be used to say very little, we cannot help but be excited and energised by the focus on creating life-long learners who are well-rounded, worldly and outward focused. For us, it means that the classroom becomes a place of discovery, and an environment where pupils can take a lead in their own learning. It’s a perfect environment for the tools that we work so hard to create to flourish, fulfilling their potential alongside the potential of the students they are helping to teach.

It was impossible for us to overlook the references to inclusion in the report; Wales is leading the way through its adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), and we’re proud to see that this sentiment will be represented throughout the new curriculum proposals. CDSM believe that it’s vital we give our learners a holistic understanding of what it means to have rights and to be protected. This is contiguous with our own commitment to ensuring learner safety and freedom of expression.  

“Principles of curriculum design – the curriculum should be:

Inclusive: easily understood by all, encompassing an entitlement to high-quality education for every child and young person and taking account of their views in the context of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), and those of parents, carers and wider society”

Successful Futures, page 14

CDSM has, for a long time, banged a drum for teachers. We feel that teachers are the best-placed people to make decisions about their classroom. It is their passion, drive and invention that strengthens our education system, always responding to new demands and changes. Our intention is to enable teachers to successfully adapt to those changes, by creating tools that place teacher-generated content at the heart of the classroom. We make aggregation, sharing and collaboration easy and we facilitate networks of professional learning communities, helping the whole of Wales to benefit from established islands of excellence.

We can’t, therefore, fail to be excited by the commitment to subsidiarity, outlined in the report:

“Principles of curriculum design – the curriculum should be:

Based on subsidiarity: commanding the confidence of all, while encouraging appropriate ownership and decision making by those closest to the teaching and learning process.”

Successful Futures, page 14

Key Recommendations

School Classroom - Children and Teacher - Donaldson Report looking at School Improvement

“A digital competence framework and an accompanying ‘Routes to Learning Digital Competence’ should be developed and be included as a Cross-curriculum Responsibility.” 

Successful Futures, page 42

This recommendation is hugely welcomed by CDSM. As an SME based in South Wales that strives to recruit the best and brightest software developers from local schools and universities, the commitment to improving the levels of digital competence – not just in terms of using software, but in terms of becoming an active participant in the discovery and creation of tomorrow’s technological breakthrough – cannot be underestimated.

The Reception

School Classroom - children with hands up - Donaldson Report looking at School Improvement

It’s worth noting that the Donaldson Report has received near-universal support from our politicians and, although no concrete timelines have been announced, the feeling is that we should expect an ambitious timetable leading to implementation before 2020.

“We need a curriculum which is ambitious, engaging and fit for the challenges of the twenty first century. The national curriculum of 1988 has served an important purpose, but we can no longer address the weaknesses of the current curriculum through a ‘patch and mend’ approach.”

– Huw Lewis, Education Minister, July 2015

CDSM has a huge role to play in the realisation of the Donaldson Report. It’s potentially the biggest and most profound change in our education system in living memory and, crucially, it  represents the ambitious, forward-thinking and diverse framework we need. From the perspective of a learning technologies company based in Wales, with a vested interest in our young people, it’s as much as we could have asked for – and we can’t wait to get started.

In the second of this two-part series on the Donaldson Report, we’ll look into the report’s implications for teachers, the classroom and technology in the classroom. To make sure you don’t miss it, follow us and subscribe.

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