This really is a great time to be working in education in Wales. The task of creating a new curriculum following Professor Donaldson’s “Successful Futures” report is exciting, and made more so by the fact that it is practicing teachers themselves who are leading the work. These are the people who know best what needs to be done, and under the guidance of others from both within and beyond Wales, things are beginning to take shape. But we need to be patient. Some of us are old enough to remember the arrival in school of the National Curriculum folders in the late 80s. Then, the curriculum was presented to us as a finished product. This time we are co-constructing it. This brings many challenges, but opportunities too. I am certain we are going to arrive at something special for our young people, something that will be a model for others to look at. And something which is right for Wales.
It is important at this time of change that we are also turning our attention to educational leadership. The launch of the National Academy for Educational Leadership NAEL on May 16th was an important landmark, but this was not day one of the process! A huge amount of work had already gone in to getting things started. Anne Keane was given the responsibility of gathering views and opinions from teachers within Wales, and of looking at other models. A shadow board was established to support and advise. And towards the end of last year, applications were sought from headteachers to be the first cohort of leaders to go through a programme as associates. In the spirit of co-construction, the associates are not only undergoing the training, but are advising on its development and playing a major part in making sure the Academy provides the right opportunities for school leaders in Wales, and furnishes them with the necessary skills and experiences to lead our schools well into the C21.
What will this look like? Although much has been done, it is still early days. The twelve associates have already been working together with a delivery team, and it has been a really positive and refreshing experience for us. Taken from across the four consortia (there are two primary headteachers and one secondary from each), everyone brings a great deal of experience. Though we have different backgrounds, skills and knowledge, it is clear we share a vision for education in Wales which is firmly rooted in a spirit of collaboration and a passion for making our schools the best they can be. We recognise we are in a position of privilege and responsibility, we know we do not have all the answers, but we are all keen to work together, to do the necessary research, to listen to each other, and to others too.
We are lucky to be able to be working not just with each other, but to have the opportunity to engage with a number of people who have extensive knowledge in different areas of education. These include Graham Donaldson, Mick Waters and Lucy Crehan, author of “Cleverlands”, a fascinating book on successful educational systems across the world. Others will be involved as the programme develops.
We will be working on projects in “Communities of Practice”, and we’ll be sharing this work through blogs and reports. This is a great opportunity to develop themes that are important to school leaders across Wales, and to take some quality time to reflect and develop these themes, and share our findings
We will have the opportunity to learn from other educational systems, not to mirror their practice, but rather to see how we can adapt the best parts to our system here in Wales. This is very much part of the ethos which is already established in our new curriculum design work.
We will be looking at leadership outside education, in business, in industry, in sport. We recognise there is a need to look beyond our own comfort zones and experiences if we are to grow as leaders and to develop the best programme for the next cohort of associates to engage with.
We will also be part of a team of system leaders who will help facilitate future programmes in the Academy. In many ways this is the most exciting part of our role, as we seek to build sustainable educational leadership in Wales. Our children need our schools to be the best they can be; this will only be achieved by having the best teachers, working with the best leaders.
As advocates for the Academy, we as associates will be sharing our work as widely as possible through our established networks as well as specific events. Do talk to us about what we’ve been doing, challenge us, and support us. If you have views on how the Academy should develop, let us know. Finally, the next opportunity to apply to be an associate is not far off. Do consider getting involved!
John Kendall, May 2018
(John Kendall is headteacher of Risca Community Comprehensive School in Caerphilly and one of the NAEL associates.)