National curriculum guidelines will give Welsh education a more distinct identity. Biddy Passmore reports.
WALES IS increasingly following its own distinct educational path.
New national curriculum documents for Wales, sent out to schools and local authorities last week after their approval by the Welsh Assembly in January, contain ample proof of a more flexible approach.
Just as there is no literacy or numeracy hour in Wales, so there is no longer a recommended list of great authors in the revised curriculum for English at key stage 3.
While 11 to 14-year-olds in England must study pre-1914 authors chosen from a statutory list - including boy-friendly writers such as Sherlock Holmes creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - their counterparts in Wales will from this autumn be required only to study "a play by Shakespeare, some pre-1900 literature, a range of drama, poetry and fiction and a range of non-literary material".
Requirements for key stage 4 will also remain more flexible than in England. In Welsh schools, 14 to 16-year-olds will still have to study only English, Welsh, mathematics, science and physical education.
In England, pupils also have to take design and technology, information technology and modern foreign languages. From 2002, English pupils will have to study citizenship as well.
These are the first changes to be made to the secondary curriculum in Wales since the national curriculum was introduced in September 1995.
The primary curriculum was slimmed down in 1998 in response to the general outcry over curriculum overload - but, unlike in England, schools in Wales were not allowed to abandon the national curriculum in non-core subjects to make way for the three Rs.
As in England, the revised curriculum for Wales is clearer, more streamlined and more consistent across subjects than the original model. The changes, based on a consultation that elicited some 2,800 responses, are designed to make it more flexible and teacher-friendly.
The new programmes of study highlight opportunities for developing the key skills of literacy, numeracy and information and communications technology.
And, in a departure exclusive to Wales, symbols indicate where an element of a programme is linked to a cross-curricular requirement.
A little map of Wales, for instance, shows where study can be linked to the Curriculum Cymreig, placing it in a specifically Welsh context. And a little key-hole shows where an element gives pupils the chance to develop their problem-solving skills.
New frameworks for personal and social education and work-related education have gone out to schools with the revised national curriculum programmes of study.
The PSE framework provides schools with a common core in each key stage for pupils from five to 16 based on existing best practice. It also pays explicit attention to Welsh Assembly
priorities such as equality of opportunity and healthy lifestyles.
It covers not just work in the classroom but also links with the community and opporunities for pupils to take part in clubs and school councils.
The framework for work-related education for 14 to 19-year-olds stresses the role of partnerships and local support networks.
It is aimed not just at schools and colleges but also at training and enterprise councils, education business partnerships, careers companies and local education authorities.
Neither framework will be statutory to begin with but their introduction will be closely monitored by Estyn, the Welsh inspectorate, and by the Welsh qualifications and curriculum authority.
The assembly will review their status in two years' time to see if they should be more formally included in the curriculum.
All of the documents come into effect on August 1 this year, except for the programmes of study at key stage 4, which will be incorporated into revised GCSEs from August 2001.
Estyn will take account of the changes from September, but its guidance says that schools should not need to revise substantially their existing schemes of work outside their normal planning cycle.
Copies of "The School Curriculum in Wales" can be obtained through ACCAC, the Welsh curriculum and qualification authority, tel 07071 223647.
THE REVISED NATIONAL CURRICULUM FOR WALES
* Keeps 11 national curriculum subjects and religious education.
* At key stage 4, the only mandatory subjects are still English, Welsh, maths,
science and physical education.
* Comes into effect on August 1, 2000, except for programmes of study at key stage 4 which will be incorporated into revised GCSEs from 2001.
* Includes frameworks for personal and social education and work-related education which are non-statutory for the moment.
* In English at KS3, removes the list of authors from the reading section, only requiring pupils to read a Shakespeare play, some pre-1900 literature, a range of genres and non-literary material.
* Drops the specific list of modern languages, but requires all schools to offer at least one official European Union language and permits them to offer any other language they can and for which there is demand.
* In PE, introduces a wider range of exercises such as hill walking and jogging and makes games no longer compulsory, to create greater choice for pupils who dislike competitive team sports.
* Makes the programmes of study for English and Welsh more consistent.
* In single science at KS4, places more emphasis on subjects such as genetics, conservation and the environment to provide a course of more relevance and interest to students stopping at 16.
* In history, removes examples from KS1 and the detail of study units from KS2, while keeping a requirement to study Wales and Britain in specific period, including Tudor or Stuart times.
* In geography, introduces explicit references to sustainable development at KS2 and 3.
* In design and technology, makes programmes of study more user-friendly for non-specialists, particularly at primary level, by simplifying the language.