Our obsession with exams is failing to equip young people with the right skills for the future, says Future Generations Commissioner for Wales
Education fit for the Future
A White Paper For discussion
Produced by Professor Calvin Jones in collaboration with the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales
A recent Welsh Government review found that over the next decade, digital technologies will result in both job displacement and creation with greater impact on how we experience and approach work. Among its findings, the review calls on Welsh Government to shift the focus from examinations, testing and certification, in order to emphasise knowledge, learning and skills.
“Thinking about how we value, assess and resource skills for the future is critical. The 2018 Future Jobs Report found that 75 million jobs are expected to be displaced by 2022 in 20 major economies, but at the same time 133 million new roles could be created, driven by new products and growth. But, can we confidently say that our current education system is prepared and providing the necessary skills for our young people and future workforces?
“Welsh Government’s new Curriculum for Wales 2022 will provide some of the solutions but a whole systems approach is needed. A recent assessment of public bodies’ progress of implementing the Well-being of Future Generations Act has shown that they are failing to apply a long-term approach to planning and policy making. Ensuring our young people are equipped with the right skills for the future will strengthen our public services and the decisions they make.
“This is why I am calling on the Welsh Government to rethink the qualifications and assessments, in particular GCSE exams, exploring the opportunity to create a new qualification that builds on core skills identified for the future as well as ensuring that there is the correct resources for teachers and school to be able to deliver on Welsh Government’s new curriculum. As the paper suggests, assessment needs to be value-added and pupil centred, (throughout programmes and not just at the end) and diverse.
The paper’s recommendations include;
- There needs to be a significant increase in the number of teaching staff and resources to deliver the new curriculum.
- Learning should be created and delivered in partnership with businesses, charities and other organisations across Wales.
- GCSEs are no longer fit for purpose and should be re-considered to reflect the aspirations of the Curriculum for Wales 2022 and the changing economy.
- Assessments need to focus on diversity, are centred around pupils not testing, providing greater academic value and benefit.
“The new curriculum is a solid base upon which to build our children’s future but is not sufficient. Only when schools and teachers are given the resources and tools to deliver this transformative vision, and qualifications fully reflect the diverse life-skills needed to flourish future society, will our education system be fit for future purpose.”
Sophie Howe concluded:
“I am encouraged at how some education providers are already providing new qualifications that reflect the shift in new products and services in an increasingly digitised society; for example, Coleg Gwent are now offering Drone Business Courses for people working within the emergency services. Ysgol Treganna have created a truly creative way of learning through the new curriculum. Their End of the World Emergency project draws on critical thinking, planning, mathematics and numeracy using a scenario-based task using their knowledge into practice.
“The Well-being of Future Generations Act requires the Government and other public bodies identify future trends and plan and prepare now for the future. There is nothing more important than ensuring our education system is best preparing young people to develop the skills which will be most needed in our rapidly changing economy and society – skills such resilience emotional intelligence teamwork and cooperation.
“As well as these skills being crucial for jobs in the future, they are also important in terms of promoting young people’s well-being and for meeting some of the big challenges of the future such as tackling poverty and responding to the climate emergency. “
 Wales 4.0 – Delivering Economic Transformation for a Better Future of Work, Review of Digital Innovation for the Economy and the Future of Work, Welsh Government.
“This report is a very useful contribution to the debate about how to maximise the impact of the education reform agenda in Wales, 'Our National Mission'. It exposes some of the opportunities and risks and invites fresh thinking about possibilities. Our ability to adapt and to meet our ambitions will be vital and insights such as the 'Fit for the Future' report help us to challenge our previous and current practice in the quest for best for every young person. A thoughtful read...”
| Mick Waters, Chair of panel for 'Schooling re-imagined'
“We welcome this report and hope it will encourage further debate about the future direction of education and qualifications in Wales.
“The new curriculum for Wales gives us a chance to take a fresh look at how the education and qualification system can best serve the future needs of 16-year-olds.
“One of the important questions the report asks is whether in future we should continue to have qualifications taken at 16.
‘While recognising that this is ultimately a question Welsh Government to decide, we believe there’s still a strong case for 16-year-olds to continue to take qualifications that help to prepare and inspire them for life, learning and work.
“Sixteen is an important milestone for young people, when they leave compulsory education and take different routes to further study, training and work. Qualifications help them decide which path to take. They also give colleges, employers, training providers and universities key information about those applying to them.
“As the report points out, qualifications will have to change if they are going to fulfil the ambition of the new curriculum and meet the evolving needs of learners and society.
“In November we will launch a major consultation to gather as many views as possible on the next generation of qualifications for Wales. We’ll be looking at how qualifications could be designed and assessed differently in future and asking whether we should keep the GCSE name. We want to make sure that we get the right qualifications to help all learners progress, whatever level they’re working at.
“The consultation will run for 12 weeks and we urge anyone with learners’ interests at heart to have their say so we can better plan for their future.”
| Philip Blaker, Chief Executive, Qualifications Wales
“The paper offers a useful overview of the challenges and opportunities facing Wales and its education system. Many of the paper’s key recommendations will resonate strongly with policymakers as being key to the successful implementation of the new curriculum and assessment arrangements. The education system we have committed to developing in Wales will require new ways of working, more professional support and structured opportunities for collaboration, proper resourcing and a recognition that change on this scale will not happen overnight.
“Following devolution, Wales’ education system has been subject to near-constant upheaval and lived through a number of false dawns. The time has come to make our new vision for education in Wales, based upon the curriculum’s four purposes, a reality.”
| Gareth Evans, Director of Education Policy, Yr Athrofa; Institute of Education, University of Wales Trinity St David said:
"We welcome this report from the Future Generations Commissioner as raising the profile of changes in education in Wales, and starting a conversation about what the sector needs to make the aspirations of Curriculum 2022 a reality.
"Education is at the very heart of wellbeing for our future generations in Wales. Our members will be heartened to see that this report recognises the challenges facing the education sector. Clearly, more funding and resources need to be made available to ensure that the principles behind the new Curriculum are delivered." | David Evans, Wales Secretary of the National Education Union Cymru