Some primaries are not ready to teach pupils under the new curriculum for Wales next term and would have liked the choice to delay it, headteachers say. The National Association of Headteachers Cymru called for more help for primaries after it emerged that more than half of secondaries now won’t begin teaching under the new curriculum until September 2023.

The Welsh Government’s exemption for schools to delay the biggest change to the curriculum for generations has only been given to secondaries. The NAHT Cymru said that did not mean primaries are fully prepared and it’s clear some are not. “Some primaries would like have liked the option to delay,” said Laura Doel, Director of the National Association of Headteachers Cymru.

High schools not ready to start the new system for Year 7 at the start of next term can wait until September, 2023, and rollout to Years 7 and 8 together. Meanwhile, primaries and maintained nursery schools still have to start the new curriculum from this September. You can read all about how secondaries are now delaying the new curriculum here.

Ms Doel,r of NAHT Cymru, said some primaries would have wanted the same option as secondaries to wait until September 2023 to make the changes: “In terms of readiness we know that some, but not all schools, feel ready to start in September. Given that there have been two independent reports talking about the failing in support for schools in curriculum development and leadership, it is no wonder some feel anxious

“At the moment the expectation is for that new curriculum will start in September but what we would like to see is flexibility in a couple of ways. Firstly, in terms of accountability. Currently schools will be judged on the new curriculum, wherever they are in the journey from September. This is putting a huge amount of pressure on primary schools that could stifle development.

“Primaries still face significant challenges that warrant further support. Welsh Government took on board our concerns about secondary readiness because of the pressure from exams and the additional workload created by Centre Determined Grades for exams etc and made a reasonable adjustment that was clearly needed – hence why half the schools have taken to opportunity to postpone the rollout.

“Primaries have different challenges to deal with. Since Welsh Government announced flexibility for secondaries, primaries are having to deal with the resumption of Estyn inspections, implementation of free school meals (which is a nightmare) and having to unpick the ongoing issues as a result of Covid – staff absence issues, learner absence.

“Even before the pandemic, there was concern about the support for primary and secondary schools in preparing. Now we have two reports that have been published that shows that support for schools in curriculum development has been a completely mixed picture across Wales and that leadership has not been supported.

“Given this, all we are asking is for some degree of flexibility being afforded to primary schools. Those that feel ready, that have had support and have completed their curriculum design work should absolutely press on, but those who don’t should not be punished given their readiness is largely due to issues beyond a schools control.”

Earlier this week Welsh Education Minister Jeremy Miles Tweeted out that he was “pleased” more than half of secondaries would roll out the new curriculum, as planned, next term. He then revised that down to 45%.

Responding to concerns that Covid disruption had left schools unable to plan for the new curriculum the Minister announced last July that secondaries would have the option of delaying the roll out by a year until 2023 – 55% have now chosen to do so.

Unions have long warned that preparations for the new curriculum had stalled thanks to Covid disruption.

NAHT Cymru President Kerina Hanson, who is also headteacher of Pennard Primary School in Swansea, said primaries would not all want a delay, but wanted recognition that not all may be as ready to teach children under the new curriculum as others. She said they should not be judged, by schools inspectorate Estyn, the regional consortia and others on how prepared they are. She said many schools will be “at the start of” introducing the new curriculum while many others were “well on the way”.

“Welsh Government have said it’s the start of the journey but they haven’t given any clarity around where schools should be. And it’s not clear that Estyn and regional consortia have a clear understanding either.

“By far the most stressful part of introduction of the new curriculum is the expectation of accountability partners. While schools may be in different places on their journey they of course will still focus on the key skills.

“Primary schools have understood that they need to start their new curriculum offer in September- We weren’t offered that relaxation secondary schools were. The reassurance we want is that our accountability partners are also clear that schools will be in different places and will need time to refine their curriculum offer.”

Responding to the news that so many high schools won’t roll out the new curriculum until September 2023r Eithne Hughes, Director of the Association of Schools and Colleges Cymru said earlier this week: “Leaders are weighed down by the bloated portfolio of educational reforms that are being railroaded through with undue haste, hot on the heels of two years of incredible upheaval and disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Our schools are still in turmoil and leaders have no headspace for doing the necessary work to develop and embed the new curriculum. They should be enthused but are instead running on empty.

“The Education Minister needs to take a step back and recognise that if he is to take leaders with him on this exciting journey, he must allow them the time and support they require to recover from the pandemic. Only then will they have the energy and enthusiasm to devote to making the introduction of the Curriculum for Wales a success for all learners across Wales.”

Neil Butler, Wales Secretray for Nasuwt Cymru said his members report more readiness for the reform than in high schools: “Primary style teaching lends itself much more to the new curriculum and we have found that our primary members are much less concerned than secondary,” he said.

The new curriculum at a glance

The new curriculum for Wales does not set out a detailed plan for exactly what schools should be teaching. Teachers will be given more freedom over what is taught rather than following a strict plan. In secondaries traditional subject boundaries will be incorporated into six “areas of learning and experience”. Subjects will be part of faculties and new qualifications will be taught from 2025. The biggest changes are likely to be in secondaries.

The Welsh Government responds

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We know from a number of research reports that there is significant support and momentum to implement the new curriculum in our primary schools from September 2022. We have been clear that 2022 is an important milestone, and that we expect schools to continue to improve as they move forward in implementing the curriculum.

“We have created space for schools to prepare, including the lifting of KS2 and end of phase assessments and moderation. Our partners in Estyn and school improvement services have also confirmed that preparations are on track for the start of the new curriculum in 2022.”

And the spokesperson said those starting the new curriculum next term are in fact doing so early: “The new curriculum will become statutory in secondaries for Years 7&8 in 2023, but we provided flexibility for schools if they wanted to opt-in a year earlier for Year 7s from 2022. The overall timeline has not changed and nearly half of schools have decided on an early opt-in this year.”

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