How Wales is transforming its schools into learning organisations

By Marco Kools
Analyst, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

Photo credit: Element5 Digital/Unsplash

In 2011, Wales embarked on a large-scale reform to improve the quality and equity of its education system. Since then, the reform has increasingly focused on the implementation of a new, 21st-century school curriculum that calls for developing young people into “ambitious, capable and lifelong learners” who are “enterprising and creative, informed citizens, and healthy and confident individuals”. This vision also aligns with the framework being developed by our Education 2030 project.

To support the successful implementation of this curriculum, Wales has set an objective to develop its schools into learning organisations. These schools have the capacity to change and adapt to new environments and circumstances as its members learn, collectively and individually, how to implement a shared vision. Schools in Wales have already made substantial progress toward this objective, as we describe in our new report, but a considerable share still lag behind.

Our report, Developing Schools as Learning Organisations in Wales, aims to support Wales by assessing the extent to which schools have developed as learning organisations. It also identifies areas for further improvement at both the school and system level. Our analysis was based, in part, on data from the Schools as Learning Organisations (SLO) survey which corresponds to the seven dimensions of Wales’ SLO model. 
The majority of schools in Wales seem well on their way toward developing into learning organisations, but a significant share still lag behind.
According to our report, the majority of schools in Wales seem well on their way toward developing into learning organisations. Data from the SLO survey suggest that nearly six out of ten schools (58%) in our sample had put at least five dimensions of learning organisations into practice. 

But a considerable share of schools are still far from realising this objective. Some 42% of schools seemed to have put in practice four or less of the seven SLO dimensions, with 30% reporting the implementation of two or fewer. And secondary schools are finding it particularly challenging to develop as learning organisations.

Schools are also engaging unequally with the seven dimensions that make up Wales’ SLO model. Two dimensions are less developed: “developing a shared vision centred on the learning of all students” and “establishing a culture of enquiry, innovation and exploration”. And many schools could do more to “learn with and from the external environment and larger system”.

The second part of our report identifies a number of recommendations for strengthening policies and ensuring the effective implementation – or “realisation”, as it is often referred to in Wales –  of its SLO policy. These include:
  • Reviewing Wales’ school funding model to realise the country’s commitment to equity and student well-being. The Welsh government should consider conducting an in-depth analysis of school funding to explore a model that promotes greater equity and efficiency.
  • Developing national criteria for school quality to guide self-evaluations and external evaluations. These criteria should promote Wales’ SLO model, monitor student learning and well-being across the curriculum, and recognise learning needs and  well-being in staff development plans. These and potentially other criteria should encourage schools to identify their own strengths and priorities for improvement.
  • Implementing system-level performance measures that go beyond the key subjects (English/Welsh, mathematics and science). This includes the transition period to the new assessment, evaluation and accountability framework. 
  • Developing an easy-to-understand narrative. Such a narrative would explain how Wales’ SLO model can guide schools in their development, how it forms an integrated part of the curriculum reform and how it relates to other policies. 
This report was published as part of the OECD’s new Implementing Education Policies programme, which supports countries and jurisdictions in the design and effective implementation of their policies. While this report was being finalised, the Welsh government began to develop an SLO implementation plan that will form an integral part of its larger curriculum reform effort. The government and other education stakeholders are now using our findings and recommendations to help shape an implementation plan to empower all schools to develop as learning organisations.

Ultimately, we hope our findings are valuable not only for Wales, but also for the many countries that are looking to establish collaborative learning cultures across their school systems.

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