Interview: Kirsty Williams AM, Welsh education minister

Charley Rogers chats with Wales’ education minister Kirsty Williams about new funding for digital resource centre Hwb, and what the Welsh government is doing to support STEM education


Name: Kirsty Williams AM

Job title: Education minister, and assembly member

Twitter: @wgmin_education

Q. Kirsty, you have just announced a further £50m of funding for Hwb, Wales’ digital resource centre. What kind of things will this money provide?

The £50m of funding I announced earlier this month will offer additional financial support for Welsh local authorities to invest in edtech equipment and the digital infrastructure for all state schools in Wales. 

We have asked each of our local authorities to undertake a baseline assessment of their schools’ current digital infrastructure, which will then be compared to Hwb’s Education Digital Standards to understand the barriers each authority faces.

To ensure that the money goes to areas that are most in need, the funding will be delivered in waves, which have been developed in conjunction with stakeholders enabling local authorities to purchase or upgrade ICT equipment.  

Crucially, each local authority will have to demonstrate that all schools within their area have met the requirements of each funding wave, and will have to evidence how their future planning and budgeting will ensure that sustainable equipment is purchased. 

Q. How would you describe Wales’ digital skills ability right now? It will obviously vary by individual, but is there a general skills gap?

Because of Wales’ unique geography, and the digital hurdles this poses, it is expected that our pupils, teachers, and headteachers will have varying levels of digital skills and experience with different ICT equipment.

That is why we have worked closely with regional consortiums to develop, pilot and implement a new ICT Self Review System, which will see us offering additional support to teachers and headteachers to identify the development requirement at a whole-school level. 

I have also recently appointed a practitioner secondee to lead on the development of digital professional learning, as part of a wider e-resources project to ensure that our schools have the support they need to implement our innovative new curriculum.

We all have a role to play to ensure meaningful change so our young people are digitally competent and evolve into enterprising, creative and critical thinkers

Q. Aside from Hwb funding, what is the Welsh government doing to support STEM education? 

One of my key priorities has always been to ensure that our learners have an equal opportunity to reach the highest standards in science, technology and maths. Science and technology is a huge part of the curriculum, and one that is essential to many learners’ careers and further learning prospects. It is also essential to the economic prospects in Wales; as such, it is vital we get this right.  

Over the last few years, I have agreed a wide range of support and initiatives for STEM teachers and learners in Wales. 

We are doing much to support our commitment to improving digital skills, including the Digital Competence Framework, the Hwb learning platform, our Cracking the Code programme, new online personalised assessments, and our exciting new curriculum.

The Technocamps, run by the Department of Computer Science at Swansea University, which receives £300k of funding per year, deliver computer-coding workshops to pupils and teachers in every secondary school in Wales. The workshops provide opportunities for both teachers and learners to develop hands-on experience of a range of coding activities and tools including Raspberry Pi and .Net Gadgeteer, ensuring that every secondary school has one or more teachers with direct experience of working with code. 

I am also committed to improving gender balance in STEM subjects. It is important to me that we get more of our young girls to embrace the fantastic further learning and career opportunities studying a STEM subject can offer. Our STEM in Education and Training Delivery Plan for Wales contains a strong focus on gender, setting out a number of specific gender-related actions. 

To raise the profile of physics and physics-related disciplines in our secondary schools, we have contributed to a Physics Mentoring Programme pilot. Led by Cardiff University School of Physics and Astronomy, the programme sees undergraduate and postgraduate students from Physics-related fields working with secondary school pupils to increase interest within the subject by showcasing the opportunities studying physics could present; especially for female learners. 

Furthermore, I am completely aware that our teachers need to be equipped with up-to-date knowledge and skills and the best equipment if they are to guide our young people’s learning in STEM subjects. That is why we have introduced dedicated online zones on our education platform Hwb, where practitioners can access innovative teaching practice to increase their digital skills and knowledge as part of our self-improving school system and national approach to professional learning. 

To offer further support to our STEM teachers, we have drawn on the expertise of our universities to inspire innovative teaching, setting up Mathematics and Science & Technology Networks for Excellence. The Stimulating Physics Network receives £140k per year to provide targeted professional learning for physics teachers, whilst our £500k investment per year for the Further Maths Support Programme strengthens existing provision of further maths in our schools. 

Q. What do you think is the biggest challenge for educators in the digital age?

As I have mentioned previously, providing all our learners with high-level digital skills is a key aspect of our National Mission for Education in Wales. 

We all have a role to play to ensure meaningful change so our young people are digitally competent and evolve into enterprising, creative and critical thinkers.

Digital Competence will form one of three cross-curricular responsibilities, alongside literacy and numeracy within the new curriculum. 

Estyn, the education inspectorate in Wales, has made it clear that many schools have already risen to the challenge of embedding digital competence into their learning and teaching, with plenty of examples of innovative and interesting practice from across Wales. I am incredibly proud of the fantastic work our schools are already doing, and recognise the role all our partners play in embracing these changes and meeting challenges head on for the benefit of all our learners. 

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