Qualifications and education in Wales

The Welsh education system has many similarities to the English system, but there are some important differences. We explore new developments to the curriculum, which will be fully rolled out by 2021.

Education in Wales:
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The Welsh and English education systems have continued to diverge over the past decade. Wales is currently developing a new National Curriculum designed to place more emphasis on health and wellbeing. This is set to be available to schools in September 2018 and fully rolled out by 2021.The Foundation Phase covers children from the age of three until the end of Year 2. It is often regarded as the one area that most separates Wales from England. Specific areas of learning include personal and social development, wellbeing and cultural diversity; language, literacy and communication skills; mathematical development; Welsh language development; knowledge and understanding of the world; physical development; and creative development.Currently, Key Stage 2 covers children in Years 3–6, Key Stage 3 covers children in Years 7–9 and Key Stage 4 is for children in Years 10 and 11.However, as part of the new curriculum, key stages are being replaced with ‘progression steps’, which are said to provide reference points for pupils according to their needs. This means that there will no longer be any formal testing at the end of each stage, and that each progression step will be more informal and will more broadly relate to expectations at the ages of five, eight, 11, 14 and 16. The system has been designed to recognise the fact that pupils develop at different rates.The curriculum will be organised into six areas of learning and experience: expressive arts; health and wellbeing; humanities; languages, literacy and communication; maths and numeracy; and science and technology.The school years follow the same pattern as in England: reception, then Years 1–6 at primary school and Years 7–11 (or Years 7–13) at secondary school. As in England, children start reception in the September before their fifth birthday. Pupils in Wales can leave school on the last Friday in June, as long as they will be 16 by the end of the summer holidays.The school year runs from the start of September until the third week of July.Children take National Reading and Numeracy Tests every year from Year 2 to Year 9. Statutory teacher assessments take place at the end of Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3, as in England, but students do not take Key Stage 2 National Curriculum Tests (also know as SATs).Schools are inspected by Estyn, the education and training inspectorate for Wales, at least every six years, looking at performance and prospects for improvement. They are awarded a score from 1 (outstanding) to 5 (poor).

Studying the Welsh language

Welsh is taught as part of the curriculum in all schools up to the age of 16; however, it is not compulsory for pupils to take Welsh at GCSE.English-medium schools teach children in English but will teach some lessons in Welsh. In 1999, Welsh as a second language became compulsory for all children up to Key Stage 4. The majority of children attend English-medium schools, learning Welsh as a second language.Welsh-medium schools teach children in Welsh and provide pupils with a good grounding in English language skills, although they are not obliged to teach English in Years 1 and 2. While the English state-school system has diversified over the past few years, the Welsh system has remained committed to comprehensives. The Welsh Government has rejected the English academy system, and all grammar schools in Wales were converted into comprehensive schools in the 1970s.There are around 20 independent schools in Wales. UWC Atlantic College is an international school in Glamorgan that supports the International Baccalaureate.

Qualifications in Wales

Despite the forthcoming introduction of the new curriculum, pupils in Wales still take GCSEs at the end of Year 11, AS Levels at the end of Year 12 and A Levels at the end of Year 13. For now, GCSEs in Wales are retaining the alphabetical grading system rather than converting to the new numerical system of grading that will be rolled out in England over the next two years.The AS Level will remain embedded in the A Level system (unlike in England, where the AS qualification is being decoupled from the new A Level system), and so the AS will continue to count towards the final A Level mark.
All the Cambridge International Examinations, such as the IGCSE, the International AS and A Level, and the Pre-U, are certified to be taught in Wales. The IB is also becoming increasingly popular in independent Welsh schools.The WJEC is a Welsh examination board that provides Welsh Government-regulated qualifications for all state schools and colleges in Wales. It also offers qualifications in England and Northern Ireland through its Eduqas subsidiary, established to reflect the increasing divergence of the Welsh and English systems.The WJEC is also the awarding organisation for the Welsh Baccalaureate, which is delivered at National/Foundation (Key Stage 4), Foundation (post-16), National (post-16) and Advanced levels.

Further education

There are eight universities and 15 further-education colleges and institutions in Wales, although many pupils choose to cross the border to universities in England.A Welsh Government subsidy means that Welsh students do not have to pay full university fees, which can reach £9,000 per year in England. Currently, Welsh students pay around £3,500 wherever in the UK they attend university. Ministers have confirmed this will remain the case for 2016/17.This is a revised version of an article originally published in August 2016.
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