Essential Skills – The next steps

 Gareth Downey, Senior Qualifications Manager, Qualifications Wales 

As you may know, we published the findings from our Essential Skills Review more than 12 months ago now, including a number of actions we planned to take.

This is an update to explain the progress we’ve made since then.

In early 2018 we set up the Essential Skills Oversight Board which includes senior representatives from the four awarding bodies. The Oversight Board has been instrumental in driving forward the actions from the Review and making key decisions relating to the qualifications. It has also been an effective way to engage with representatives from further education and work-based learning. 

One of the key actions that we committed to taking in the Review was to develop guidance to support centres to develop their own controlled tasks. It was driven by feedback that controlled tasks should be contextualised and made more relevant to learners.  

So we worked closely with the four awarding bodies alongside centres and networks to develop the guidance that was published in January 2019. We also worked with the awarding bodies to agree a clear process for quality assuring and approving centre-devised controlled tasks which is incorporated in the guidance.  

To help centres make the most of the guidance, we recently held a series of workshops across Wales which were attended by almost 100 representatives from over 40 centres. People told us they found these helpful to support them to develop their own contextualised controlled tasks 

We’ve also made a number of improvements to the qualifications since the Review, including: 

  • Some controlled tasks have been strengthened after the awarding bodies collected feedback from centres about their clarity and consistency;  
  • Partial re-sits were introduced for Essential Communication Skills at levels two and three; 
  • We have closely monitored test data to ascertain how the tests are performing and the awarding bodies have worked closely to standardise, and quality assure the controlled tasks and tests; and 
  • The design principles were updated to clarify the requirements of the 8-week rule for the completion of controlled tasks.  

We are confident that these improvements will strengthen the qualifications in the short term. 

In our review we committed to reviewing the assessment model for the Essential Skills qualifications in the context of the current suite having an operational end date of 2020.  

Having considered this position over recent months, we’ve decided not to make changes to the assessment model at this stage. We think that the improvements already made to the qualifications should lead to noticeable improvements. Before making any further significant changes, we want to give the most recent changes time to bed in. So, we’ve invited awarding bodies to extend the operational end dates for the current suite of Essential Skills qualifications until 31 August 2022. This will allow additional time to monitor the effectiveness of the qualifications and to determine whether, and when, it would be right to more fundamentally revise the Essential Skills qualifications. It will also provide continuity for centres to help plan their provision.  

We know how important Essential Skills qualifications are and we are committed to ensuring that these qualifications are effective for learners and centres. We continue to closely monitor the qualifications, listen to feedback as it arises and, where necessary, take action. 

If you have any questions about Essential Skills qualifications, contact us at