Journey’s end for qualifications reform

  By Philip Blaker, Chief Executive, Qualifications Wales 

When students sit down to take their GCSEs and A levels this year, it will mark the end of a long journey to reform for these qualifications in Wales. 

The 2012 Review of Qualifications fired the starting gun on the marathon effort to review and reform GCSEs and A levels in Wales.  

Since then, a total of 28 new GCSE qualifications and 29 new A levels have been developed and introduced over three phases from 2015 to 2017. 

2019 is a milestone year because this summer marks the final stage of this reform, with seven GCSE subjects - Business, Computer Science, Design and Technology, History, Media Studies, Religious Studies and Welsh Second Language – being awarded for the first time. 

They are joined by five new A level exams in Design and Technology, Government and Politics, Law, Further Mathematics and Media Studies. All were introduced for first teaching in September 2017. 

Reform has been a big part of Qualifications Wales’ work since we started in 2015. As the regulator, we are responsible for approving most of these new, updated qualifications, taking over from Welsh Government in making sure they are fit for the future.  

The reformed qualifications marked the first time that GCSEs and A levels developed and awarded in Wales would be different to those taken in England. 

And those differences weren’t confined to keeping the A*-G grades for GCSEs and the AS as part of A levels. 

Content has been updated and the balance between exams and coursework has been reviewed. These changes should provide students, parents, employers and universities with confidence in the value and currency of our qualifications. 

This is not the end of the story. If education in Wales is to flourish, giving young people the brightest start to their lives, it must constantly adapt to meet their needs in a fast-changing world. 

The Welsh Government is currently engaging on the school curriculum following the publication in 2015 of Successful Futures, Professor Graham Donaldson’s independent review of the national curriculum and assessment arrangements in Wales. 

Students following the new curriculum will first sit new qualifications in 2027 and although 2027 seems like a long way off, the thinking is happening now so that there’s enough time for the system to prepare. 

For students and parents going through exams system this summer, we know there’s a lot of work involved. But Wales can be confident that the programme of reform has produced qualifications that equip students with the skills, knowledge and understanding they need to progress in learning and in life.