Qualifications Wales must ensure that qualifications awarded by recognised awarding bodies meet the needs of learners in Wales and that there is public confidence in them.
This work includes ensuring that qualifications meet any criteria that we set, that they are valid, reliable and fit for purpose and that they are comparable to qualifications elsewhere.
Our general qualifications strategic plan sets out our priorities for regulating GCSEs, A levels and the Advanced Skills Baccalaureate Wales.
Over the next few years, we will focus on:
- securing standards
- evaluating change
- improving public understanding
- increasing the availability of qualifications through the medium of Welsh
- adopting an incremental approach to future changes
The plan also identified the key challenges we will face in achieving the aims we have set in each of these focus areas.
GCSEs - General Certificates of Secondary Education - are available in a range of subjects. They are the main general qualifications taken by 16-year-old learners in Wales.
These qualifications can be used as a basis for further study or training, or direct entry into employment.
GCSEs across Wales, England and Northern Ireland are of the same size and rigour - with some key differences.
- grading scales remain A* to G
- some GCSEs are linear - with all exams taken at the end of the course - and others are modular
- students must retake all of their exams when retaking a linear GCSE - non-exam assessment marks can be carried forward
- students can only retake each unit once in modular GCSEs
- grading scale is 9 to 1 (9 being highest grade)
- all exams taken at the end of the course (linear qualifications)
- students must retake all their exams when retaking the qualification - non-exam assessment marks can be reused
In Northern Ireland:
- in general students may take GCSEs graded A* to G (including a new grade C*) and those graded 9 to 1
The comparison between the A*-G and 9-1 grading system is illustrated here.
AS and A levels
Advanced Subsidiary (AS) and Advanced (A) levels are the main general qualifications at Level 3 and are usually taken at age 16-19. They are used as a basis for admissions to higher education, further training or entry into employment.
A levels across Wales, Northern Ireland and England are of the same size, rigour, and portability - with some key differences.
In Wales, A level qualifications:
- consist of AS and A2 units
- AS is a stand-alone qualification and also contributes 40% towards the full A level
- share the same content as A levels in England - but include a Welsh perspective where appropriate
- retain practical or non-examination assessments where they are assessing an important part of the subject - with these assessments contributing towards the final grade
- individual units can only be retaken once
- AS exams can be taken at the end of the AS course or alongside A2
We recognise that Wales has unique characteristics that require careful consideration in all our work, including:
- the roll-out of the Curriculum for Wales
- the need for an active offer of bilingual qualifications
- stability in the range of qualifications that are available to learners, particularly considering emerging policy changes elsewhere in the UK
- a demand for a wide range of vocational qualifications, including many with low numbers of learners
- separate legislative requirements in devolved matters
This is why there are some subjects that have been designed specifically for learners in Wales.
However, there are subjects that have been designed for England that are also available in Wales when there is not already a Welsh-specific version.
Those designed for Wales are referred to as approved qualifications.
Those designed for England that are also available in Wales are referred to as designated qualifications.