The Welsh government has opted to retain the current examinations model of GCSEs and A-Levels, putting Wales and England on course to see radically different systems.
Under the proposals, the syllabuses will remain as they are at present, with exams being taken throughout the duration of a course. The qualifications will run alongside a revised and “more rigorous” Welsh baccalaureate.
Other key recommendations accepted by ministers in Cardiff include:
• The creation of new GCSEs in English Language and Welsh First Language, as well as two new GCSEs covering numeracy and mathematical techniques;
• The introduction of a new, “stronger gatekeeping process” for vocational qualifications to ensure public funding is only approved for qualifications that have quality, rigour, relevance and value;
• A maximum equivalence of two GCSEs for vocational qualifications, where justified, from 2015;
• Removing the Essential Skills Wales qualifications for 14-16 from 2015 with revised Essential Skills and Wider Key Skills qualifications, to be introduced in 2015 for post-16 learners.
The announcements are likely to come into force by September 2015.
Declaring the government’s acceptance of the review’s findings were the best option for Wales and its economy, the deputy minister for skills, Jeff Cuthbert, said:
“We are setting out a clear strategic direction and vision for qualifications in Wales. These must be understood and respected worldwide.
“Our guiding principle is doing what is best for learners in Wales and for the Welsh economy. This will sometimes mean diverging from England and the rest of the UK.
“Implementing the review represents a significant programme of work. We must be prepared to make an investment in terms of resource, commitment and belief in getting qualifications right.”
The announcement comes after England’s education secretary, Michael Gove, announced in September GCSEs would be scrapped in favour of a new baccalaureate certificate which would include a single, end of course exam for each subject. This was announced following the omnishambles which saw many pupils taking exams last summer unfairly marked down.
At the time Gove attacked Welsh education minister, Leighton Andrews, as being “irresponsible and mistaken” for allowing a re-mark of exam papers, whilst Andrews accused Gove of having “undermined parental confidence in GCSEs”.
Expressing support for the announcement made by the Welsh government, Philip Dixon, director of the ATL Cymru teaching union, concluded it would provide “stability for our young people and enables them to study tried and tested qualifications”.
“They are not being used as guinea pigs in some ill-thought-through experiment like their colleagues across the border in England.”
Opposition parties, meanwhile, are concerned to ensure the system announced would be seen as rigorous and have the confidence of employers and universities.
Assessing the challenge now facing minister’s in Cardiff, the BBC’s Welsh political editor, Betsan Powys, has concluded on her blog:
“If – if – qualifications gained in England are indeed seen as the gold standard, what do they do now to ensure exams sat by pupils in Wales are judged in future to be equally rigorous, equally valued?”
• Andrews v Gove – The plot thickens – September 18th, 2012
• Andrews hints at separate exams system for Wales – September 14th, 2012
• Wales education minister: Gove’s way of announcing GCSE reforms was “bonkers” – June 21st, 2012