29 October 2013
Article by Sian Hughes, National Assembly for Wales Research Service
The Welsh Government is currently consulting on establishing a new qualifications body for Wales. The consultation runs until 20 December 2013.
The qualifications on offer for young people is an area in which there are likely to be clear differences across the UK in the future. Whereas up to now, there has been a single approach in Wales, England and Northern Ireland this ‘three country approach’ looks set to come to an end. Scotland has had its own qualifications system for many years.
The establishment of the new body, ‘Qualifications Wales’, was one of the recommendations made in the Review of Qualifications for 14 to 19-year-olds in Wales (November 2012). The Review found that current arrangements where Ministers have responsibility for both the regulation of and policy for qualifications was not sustainable.
The consultation proposal is that there should be an independent, statutory body, principally funded by the Welsh Government, which will (from September 2015) undertake quality assurance functions replacing the regulatory functions currently carried out by Welsh Ministers.
Also, in the longer term, the Government propose that Qualifications Wales should be responsible for awarding most qualifications for 14-16 year-olds in Wales, A levels and the Welsh Baccalaureate. Currently, there are five awarding bodies offering GCSEs and A levels in Wales and schools can chose qualifications from any awarding body. The WJEC currently provides the majority of general qualifications taken by learners in Wales, and almost all of the Welsh-medium general qualifications. The Review recognised that the establishment of the new body would have cost and organisational implications for the WJEC. The WJEC has welcomed the consultation.
Three country approach
The three country approach to qualifications involving Wales, England and Northern Ireland has been led primarily by the exam regulators in each country with decisions about most qualifications in Wales being taken jointly with England and Northern Ireland. Against a background of changes to GCSE and A levels in England, not replicated in Wales, the regulation of shared qualifications has become increasingly difficult as shown by the GCSE English Language results in 2012.
The House of Commons Education Committee report on the 2012 GCSE English results noted that it would be regrettable if three-country qualification and regulation came to an end and hoped that joint ownership would continue.
However, the consultation document makes clear that the Welsh Government believes that a single qualifications system across Wales, England and Northern Ireland is no longer considered appropriate for Wales, or viable given the changes taking place in England.
Meanwhile, in Northern Ireland, Education Minister, John O’Dowd announced in October 2012, that following a series of policy announcements in England, the Council for Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) would undertake a fundamental review of GCSEs and A levels qualifications. A consultation on the recommendations from the review began on 30 September 2013, including a recommendation that a review of the regulation and quality assurance of qualifications available in Northern Ireland should be undertaken to support north of Ireland GCSEs and A levels.
The consultation on the new qualifications body is running concurrently with a separate consultation on curriculum and assessment, announced by the Welsh Government on 22 October.