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Written Statement - Development programme for new and revised GCSEs and A levels for Wales

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This page provides information about how we are taking forward the recommendations of the Review of Qualifications.
Huw Lewis, Minister for Education and Skills

On 13 June, my predecessor updated Assembly Members on future arrangements for AS and A levels in Wales. This statement provides further information on the wider reform programme for GCSEs, AS and A levels in Wales.

Following the Welsh Government’s acceptance of the recommendations of the Review of Qualifications for 14 to 19-year-olds in Wales, we are already committed to introducing four new GCSEs for first teaching from September 2015. These will be in English Language, Welsh First language, numeracy and mathematics techniques.

We are presently working with stakeholders to develop these new qualifications and, during the autumn, we will consult on draft design principles for these new GCSEs as well as on the titles of the two new mathematics GCSEs. Our UK-wide communications strategy will promote, explain and build confidence in the qualifications that are available in Wales and will make sure that they are understood and recognised as being of a standard that is comparable with the best in the world.

In addition to our existing commitments on GCSEs for September 2015, it is likely that we will also be introducing revised GCSEs for English Literature and Welsh Literature at that time. In line with the recommendations of the Review of Qualifications, new GCSEs will, where appropriate, be modular and tiered and may include elements of controlled assessment.

Whilst these subjects are currently being prioritised, we do not wish, at this stage, to rule out the possibility that some other GCSEs might be revised for first teaching from September 2015.  In particular, I have asked officials to consider the appropriateness of the current science GCSE suite – with a particular focus on the suitability of the more vocationally orientated specifications.  

It is important that changes to our qualifications are implemented in a phased and manageable way.  Further information on the programme for the introduction of revised GCSEs in other subjects from 2016 to 2017 will be shared during the autumn term.  This programme will need to be informed by the on-going Review of assessment and the National Curriculum in Wales.  

In relation to A levels, my predecessor has already announced our commitment to abolishing January assessments after January 2014, keeping AS and A levels as coupled qualifications and limiting re-sits to one per module. We are currently working on the details of these decisions and exploring the extent to which the Welsh Government might be able to agree on some of the detail relating to the revised AS and A levels with colleagues in Northern Ireland. This includes the relative weighting of the AS and A2 components of reformed A levels.

Over recent months, WJEC and other awarding organisations have been consulting with Higher Education Institutions in Wales and England, and other stakeholders, on possible changes to the content of reformed A levels in England. The Review of Qualifications recommended that we should ‘maintain the same A levels as England and Northern Ireland where possible’. In light of this we are currently of the view that revised AS and A levels should, if appropriate, share the same content as those in England (and possibly Northern Ireland). We also consider that it would be appropriate for revised AS and A levels to be introduced, as far as possible, at the same time across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. As for GCSEs, further information on the AS and A level reform programme will be made available during the autumn term.

These are exciting times for qualifications in Wales and my predecessor set in train a reform programme that will see Wales develop its own qualifications system – designed, in consultation with our partners, to meet the needs of Wales. I am fully committed to taking forward this agenda but am very aware that such a reform programme brings with it challenges as well as opportunities. Working together, however, I am convinced that we can overcome the challenges and grasp this historic opportunity to deliver for the young people of Wales.