The Review of Qualifications reported on 28 November 2012, making 42 recommendations to the Welsh Government. I am grateful to Huw Evans and his team for their thorough and well-considered report, which makes a valuable contribution to determining the strategic direction for qualifications in Wales. I am pleased that the Review’s findings are based firmly on evidence and that its recommendations were developed in an inclusive way through discussion with stakeholders. The report has been positively received.
I am pleased to announce today that the Welsh Government broadly accepts all of the Review’s recommendations. The recommendations form a coherent package which provides a strong and sustainable basis for developing a world-class qualifications system for Wales. The Review proposed a programme of change over four or five years. We will develop a detailed implementation plan by late spring. To provide stakeholders with early clarity, I can today indicate our broad direction and objectives. I can assure schools and colleges that it is not our intention to make significant changes as a result of the Review to qualification courses starting in September 2013. Lead-in times are important for successful change. There are also areas within the recommendations where we will undertake more work and consultation before reaching final decisions.
In broadly accepting the recommendations, we are setting a clear strategic direction and vision for qualifications in Wales. 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, but many qualifications will continue to be shared. We will ensure that there are clear pathways for progression through the medium of Welsh.
We will develop a high-quality, robust, distinctive national qualifications system that can compete and compare with the best in the world. Qualifications in Wales must be understood and respected worldwide to ensure portability and to enable our learners to study and work wherever is best for them. To this end we will launch a major, long-term, UK-wide communications strategy in late 2013, to raise the profile of qualifications in Wales, especially with universities and employers in England. We will provide clarity for learners who cross the Welsh border from their home to their place of learning, in either direction, about what the changes mean for them.
At the heart of the system will be a revised, more rigorous, Welsh Baccalaureate. The Welsh Baccalaureate is a true Baccalaureate, combining subject-specific qualifications with broader skills, knowledge and understanding. The Review identified some serious concerns over the rigour of the current model and we will act to address these, for instance introducing grading and more stretching requirements and removing unnecessary repetition of learning and assessment. However, we accept the Review’s finding that the Welsh Baccalaureate has proved successful to date and is widely valued and respected. We consider that a revised model will provide a framework for delivering a broad general education at 14-16 and coherent programmes of learning at 16-19. We will further develop the detailed model put forward by the Review, and consider whether there is a case for incorporating specific subjects such as science. The aim is to introduce the revised Welsh Baccalaureate for teaching from September 2015. We announced last year that the current Advanced level Welsh Baccalaureate will be graded for learners starting it this September.
We will retain GCSEs and A levels. Unlike Mr Gove, we and our stakeholders have confidence in these well established and recognised qualifications, which command respect with employers and universities around the world. Our communications strategy will promote the reputation of the brands, and seek to combat any negative messages from elsewhere. We will strengthen and amend these qualifications where necessary to meet the needs of our learners and ensure rigour. We will consider the implications for Wales of Michael Gove’s recent unilateral announcement on A and AS levels, which was not shared with us in advance, as we would have hoped under our concordat with DFE. On the face of it, the proposal for England has little appeal and certainly does not reflect the findings of our Review, but we need to reflect carefully on our options before making a decision. A further announcement will follow on A and AS levels shortly.
We will develop new GCSEs in English Language and Welsh First Language and two new maths GCSEs covering numeracy and mathematical techniques. These new GCSEs, for teaching from September 2015, will reflect and support the improvements expected from the Literacy and Numeracy Framework. People expect GCSEs to assess literacy and numeracy, and these new GCSEs will do so. Having two maths GCSEs will reflect the importance of the subject for progression and employment. We will expect most learners to take both maths GCSEs. Essential Skills Wales qualifications will no longer be used at 14-16 from 2015.
We will place a proper value on vocational qualifications, with vocational and general pathways leading to the same Welsh Baccalaureate qualification. Good vocational education is a cornerstone of our economy and vital for our learners. We will introduce a new, stronger gatekeeping process to ensure that we only approve for public funding qualifications that have quality, rigour, relevance and value. This will reduce the number of qualifications available, simplifying the picture for learners, parents and employers.
Some equivalence ratings between vocational qualifications and GCSEs lack credibility, distorting the range of options provided by schools and chosen by learners. We will introduce a maximum equivalence of two GCSEs, where justified, for reporting from 2016, using this and other levers to encourage a broad and balanced curriculum at 14-16.
We have already announced that we will strengthen regulation and establish Qualifications Wales. We have asked officials to commission a due diligence review and develop detailed proposals and a business case to ensure the viability and value for money of the new body. The resource implications for the Welsh Government of implementing Recommendation 5 will be examined as part of this work.
Learners, parents and learning providers need easily accessible, high-quality, evidence-based information about the relevance and value of qualifications, particularly in terms of outcomes and progression. We will improve the evidence base, using the Unique Learner Number system to improve our understanding of destinations.
We will develop revised Essential Skills and Wider Key Skills qualifications (for use post-16), addressing concerns raised about content and assessment. These will be trialled during 2014. In the meantime we will work with awarding organisations to address issues with the current suite of skills qualifications.
We will work with stakeholders in policy development and implementation, maintaining the collaborative approach of the Review. The success of this programme of change will depend fundamentally on teachers and lecturers delivering qualifications to a high standard. Will we work with awarding bodies to provide support, resources and continuing professional development for delivery of new qualifications.
Implementing the Review represents a significant programme of work. We must ensure that changes in qualifications work in synergy with changes resulting from our reviews of delivery, funding and the curriculum. Diverging from three country arrangements and introducing change will require significant resources, the details of which will be developed by late spring. We must be prepared to make an investment, in terms of resource, commitment and belief, in getting qualifications right. This will return substantial long-term benefits for our economy and our young people.