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> Qualification Wales


Changes to GCSE and A-Level Examinations in Wales


Qualifications Wales


The Welsh Government has established a new body called Qualifications Wales, the task of which is to monitor and improve the standards of all qualifications taken by 14 – 19 students in Wales. This includes GCSE, A-level, the Welsh Baccalaureate and all other qualifications taken by students at this age. Qualifications Wales has been designed to distance standards in education, subject material, methods of assessment and, eventually, even the awarding of examination certificates from government and government ministers as far as this is practically possible.


AS and A-levels in Wales


At A-level, the Welsh government has used its devolved responsibility for education to make the strategic decision to retain the AS and A-level system much as it is today. Consequently, AS examinations will still be taken by students in Wales at the end of year 12 and will result in the publication of AS grades each August. In addition, the A* - E system of grading at both AS and A-level is also being retained. Indeed, the only real change to the A-level system in Wales from September 2015 onwards will be that AS will contribute 40% to the final A-level grade rather than 50% as it does now. Much of this contrasts markedly with the situation in England.


From September 2015 onwards, although AS qualifications will still exist in England they will no longer contribute in any way to an A-level. Consequently, students in England will no longer be able to use an AS qualification to move on to A-level (A2). In all probability, therefore, the AS qualification in England will soon disappear. In many ways, the A-level Course in England is reverting to something like it used to be many years ago; a two-year course of study with one set of examinations (finals) taken at the end of year two (year 13) with no opportunity at any stage to retake any module. As in Wales, the grading of A-levels in England will remain as it is today; A* - E being pass grades and U (unclassified) being fail.


A thoroughgoing review of all syllabus material for every A-level subject offered in both England and Wales is also well underway. In Wales, new specifications have already been drawn-up for 13 A-level subjects and students will begin these new courses in September 2015. The remaining 10 subjects will start in September 2016.


What Does This Mean for A-Level Students in Wales?


In August 2015, year 12 (Lower Sixth) students in Wales will receive their AS grades. They will be able to use these grades and certificates to progress to A-level. In addition, students in Wales will, from 2015 onwards, still be able to use their AS grades as part of their UCAS (University) application and schools and colleges in Wales will, no doubt, base A-level grade predictions for UCAS largely upon AS grades much as they do today. Finally, students in Wales will also have the opportunity, if necessary, to improve upon their grades at AS by retaking AS modules at the end of year 13.

Although year 12 students in England intending to progress to A-level may well take school-based tests in the summer of 2015, they will not take AS exams or, indeed, any public examinations at all. Consequently, students in England will have no choice but to apply to University at the start of year 13 without AS grades. Indeed, the only qualifications these students will be able to offer any University as an indication of their academic ability will be the GCSEs they took at age 16. How University Admissions Tutors will view the merits of these two divergent systems is at present unknown.

GCSEs in Wales

The Welsh government has decided to retain the present GCSE system virtually intact. This will include the present system of grading where A* - C co-ordinates with National Framework Level 2 and D – G maps across to Level 1. Unlike A-level however, no change at GCSE is being contemplated until September 2016. As with A-level, each GCSE syllabus is to be reviewed as regards its content and degree of difficulty. So far, 12 new or revised GCSE syllabus specifications have been published for teaching beginning September 2016. Once again, this contrasts markedly with the situation in England.

In England, it would appear the GCSE certificate is to be abandoned altogether in favour of something which looks very much like the old O-level qualification. In addition, the grading system at GCSE is changing from letters to numbers with 9 being the highest grade and 1 being lowest. Once again, how these two systems will be viewed by Universities is at present unknown.



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