New Curriculum, New Qualifications – The National 14-16 qualifications offer in Wales

In this blog, Oliver Stacey from Qualifications Wales outlines their wide ranging reforms to the 14-16 qualifications offer in Wales, so that it supports the new Curriculum for Wales and is inclusive for all learners.

The introduction of Curriculum for Wales

The ambitious and forward looking Curriculum for Wales is now a reality across schools, with all maintained primary and secondary schools across the country now following the new framework.

In response to this we, at Qualifications Wales (the regulator), have been reforming the 14-16 qualifications offer so that it relates to and supports Curriculum for Wales. A central principle we have used to guide our reforms is that the overall offer should be inclusive and coherent.

GCSE Reforms

To help achieve this we have considered reforms to both GCSE qualifications and the broader suite of 14-16 qualifications. In relation to GCSEs we co-created the design requirements for GCSEs with a wide range of stakeholders. This has led to the creation of GCSEs in new subject areas such as Social Studies and Dance. It has also broadened the assessment methods included within them. The majority of these new GCSEs will be introduced for first teaching from 2025.

Meeting the needs of Learners

Whilst GCSE qualifications are well respected and understood, we know that they do not fully cater for all the needs of every learner, either in terms of their content and assessment or with respect to the range of subjects and skills they assess.

To address this we are inviting awarding bodies to work with us to develop an exciting and innovative range of made-for Wales qualifications to sit alongside the GCSEs. These qualifications will use a range of assessment methods, with external exams playing only a limited role in some qualifications and not being a feature at all in others.

The types of assessment that feature will naturally vary by qualification and subject. However across the qualifications suite this is likely to include portfolios, practical tasks, performances, oral assessments, presentations and the creation of artefacts. Using such diverse methods will enable learners to demonstrate what they know, understand and can do in a variety of ways and formats.

Together with GCSEs, these new qualifications will form an inclusive and coherent range that we are calling National 14-16 Qualifications. The new qualifications will be:

VCSEs (Vocational Certificates of Secondary Education)

These will be the same size and level as GCSEs and be available in a range of broad occupational areas such as hair and beauty, environmental conservation and motor vehicle maintenance.

Personal Project qualification

This will be roughly the size of half a GCSE and can be completed by learners on a topic of their choice. The qualification will assess learners application of skills and will enable learners to demonstrate their skills through a wide range of evidence types.

Skills for life and work

These will consist of short bite sized units of between 10 and 20 hours in areas such as financial literacy, sustainability in action, and online safety. These can be taken as standalone units or taken together and combined to achieve qualifications of different sizes

Foundation qualifications

These will be available at entry level and level 1 in a range of subject areas for learners who are not yet ready to take GCSE or VCSE qualifications.

Positive Feedback

Feedback from our consultation on these qualifications has been very positive. Some of the themes coming out strongly in terms of what stakeholders liked about our proposals were:

  • The flexibility in structure and assessment within the qualifications
  • The strong focus on practical learning and assessment
  • The broader range of subjects and skills they cover
  • That they cater for the full range of learners, both the academically minded and the practically adept
  • The introduction of a common VCSE brand which puts vocational and practical learning at 14-16 on an equal footing GCSEs.

The next Steps

From our work with GCSEs we have learnt the value of co-creating qualifications with stakeholders. In this approach stakeholders have active involvement in the development of the design requirements throughout the process. We know that this approach where a diverse range of people can contribute their views helps to create a stronger and more innovative product as well as one which stakeholders have more confidence and ‘buy in’ to.

With this in mind over the course of 2024 we will be co-creating the design requirements for these new qualifications with stakeholders including teachers, learners and awarding bodies.

This will help to turn our exciting proposals into design requirements which awarding bodies will then use to create the new qualifications. These new qualifications will be introduced for first teaching from September 2027. More information about the qualifications and the wider programme of work can be found on the qualified for the future pages of our website.

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