18/Apr/2014 - Last News Update: 06:32

Review proposes 'significant' cut in qualifications

Category: Wales

Published: 31st May 2012 07:42:50

A review is asking whether major changes should be made to the qualifications sat by teenagers in Wales.

The former college principal heading it says there needs to be a "significant" cut in the number of courses on offer.

It is consulting on whether or not GCSEs should be replaced by completely new qualifications.

The Welsh government, which commissioned the study, says it wants to "simplify" the system.

In a consultation launched on Thursday, the review asks whether completely new qualifications for 14 to 16-year-olds should replace GCSEs or whether Wales should follow what is happening England.

It also raises concerns about the quality of literacy and numeracy skills, asking what is the best way to assess them.

The review is also asking whether the Welsh qualifications system should diverge from the rest of the UK.

The review board includes head teachers, college principals, a university vice chancellor and business people.

Employers told the review panel that they only saw grades A to C in English, Welsh and maths as "initial indicators" of ability.

The Welsh Government wants to simplify the qualifications system, and ensure it delivers for our learners and the economy.”

"They also tell us that candidates with these qualifications are not necessarily literate or numerate," it says.

The concept of an "overarching qualification" is proposed as a way to provide "a well-rounded and coherent education".

Minimum thresholds could be set so young people "matriculate" with a balanced mix of subjects, literacy and numeracy, it says.

Feedback about the Welsh baccalaureate was "largely positive", but the review board encountered some reservations about its rigour, the consultation says.

Review chairman Huw Evans said more 16-year-olds were staying in education instead of leaving school and going straight into work.

Mr Evans, former principal of Coleg Llandrillo, said: "The qualification system needs to respond to these changes and evolving challenges.

Nicola Smith, BBC Wales education correspondent

The purpose of this review is to ensure qualifications for 14 to 19 year olds are valued and that they meet the needs of young people and of the Welsh economy.

In essence, it is about what and how our pupils should study in future.

Evidence so far shows the current system is complex, confusing and simply not providing teenagers with the basic skills they need when they leave school or college.

In England, changes to the National Curriculum, to vocational qualifications and to how GCSEs are examined are already underway.

But Wales does not have to follow suit. Some teaching unions argue this is a chance to build a qualification system that better suits the needs of Wales. An opportunity for real change.

The Conservatives describe it as a "disruptive, costly and unnecessary reorganisation of qualifications."

For the next few months, the public have their chance to decide who they agree with and to shape what happens here.

"It is essential that young people in education are gaining the knowledge, skills, understanding and qualifications that will best equip them to enter the increasingly competitive worlds of employment or higher education."

There are currently 6,500 qualifications taught in schools and colleges out of a potential 11,400.

But Mr Evans said the review was looking at criteria to "significantly" reduce the number.

The consultation document follows six months of evidence on what changes were needed. Recommendations are expected to be made to deputy skills minister Jeff Cuthbert in the autumn.

The consultation also says the burden of assessment for 14 to 19-year-olds should be eased. Education "must not be reduced to a process of 'teaching to the test'", it says.

Mr Cuthbert said: "At this time of year qualifications are uppermost in the minds of many young people and their families.

"We must ensure that their hard work and achievements are rewarded with qualifications that remain relevant, valued and fit for purpose in the 21st Century."

For the Conservatives, shadow education minister Angela Burns said she was concerned that "simplifying the system" might mean Wales ends up with a "second rate" education system.

"Why are the needs of our children, when they have to go out there in an international market place, so very different from the needs of a child in Scotland or England or Ireland or France or wherever it may be?" she said.

"Please, whatever we do, we must make sure that our children are able to be judged on that international market place."

'Rounded individuals'

She pointed out that while the International Baccalaureate was widely acclaimed, there was still a struggle to ensure that the Welsh Baccalaureate was accepted for entry to even Welsh universities.

She added: "What are we trying to say that - that you can only grow up in Wales, be educated in Wales, go to university or do other courses in Wales?"

Iestyn Davies, from the Federation of Small Businesses in Wales, said he supported the review.

He said he believed any new qualifications needed to ensure the basics, such as literacy and numeracy are taught well, while also teaching "soft skills", such as ensuring an employee can present themselves well.

"It's a complex question we're trying to answer. No-one wants to stifle the creative energies of a young person," he said.

"What we need to do is get the core skills right, the basic skills right, and make sure we have rounded individuals in schools."

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BBC News, 2012. Review proposes 'significant' cut in qualifications [Online] (Updated 31st May 2012)
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