Wales politics

Wales-only GCSE exams start in 2015, says Welsh government

Exams being taken
Image caption The new GCSEs will start being taught in Welsh classrooms in September 2015

Plans to introduce at least four new GCSE exams from September 2015 have been unveiled by the new education minister.

The new GCSEs will continue to include modules and assessments, unlike in England where there is a move to focus on exams.

The subjects will be English language, Welsh, numeracy and mathematics.

The Conservative opposition in the assembly said Huw Lewis was threatening to "devalue" the qualifications.

Mr Lewis was promoted to the post last month after the resignation of Leighton Andrews.

The new minister's stance on GCSEs follows earlier recommendations of a qualifications review in Wales for pupils aged between 14 and 19.

It also seals the split with the exam system in England, which is facing a complete overhaul by UK education secretary Michael Gove.

Spelling out the model for the new GCSEs for Wales in a written statement, Mr Lewis stressed: "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."

'Reform programme'

He said it was "likely" that new GCSEs for Welsh literature and English literature would be introduced in 2015, and he has asked officials to examine science, with a focus on vocational elements of the subject.

While the GCSE model in Wales will look very different from the system being introduced in England, the minister confirmed that the AS and A-Level qualifications would be kept the same as in England and Northern Ireland.

"The review of qualifications recommended that we should 'maintain the same A-levels as England and Northern Ireland where possible'," said Mr Lewis.

"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).

"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."

But the Conservative shadow education minister in the assembly, Angela Burns, was critical of the announcement.

"Welsh Labour ministers appear to be ploughing on with these short-sighted proposals for Wales-only GCSEs which risk devaluing Welsh qualifications and confusing employers," she said.

"These changes look like a cynical attempt to disguise poor academic performance and to politically position the Welsh Labour government against the Conservative-led coalition.

"I would like to see education ministers across Wales, England and Northern Ireland get around the table and agree a position on a robust three-country GCSE to continue to allow cross-border movement and the collection of comparable performance data."

Plaid Cymru education spokesman Simon Thomas said his party welcomed progress on the review of qualifications but said it was "vital" that the regulator be independent of government.

He said: "Plaid Cymru revealed this week of political interference in Welsh Joint Education Committee by the previous minister.

"The new minister must move away from this confrontational approach and respect the independence of WJEC as an examination body and as a charity."

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