Article by Michael Dauncey, National Assembly for Wales Research Service
The Minister for Education and Skills, Huw Lewis, has today (1 December 2014) introduced legislation to set up a new national qualifications body that will be known as ‘Qualifications Wales’. The Qualifications Wales Bill now begins its legislative journey through the Assembly process. If passed, the Bill will establish Qualifications Wales and transfer responsibility for regulation and quality assurance of qualifications awarded in Wales from the Welsh Government to the new body. The Children, Young People and Education Committee will be scrutinising the Bill at Stage 1 of the Assembly’s legislative process and is seeking people’s views on the proposed new law. Its call for evidence runs until 16 January 2014. There are a lot of changes currently being made to qualifications in Wales, following an independent review which was undertaken by Huw Evans and his report published in November 2012: Review of Qualifications for 14 to 19 year olds in Wales. These reforms include new forms of GCSEs and A/AS levels, a revised and more rigorous Welsh Baccalaureate, and a more strategic approach towards vocational qualifications. However, the Qualifications Wales Bill specifically responds to one of Huw Evans’ recommendations which was to set up the new independent regulator. The Bill stops short of giving Qualifications Wales awarding functions, although this remains the Welsh Government’s long-term objective. This is after the Minister accepted a recommendation from the Children, Young People and Education Committee’s pre-legislative scrutiny earlier in the year that more consideration was needed before the new body took on awarding, as well as regulatory powers. So what does the Qualifications Wales Bill actually do? Well, it does more than simply transfer regulation and quality assurance outside of government. Indeed, it makes several changes which the Welsh Government says will actually improve oversight of qualifications and the qualifications system as a whole. The Welsh Government argues the current system needs change, highlighting four limitations of current arrangements:
- There is no single organisation dedicated to ensuring qualifications and the qualifications system are effective.
- There are no powers to prioritise qualifications and therefore focus regulatory activity where it is most needed.
- There are no powers to ensure learners across Wales take the same version of a qualification by restricting this to only one form provided by one awarding body.
- There is not enough capacity within the system to strategically develop qualifications. This jeopardises the reputation of Wales’ qualifications outside Wales.
The Bill gives Qualifications Wales two principal aims aimed at overcoming these limitations. These are
- Ensuring that qualifications, and the Welsh qualifications system, are effective for meeting the reasonable needs of learners in Wales.
- Promoting public confidence in qualifications and in the Welsh qualifications system.
By setting the new organisation these two aims and a number of matters to which it must have regard, the Welsh Government intends this will equip Qualifications Wales so that it can improve the current position. The Welsh Government also wants to be able to be more strategic in terms of the qualifications on offer to young people in Wales. The Bill allows for Ministers together with Qualifications Wales to produce a list of ‘priority qualifications’ and within these a further category of ‘restricted qualifications’. As the term implies, Qualifications Wales will be able to restrict the number of forms of a restricted qualifications to as few as one. This will only apply to maintained schools and not to independent (private) schools. To take GCSE English for example, this means that a pupil in a maintained school would only be able to take the single Qualifications Wales approved version. To some extent, the move towards single specifications of general qualifications such as GCSEs and A levels is already happening. The Welsh Government recently announced that the WJEC would be the sole provider of the new GCSEs in English, Welsh and Mathematics from September 2015, along with other revised GCSEs from September 2016, as well as revised A/AS levels. Given the level of change that is taking place to qualifications more generally, the Welsh Government is undertaking a communications strategy aimed at ensuring employers, universities, learners and parents are aware of the changes. Further information is available on the new ‘Qualified for Life’ website. Subject to the Bill being passed by the Assembly and subsequently receiving Royal Assent, the Welsh Government intends that Qualifications Wales will be up and running in September 2015. The organisation will be independent from, although accountable for its expenditure to, the Welsh Government, and will have to submit an annual report to the National Assembly on how it is working towards its principal aims.