This is a guest blog article from Jo Richards, Executive Director of Regulation at Qualifications Wales. A similar article was published last year. August can be a tense month for anyone with teenagers at home. Whatever the temperature is outside, the feverish expectation of 16 and 18-year-olds waiting for their GCSE and A level results takes the heat to another level.
Summer 2017 was a landmark year for education. That’s when pupils first sat six GCSEs and 14 A levels designed specifically for Wales.
But what marks 2018 out is the fact that we will see an even greater number of newly reformed GCSEs, AS and A levels examined and awarded for the first time in Wales.
With more new qualifications being awarded for the first time this summer, our priority is to make sure that learners are not unfairly advantaged or disadvantaged and that the relevant standard is being maintained.
There are 15 GCSEs being awarded for the first time this summer. As with those subjects awarded for the first time in 2017, WJEC will be carrying forward standards from the old qualifications. Generally speaking, this means that where the 2018 cohort is similar to the 2017 one, we expect broadly similar outcomes at grades A, C and F.
We published the provisional number of entries for this summer’s GCSE, AS and A level exams on 24 May 2018. This data gives us an early indication of changes in entry patterns, which is useful when interpreting the results.
This summer there are some significant changes to the entry patterns in Wales. There has been a significant decrease in Year 10 entries for GCSE English Language, GCSE Welsh Language and the two mathematics GCSEs, and an increase in Year 10 entries for GCSE English Literature.
The decrease in entries has been driven by the change to school performance measures from summer 2019, recommended by Qualifications Wales in its report on the practice of early entry, which allows only a student’s first result to count.
The awarding process focuses on the performance of Year 11 students, so these changes to Year 10 entries will not impact on the maintenance of standards. But the changes to the overall cohort sitting these qualifications are likely to have an effect on the overall summer results.
It’s worth looking at science in detail, because it’s a subject that has seen some major changes.
The new science suite is made up of six qualifications: the separate sciences (GCSE Biology, Chemistry and Physics), GCSE Science (Double Award), GCSE Applied Science (Double Award), and GCSE Applied Science (Single Award).
The new GCSEs in Biology, Chemistry and Physics replace the old separate science qualifications in these subjects.
The new double award science qualification – which count as two GCSEs – replaces the old GCSE Science and GCSE Additional Science qualifications.
Two new applied science qualifications have also been added, one single and one double award.
Entries for all the science qualifications have increased which has most likely been driven by the change to school performance measures where alternatives to GCSE qualifications no longer count.
We therefore expect results this summer will be different from previous years because the cohort of students taking science GCSEs has changed significantly.
It’s worth remembering, too, that Wales, England and Northern Ireland are each taking their own approaches. In Wales we have retained the A*-G grading scale for GCSEs that universities and employers know and understand. Meanwhile in England, new GCSEs will be graded using a 9 to 1 system.
AS and A Levels
There are 10 A level subjects and six AS subjects being awarded for the first time this summer. As with those that were awarded for the first time in 2017, WJEC will be carrying forward standards from the old qualifications. In general, where the national cohort is similar in 2018 to that in 2017, we expect broadly similar outcomes at grades A and E.
Qualifications are reformed to make sure they’ll be fit for the future and raising awareness of the changes is part of our role as a regulator.
We need to ensure that teachers, learners and the wider public fully understand the reasons for qualifications being reformed in Wales, and how they compare to changes elsewhere in the UK. As a result, we’ve produced postcards and articles explaining these new qualifications and the exam process which can be found on our website.
We’ve also commissioned a series of animated videos to explain different aspects of our work. The first, looking at the marking and awarding process, is available on our website and YouTube.
Just as importantly, we ensure that qualifications taken in Wales are high quality and give an accurate, fair and trusted measure of achievement.
It means that students are still studying GCSEs and A levels which are the same size and at the same level of difficulty, whether they are sitting them in Wales, England or Northern Ireland. The new qualifications are updated, but just as accessible as the ones they replace.
We carefully oversee the award of each GCSE, AS and A level to make sure that this year’s students are treated the same as students in previous years. It means they can be confident in the knowledge that their results are a fair reflection of their performance.
Article by Jo Richards, Director Regulation, Qualifications Wales