AMs to debate General Principles of Qualifications Wales Bill

24 March 2015

Article by Michael Dauncey, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Image from Geograph by David Hawgood.  Licensed under the Creative Commons

Image from Geograph by David Hawgood. Licensed under the Creative Commons

In Plenary later today, Assembly Members will debate the general principles of the Qualifications Wales Bill and vote whether to allow it to progress to the next stage of its legislative journey through the Assembly.

The Qualifications Wales Bill provides for the transfer of regulatory responsibility for non-degree qualifications awarded in Wales from the Welsh Government to a new independent body, which will be known as ‘Qualifications Wales’. However, the Bill actually aims to do much more than that. Qualifications Wales will not simply do what the Minister and his officials in Cathays Park do at present; the Welsh Government wants to make improvements through reforms.

In the words of the Minister for Education and Skills, the Bill will enable Qualifications Wales to ‘shape’, ‘rationalise’ and ‘strengthen’ the system. The new organisation will be set two principal aims: firstly to ensure qualifications and the system itself meet the needs of learners and secondly to promote public confidence.

The Bill also gives Qualifications Wales powers to, jointly with the Welsh Government, prioritise qualifications to help deal with the overload of qualifications on offer in Wales. Qualifications Wales will also be able to restrict some priority qualifications to potentially only one form meaning every pupil in a maintained school would take exactly the same qualification.

Further information on what the Bill does and the background to its introduction can be found in the previous article back at the start of December as well as the Research Service’s Bill Summary (pdf374KB).

The Children, Young People and Education (CYPE) Committee published its report (pdf457KB) on 13 March after taking evidence during Stage 1 of the Assembly process. The report states:

‘The Committee is unanimous in its view that the establishment of Qualifications Wales is a positive step forward, and fully supports the approach taken in the Bill.’

This reflects the fact there is pretty much universal support amongst stakeholders for the principle of having an independent qualifications regulator. However, evidence the Committee received highlighted a number of concerns and potential risks that will have to be managed in setting up Qualifications Wales. These include:

  • the practicalities of how Qualifications Wales will work;
  • what is required to ensure Qualifications Wales successfully meets its purpose;
  • the clarity of provisions within the Bill, in particular relating to section 29(3) regarding “Welsh versions” of qualifications;
  • the advantages and disadvantages of the new arrangements for prioritising and restricting qualifications;
  • whether the Bill facilitates a more strategic approach to qualifications;
  • financial and commercial issues relating to the new system.

The CYPE Committee made 14 recommendations, although not all of these would require amendment to the Bill itself. Most recommendations urge the Welsh Government to carefully consider the potential risks or problems arising from the Bill, working with the interim Chief Executive of Qualifications Wales prior to the formal establishment of the body. The Committee also calls on the Welsh Government to monitor the impact of the Bill, recommending it reviews the impact on the qualifications market of any decisions to restrict the forms of qualifications available in Wales.

The Assembly’s Constitutional and Legislative Affairs (CLA) Committee has also scrutinised the Bill (pdf378KB). It ‘commends the Minister for the way in which the Bill is drafted’, adding ‘it is clear to follow and understandable’. The CLA Committee made just one recommendation on the use of procedure for making the commencement order.

If the general principles of the Qualifications Wales Bill gains approval by a majority vote in Plenary today, it will progress to Stage 2 of the Assembly’s legislative process. At this stage, the Children, Young People and Education Committee have the opportunity to amend the Bill, before it comes back to Plenary for further consideration and potential amendment by all Members.

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