Introducing Qualifications Wales

22 December 2016

Article by Joe Champion, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

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A row of school desks

This is the first article in a two-part blog, following the release of Qualifications Wales’ first Annual Report. This part outlines the background to the establishment of Qualifications Wales, its aims and some of its main areas of activities in its first year. Tomorrow’s blog will cover the Children, Young People and Education Committee’s scrutiny of the Annual Report.

Background

Qualifications Wales (QW), the independent regulator of non-degree qualifications, was established by the Qualifications Wales Act 2015 (the Act) and began operating on 21 September 2015. Prior to QW, the Welsh Government were responsible for regulating qualifications in Wales.

The Act provides QW with two principal aims, which it must act compatibly with when exercising its functions. They are:

  • Ensuring that qualifications, and the Welsh qualification system, are effective for meeting the reasonable needs of learners in Wales; and
  • Promoting public confidence in qualifications and in the Welsh qualification system.

In August 2015, the Research Service produced an Act Summary of the Qualifications Wales Act 2015 and its background.

Although funded by the Welsh Government, QW retains ‘operational and regulatory independence’. The Qualifications Wales Framework Document sets out the relationship between the Welsh Government and QW.

Qualifications Wales’ powers and main areas of activities

In pursuing its principle aims, QW has four main areas of activity:

  • Recognition and approvalrecognising awarding bodies, who give out qualifications in Wales, which meet specified criteria. As part of the process it approves or designates the qualifications the awarding bodies wish to offer in Wales. A list of qualifications currently ‘approved’ or ‘designated’ is available through QW’s Qualifications in Wales (QiW) online database.
  • Monitoring and compliance – regulating awarding bodies to ensure that they maintain the required standards and deliver qualifications effectively. The qualifications being delivered are also reviewed to check their fitness for purpose.
  • Development and commissioning – when necessary, QW oversees the design of new qualification requirements and can commission awarding bodies to develop new qualifications for the Welsh education system.
  • Research – it undertakes research into the qualification system and into specific areas of interest, in order to ‘make evidence-based decisions’.

Prioritisation and restriction

QW is also able to prioritise and restrict qualifications. QW and the Welsh Government jointly decide what qualifications are to be prioritised. Prioritised qualifications are published on the Priority Qualifications List (PQL).

Qualifications on the PQL will be fast tracked for approval or designation, allowing them to receive funding for teaching in schools and colleges in Wales. QW has stated that prioritisation is not intended to communicate the relative importance of one qualification or qualification type over another. It is more about targeting its resources effectively.

QW can restrict the delivery of qualifications to a single awarding body in order to improve the consistency of delivery or to ensure the relevance of its contents. However, QW notes that:

We have not yet implemented such a restriction, or commissioned new qualifications, but we are considering doing so. Following our Sector Review of Health and Social Care, we took the decision to consult on plans to restrict and commission a new suite of qualifications in this sector for learners from the age of 14 upwards.

QW also produces a ‘Forward Look’ which outlines the qualifications that QW is considering for inclusion on the PQL in the future.

Developing and publishing Approval criteria

Another key part of QW’s initial work has been developing Approval criteria for reformed GCSEs, AS and A Levels in Wales. Approval criteria sets out the conditions a qualification needs to fulfil in order to be approved, or designated, for use in schools and colleges in Wales.

The reform of general qualifications was begun by the Welsh Government, in response to some of the recommendations in the Review of Qualifications for 14 to 19-year-olds in Wales. The Welsh Government completed the reform of GCSEs in Mathematics, English Language and Welsh Language, in time to be taught in September 2015.

The responsibility for developing the remaining sets of Approval criteria now sits with QW. By August 2016, QW had published 11 Subject Approval Criteria, as well as Qualification Approval Criteria, which sets the general standards, for GCSEs and AS/A Levels.

QW reports that:

To ensure that these new qualifications met the needs of learners in Wales, we developed their Approval criteria with the active involvement (in person), and through consultation of stakeholders and subject experts, who provided us with proposals and recommendations for the subject content, structure and assessment arrangements.