How Wales’ new GCSEs could look as fewer exams are considered

How Wales' new GCSEs could look as fewer exams are considered

Pupils in Wales would no longer take three separate science GCSEs under proposed changes to exams under the new curriculum.

There could also be fewer GCSE exams for languages and maths. The proposals are among plans for a new range of GCSE subjects published today (Thursday, October 14), by exam regulator Qualifications Wales.

The regulator said the review would better prepare young people for the future world of work and how that is changing.

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Pupils at Mary Immaculate school, Cardiff, with their summer 2021 GCSE results
(Image: WalesOnline/Rob Browne)

Instead of sitting separate physics, chemistry and biology GCSE exams, or the science double award, pupils would be offered one exam, a new, integrated GCSE Science double award. This combines all three subjects and would be worth two GCSEs.

The current two separate English language and literature GCSEs would be merged into one, while proposals for Welsh language exams are still under discussion.

The proposals, laid out in a 107-page document – Qualified for the Future – are among a major overhaul of all GCSEs being looked at to align qualifications with the new curriculum for Wales.

Responding to the changes the Royal Society of Chemistry said: “To gain our full support, a single GCSE science route would need to present a clear identity for chemistry and other core sciences.”

Under the new curriculum, coming in next year, traditional subject boundaries will be broken down with more cross curricular work.

If the proposed GCSE changes are agreed then teaching for the new GCSE would start in 2025 with the first exams sat in 2027.

The regulator has published its proposals after consulting 1,500 learners, parents, teachers, lecturers and employers but said it would spend this year in further “intensive collaboration” before delivering a final set of proposals by summer 2022. The new qualifications would then be ready for teaching to learners in 2025.

“These new GCSEs will give learners and schools a choice of subjects that reflects the breadth and balance of the new Curriculum for Wales,” Qualifications Wales said in a statement.

“Fewer separate GCSEs in mathematics, science and languages will provide more space for learners to gain broader experiences across the whole curriculum.”

The proposed new GCSEs to be taught from 2025 and sat in 2027

Expressive arts

There will be new GCSEs in:

 Art and Design

 Drama

 Music

 Film and Digital Media.

There will be a new made-for-Wales Dance qualification.

A choice of multi-disciplinary qualifications in Expressive Arts will continue to be available.

Health and Wellbeing

There will be new GCSEs in:

 Food and Nutrition

 Physical Education

 Health and Social Care, and Childcare.

Humanities

There will be new GCSEs in:

 Business

 Geography

 History

 Religious Studies

 Social Studies

Languages, Literacy and Communication

There will be a new integrated English Language and Literature GCSE.

There will be new GCSEs in:

 French

 German

 Spanish

 There will be a new set of small qualifications in a range of international languages to encourage wider engagement with language learning.

 There will be a new made-for-Wales British Sign Language qualification aimed at school-aged learners.

 Welsh – Qualifications Wales said it will confirm in January 2022 the choice of Welsh language qualifications that should be available adding: “In the meantime, we will work with stakeholders to review our original proposals along other potential options to make sure the changes are as effective as possible in supporting Welsh Government’s policy on the Welsh language in education.”

Mathematics

There will be a new integrated Mathematics and Numeracy GCSE and two new made-for-Wales qualifications that can be taken in addition to the GCSE:

 A digitally assessed qualification that focuses on numerical proficiency

 A Level 2 qualification in Additional Mathematics

Science and Technology

There will be new GCSEs in:

 Computer Science

 Built Environment

 Design and Technology

 Digital Technology

 Engineering and Manufacturing

 And a new, integrated GCSE Science double award qualification to replace the existing science GCSEs.

Integral Skills

The current Skills Challenge Certificate will be replaced with a simpler and more manageable qualification to assess the Integral Skills of:

 Creativity and Innovation

 Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

 Personal Effectiveness

 Planning and Organising.

The Royal Society of Chemistry responds

Royal Society of Chemistry director of education, Sarah Robertson, said: “We responded to the consultation earlier this year and strongly agree that the overarching principle of providing a common route for students is the right course of action.

“Having multiple qualification pathways leads to different progression opportunities for different students, for example with data showing students studying triple science are more likely to come from socially advantaged backgrounds.

“Some qualifications may not appropriately prepare students for chemistry A-level or other Level 3 qualifications, so it is clearly not ideal having schools impose choices – or asking students to make decisions at the age of 14 – that could narrow down their future options for work and study.

“However, to gain our full support, a single GCSE science route would need to present a clear identity for chemistry and other core sciences, that supports progression to the next stage, and is accessible to learners, with an equivalency of two GCSEs. This qualification is crucial in providing an inspirational education experience that ignites the spark in students who will be the highly-skilled workforce of the future, fighting pandemics, climate change and making the scientific advances that make all our lives better.”

Pupils in a science lesson

With exams cancelled for the last two years by Covid, the report says the review is a chance to address the impact of the pandemic and future of exams.

The regulator said it wants learners to have a more positive experience with exams as well as making them more relevant.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has clearly impacted all areas of our lives including the education system,” it adds.

“This has led us to ask fundamental questions about the design of teaching, learning and assessment, and the way in which qualifications are assessed and awarded.

“The pandemic has also changed perceptions of qualifications and highlighted the need for greater robustness and resilience in the system.”

The changes may also mean more digital learning and assessment rather than written exams. But the regulator warns “a digital divide remains” and qualifications and learning must be equally accessible to all.

Qualifications Wales chief executive Philip Blaker said: “With the introduction of the new Curriculum for Wales in September 2022, it is crucial that we look at how we can innovate qualifications to prepare learners to succeed in an ever-changing world.”

“We want to work together with others to rethink and co-construct an entirely new generation of GCSEs.

“We want everyone – learners, teachers, lecturers, employers and parents – to help re-imagine how qualifications are assessed. With new content and new assessment focused on experiences and well-being that will bring the new curriculum to life and meet the needs of all learners.

“We are recruiting teachers and educational professionals to help us shape the new qualifications.

“This will be a collaborative and creative process over the next few months to help us explore and reimagine the relationship between the curriculum, teaching and assessment.

“This is a unique opportunity to create innovative, creative and sustainable qualifications that will respond and adapt to the ever increasing, rapid changes we face in society.

“Long-term thinking and planning are key to ensuring the future generations in Wales have a deeper and more focused learner experience with well-being and equality at its heart.”

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