Agenda item

Verbal update on the GCSE reform (Made-for-Wales GCSEs)


Barry Rees, Corporate Director thanked the Committee for the opportunity to address the matter under consideration. An overview was provided of the changes proposed following a public consultation held between October and December 2022 on the reform of GCSEs by Qualifications Wales, an independent statutory body funded by the Welsh Government (WG). The final decision would be done by WG whilst the examination board WJEC would implement the changes.


The outcomes of the consultation had very recently been published hence the verbal update as opposed to a written report. Several concerns could be drawn from the outcomes, including combining Biology, Chemistry and Physics to GCSE The Sciences (Double Award), which would result in the abolishment of separate science GCSEs (Triple Award) offered by 80% of schools throughout Wales. 


Evidence from the Consultation’s outcomes suggested that the consensus of 456 respondents had been disregarded, as reflected in the findings below: 


  • Overall, to what extent do you agree or disagree with our proposal for GCSE The Sciences (Double Award)? Overall, 13% agreed with the proposal for GCSE The Sciences (Double Award), whilst 78% disagreed.
  • To what extent do you agree or disagree that the proposal for GCSE The Sciences (Double Award) meets the reasonable needs of learners in Wales? Overall, 12% agreed that the proposal for GCSE The Sciences (Double Award) meets the needs of learners in Wales, whilst 75% disagreed.


Despite clear responses, Qualifications Wales had announced that GCSE The Sciences (Double Award) would be developed, replacing separate science GCSEs. This decision could lead to challenges for pupils who wished to follow traditional routes, such as studying medicine or veterinary science at university and for apprenticeships. As outlined by the local authority’s Corporate Strategy, one objective was to boost the economy, support businesses and enable employment, therefore, strong scientific skills were key for ventures such as AberInnovation and Food Centre Wales available locally. Barry Rees explained that information had been shared about the proposals with the Political Group leaders, the Chair of the Committee and the relevant Cabinet Member.


Members were provided with the opportunity to ask questions to Barry Rees. The main points raised were as follows:

·       The higher education sector was involved in the consultation and confirmed that the pathway from GCSE The Sciences (Double Award) to A Level and onto higher education was legitimate. Despite this, concerns were raised by Officers and Members that it would create a more difficult pathway for pupils compared to pupils in England who would have the benefit of studying separate science GCSEs and would retain the linear pathway.

·       Concerns were raised that the changes that would possibly be introduced from September 2025 onwards were a significant step back and would prevent pupils from specialising in subjects.

·       It was suggested that the changes may be due to the lack of teachers, however, this solution would create another problem.

·       Changes to other subjects were also being proposed; a report would be presented at a later meeting.

·       The rationale for the changes was questioned. It was noted that there was an ambition for pupils to have a balanced education. In addition, it would allow some time in the Curriculum for pupils to study other subjects including the Welsh Baccalaureate. A combination of traditional/ academic and vocational subjects was deemed important but removing the choice from pupils was concerning.

·       The next step for Qualifications Wales was to present the proposals formally to WG for decision. During this period, there were opportunities to voice opinions on the changes to the decision-makers, and to two key figures (the Chief Executive of Qualifications Wales and Jeremy Miles MS, Minister for Education and Welsh Language).

·       Members expressed concerns about whether the changes would have an impact on university applications. Qualifications Wales alleged that GCSE The Sciences (Double Award) would be sufficient as the entrance points were based on A-Level grades. Courses such as medicine were already difficult to access given the high grades required, and as a result, foundation courses had been established. This created a long pathway for pupils to reach their goals, however, the changes proposed would make it more challenging again.


Following recommendations from the Committee Members, it was agreed for Barry Rees, Corporate Director to draft a letter to be sent to the Chief Executive of Qualifications Wales, Welsh Government and Jeremy Miles MS, Minister for Education and Welsh Language to express deep-seated concerns, focusing on three principles: removing the choice from pupils, disregarding the views of respondents and the impact on pupils’ educational pathway. It was agreed that the letter would be shared with the Committee and submitted in their name.