The United Kingdom is made up of four nations; England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The majority of students, in the UK, follow the English curriculum. However, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland each have their own separate education systems as well. Although each is fairly similar in terms of content, the structure varies from nation to nation. Depending on where in the UK you live and which exam boards your teachers choose for you, it’s important to understand each separate education system.
In the UK, students from Wales tend to follow the curriculum set by the Welsh Government. The structure is largely the same as the English one. However, in Wales, students do not have to follow the national curriculum until they reach the age of 7, and the curriculum provided is different from that of the English system. Unlike England, compulsory education in Wales ends at the age of 16 rather than 18.
For more information about the Welsh education system, how it differs from the English system and the laws on education which are in place as of 2022, read on.
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Is the Welsh education system the same as in England?
There are many similarities between the English and Welsh education systems. Children follow a national curriculum and must partake in GCSEs. These are both also features of the English education system.
One of the main differences between the Welsh and English systems is how young children are educated. In both England and Wales, the compulsory school starting age is technically 5 years old. Most parents choose to put their children into primary school at age 4 or nursery at age 3.
English primary education is split into early years (nursery), key stage 1 and key stage 2. In Wales, however, the key stages no longer exist.
Children aged between 3-7 years old are put into the “Foundation Stage” which has no curriculum. Instead, teachers are given the freedom to teach pupils what they deem to be important, as long as they follow four main principles of learning.
From ages 7-16, there are no set levels or stages. However, the national curriculum does start from this point. The curriculum flows smoothly and continuously through primary and secondary education, meaning there are no step-ups from year to year.
In England, children are assessed at the end of KS1 and KS2, as part of the SAT exams. You can read more about the SATs in England in this Think Student article. In Wales, the SAT exams do not exist. Although pupils took “national tests” until July 2022, those exams are no longer in place and have no replacement.
There are some other minor differences between the two education systems, such as how GCSE students in England are given a number grade. On the other hand, Welsh GCSEs still use the old A*-E letter grade system. To learn more on these differences and others, check out this article by Relocate Magazine.
Does Wales have a national curriculum?
From September 2022, the Welsh Government began enforcing a new national curriculum for all state school pupils in Wales. This new curriculum follows a different path to the English national curriculum and focusses less on purely giving children knowledge.
This new curriculum aims to give students equal weightings of knowledge, skill, and experience. The new curriculum has six main areas of learning which must be taught. The six compulsory areas of learning are as follows:
- Expressive arts – this is for subjects such as drama and music, which will teach children how to be creative and express themselves.
- Humanities – geography, history and religion alongside other social sciences are important in allowing children to understand the world around them.
- Health and wellbeing – this covers any subject affecting children’s physical and mental wellbeing, including P.E and life skills.
- Science and technology – chemistry, biology and physics are the essential sciences alongside others such as ICT and DT.
- Mathematics and numeracy – in the Welsh curriculum, maths will fulfil the independent and collaborative elements of the scheme, as the subject should be taught with a mixture of individual and group work.
- Language, literacy, and communication – seeing as Wales is a nation of two languages, children from ages 3-16 will all be taught both English and Welsh.
As part of the national curriculum in Wales, pupils must learn the Welsh language. Although it is rarely used, seeing as most, if not all the citizens of Wales are able to speak English, it is seen as important that the children learn and understand it.
The language is part of Welsh culture and is an important part of the country’s history which the Welsh people are proud of. For more information about the Welsh language being taught in schools in Wales, check out this article by Cymru Online.
Are GCSEs and A-Levels studied in Wales?
In Wales, GCSEs are compulsory and are taken at age 16, the same as English students. You can read more about why GCSEs are compulsory in this article.
However, as the curriculum is changing, so are GCSEs in Wales. With the changing world, Welsh exams will have a greater emphasis on the use of technology.
This means there will be less learning information for fact-recall in exams. This is because, in most workplaces, employees can easily research information if they need to know it.
Instead, pupils will need to apply researched information to the given questions. These new GCSEs will start being taught in 2025. For more information about this, check out this article by the BBC.
A-Levels are also available in Wales but differ slightly from the English version of the qualification. Have a look at this Think Student article for more information about A-Levels.
In Wales, schools can choose for students to take AS exams at the end of the first year and A2 exams at the end of the second. They do have the option to take both AS and A2 exams at the end of Year 13.
However, students still have to take separate exams on the content from Year 1 and Year 2. For the majority of pupils in England, the content from both years is compiled into one set of exam papers, meaning questions could combine Year 1 and 2 knowledge.
The content is the same across both countries, which means that Welsh schools can choose from English exam boards, as well as WJEC. Lots of schools in England opt to enter their students with the Welsh exam board as well.
To learn more about GCSE and A-Level exams in Wales, check out this article by Relocate Magazine. For more information about the education system in England to make a comparison between the two nations, have a look at this Think Student article.
When does compulsory education end in Wales?
In England, children must be in full-time education until the age of 18, which you can read more about in this article from Think Student. This can be in any form, such as an apprenticeship or BTECs at college.
On the other hand, in Wales, students are only required to be in education until they turn 16. This means that all Welsh pupils must take GCSEs, but they don’t necessarily have to continue learning after this. Instead, they could go and get a job which will earn them some money to take them into the next stage of their career.
For more information about the different school leaving ages in the UK, check out this governmental guide.
Although lots of school children like the idea of leaving school at age 16, it’s advised that they continue with education beyond this. It is quite difficult to get a job when the only qualifications you have are GCSEs.
A-Levels, BTECs and T-Levels are all great further education qualifications that can lead you into higher education. This Think Student article explains more about further education and this article explains more about higher education and where it can take you in the future.
If you have a plan of what you want to do post-16, and it doesn’t involve gaining any further or higher qualifications, then leaving school would be great idea for you.
However, if you simply like the idea of getting out of school, you may need to think about how this may limit you in the future. This article from Think Student goes into more detail about the importance of A-Levels to employers.
What is the Welsh education board?
In every nation in the UK, there is an education board overseeing the running of free schools and what they’re teaching. In Wales, this is the Department for Education and Skills, and is run by the Welsh government.
They are in charge of writing the curriculum guidelines and deciding on public, legally required exams for pupils. They decide on the funding schools will receive and are the first point of contact for the teacher’s union if there is an issue.
Alongside this, they are also in charge of organising and carrying out inspections in schools to make sure a good quality of education is being maintained across the country. This means they’re also responsible for dealing with issues and mediating any arguments over the outcome of these inspections.
To learn more about the Department for Education and Skills, check out this guide by Operation Fatherhood. You can visit the Welsh Department for Education and Skills’ website using this link. You’ll be able to find support and guidance in budgeting as a school, how to care for special needs children in a school environment and much more.