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Changing educational landscape in Wales is necessary but creates great challenges for qualifications, says NAHT Cymru

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Commenting on GCSE results day, Rob Williams, Director of NAHT Cymru, said: "Congratulations to all pupils across Wales receiving their GCSE results today. They deserve great credit for the effort they have put in to achieving their results, and the unfailing support of their families, school staff and wider support networks should also be publicly acknowledged.

"It’s difficult to draw solid conclusions from this year’s results, or to compare them to previous years, as so much has changed. With radically different cohort sizes, 15 new qualifications and a very rapid pace of change, this has been a tough year for teachers and students alike. 

"2018 has seen the awarding of 15 new GCSEs in Wales – a scale of qualification reform that requires great co-ordination and preparation. School leaders, teachers and support staff have worked hard with other organisations over the last few years, such as the WJEC and Qualifications Wales, to prepare curricular materials that meet the needs of their pupils and reflect the demands of any new examination specifications. This has been particularly challenging for every organisation given the scale of change, the pressures of wider education reform and the constraining budget issues facing many schools this year.

"In future, everyone, especially pupils, would welcome a longer lead-in time into implementation dates to ensure that schools have adequate time to work with others, gather and prepare curricular resources that match the expectations within new examination specifications. School leaders, teachers and support staff are committed to implementing Welsh Government’s ambitious policy reforms, but the scale of change continues to be a huge task for an already stretched profession. 

"It has also been a year of radically changing entry patterns reflecting both the qualification changes and the amendments to school performance measures. For example, the impact of school accountability updates upon early entry has created some striking changes in numbers entering certain subjects in Year 10. We will continue to work constructively with Welsh Government to refine any performance measures to ensure they meet the best interests of all pupils.

"Against this changing landscape it is worth noting that overall the proportion of students achieving the top grades A*-A in GCSE in Wales has increased from 17.9% to 18.5% in 2018. However, with so many variables, including a whole new suite of Science GCSEs, overall results create an, unsurprisingly, complex landscape. 

"Just focusing on some of the Science GCSEs, outcomes at A*-C in Biology and Physics have both fallen slightly, however, GCSE Chemistry has remained stable and with the new first awarding of GCSE Science Double Award attracting nearly 43,000 entries, any comparators with previous years is impossible.

"One persistent and unwelcome trend is in the reducing entries for Modern Foreign Languages – a continual issue for the last few years. The low numbers entering each language qualification creates greater variability in results, as each pupil’s performance has a greater effect upon the overall percentage. In 2018, we can see that A*-C outcomes in German and Spanish have both fallen but in French we see an improvement of 2% up to 77.6%. 

"GCSEs can open a variety of future pathways for young people including equally valid academic or vocational routes. Schools need to be supported and well-resourced so that pupils can take best advantage of the aspirational opportunities that a broad and balanced curriculum can offer. Co-ordinated collaboration between post-16 providers across the whole sector should be the aim so that pupils in every part of Wales have a range of choices that meet their aspirations and needs.

"Schools should always seek to maximise pupil achievement in the widest possible sense, ensuring that when they emerge from compulsory education, each individual is well placed to select the best pathway for their future success."

First published 23 August 2018