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Co-creating new qualifications for the next generation of learners

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Oliver Stacey, Senior Qualifications Manager at Qualifications Wales, has been at the heart of work to reform qualifications for 14 to 16-year-olds in Wales. He reflects on the collaborative approach that led to the development of these new qualifications, and the next steps on the journey.

There have been fundamental changes in education in Wales in recent years. The Curriculum for Wales has brought about a major shift in what children learn and how they’re taught. So, in support of the Curriculum, we’re developing a range of new and exciting qualifications, designed to ensure that our young people will leave education qualified for the future.

We know that GCSEs and other qualifications for 14 to 16-year-olds have a considerable influence on the way that learners in Years 10 and 11 experience the Curriculum. So, we’ve developed new and updated qualifications to support that learning, starting with Made-for-Wales GCSEs.

It is essential that these qualifications reflect the Curriculum’s six areas of learning and experience (AoLEs), as well as supporting learners to realise its four purposes. We’ve delved deep into the GCSE offer, as well as into other qualifications that are available, keeping these considerations central to our reform work in the 14-16 qualifications space.

We have managed the reform of GCSEs and the wider offer of qualifications available to 14 to 16-year-olds separately, as distinct programmes of work, to give both areas the focus they require. We’re looking forward to sharing the findings and decisions in early 2024.

In the meantime, we’ve gained momentum in our mission to reform GCSEs. Earlier this year, we published approval criteria for a suite of new Made-for-Wales GCSEs to support the Curriculum. These approval criteria are the design requirements that the awarding body, WJEC, will need to meet through the development of detailed specifications for the new qualifications.

There were a lot of factors to consider when developing approval criteria for these new qualifications, and who better to involve in the process than the people who will deliver the qualifications in schools? In fact, collaborating with stakeholders was a key part of this work, and we would have been missing a vital piece if we hadn’t involved a range of people with different experiences and views throughout the process.

A case for co-creation

Whatever direction we chose to take the new Made-for-Wales GCSEs, we knew it had to be informed by what learners, teachers, employers, and other education stakeholders were telling us.

We identified that the new GCSEs need to be valid, recognised, portable and reliable at a national level, with results that are comparable between centres and over time. But beyond that, they also need to be relevant and engaging for learners, and manageable for schools to deliver.

To ensure that these new qualifications deliver what learners and wider society need, we wanted to engage with as many people as possible throughout the reform journey. We embarked on an extensive co-creation process with teachers, further education and higher education sectors, employers, learners, unions, Welsh Government, Estyn, and regional consortia. By using a co-creation approach, first-hand feedback was a crucial component of the process of developing these new qualifications.

The co-creation was broad and far-reaching, involving collaboration, active involvement and participation with a diverse range of stakeholders. We worked with subject-specific groups, AoLE groups, and stakeholder groups, including academic advisors, schools and colleges, unions, higher education, learners, Welsh Government and WJEC. This broad mix provided us with a wealth of knowledge, insight, experience and opinions, which have helped us as we developed the approval criteria for the new GCSEs.

The co-creation process involved a review of the existing GCSEs, consideration of the purpose and aims of the new qualifications, and exploration of the content, assessment, impacts and management of change. To ensure the Curriculum remained at the centre of the process of developing the requirements for each GCSE subject, we:

  • conducted a detailed review of the relevant statements of what matters and descriptions of learning at the appropriate progression steps for each subject, to establish the key ideas and concepts that need to feature within the content
  • carefully considered the integral skills, cross-cutting themes and principles of progression within the curriculum guidance to identify opportunities to incorporate these components into the design requirements
  • evaluated the different methods and modes of assessment that could be used to assess the content that has been identified within each subject, with the aim of having multiple assessment methods where appropriate

The outcomes of co-creation

We adopted the co-creation model for greater visibility and transparency in the process of developing the approval criteria, and to promote greater confidence in the final product. It offered us greater potential for innovation and creativity thanks to the inclusion of stakeholder voices, while simultaneously offering valuable professional learning and development opportunities for those involved.

Overall, the process enabled us to deliver a high-quality final output, which was refined further following extensive public consultation. The process culminated in the publication of design requirements, also known as approval criteria, for new Made-for-Wales GCSEs in June 2023.Thanks to the invaluable input of our stakeholders during co-creation, these approval criteria represent an evolution in the design requirements for GCSEs, so they better reflect the Curriculum.

Examples of how the requirements have evolved include more digital assessment, a broader mix of assessment methods, a greater proportion of non-examination assessment in some subject areas, more unitised assessments, more authentic opportunities to incorporate cross-cutting themes such as diversity and sustainability into learning, and more of an explicit focus on learning experiences alongside content. This all reflects what learners, teachers, centres and stakeholders told us throughout the reform journey.

It was an opportunity for the participants to shape and influence the design of the GCSEs of the future and gain an early insight into the new qualifications. Stakeholders commented that it allowed them to be honest and share their opinions in a space where they were listened to, and where their views were seriously considered. Many of the teachers involved commented that they felt their opinion was valued throughout the transparent and open process. Many also felt that the collaborative nature of the working groups improved their understanding of the qualifications development process, supporting their roles in a professional development capacity.

It was fantastic to see that the experience of collaboration through co-creation was as rewarding for our stakeholders as it was for us.

Next Steps

Since publishing the approval criteria in June 2023, we’ve continued to work closely with WJEC and Welsh Government to maintain momentum with the Qualified for the Future reform work. A lot of important work has continued behind the scenes.

The development of the new GSCEs has now entered a new phase, with WJEC taking centre stage as they work on turning our approval criteria requirements into qualifications. Despite this shift in emphasis, we are still very much involved, and we’re pleased that WJEC will be continuing with the co-creation approach that we’ve employed throughout the Qualified for the Future reform journey.

WJEC is now in the process of developing the detailed specifications and sample assessments for the new GCSEs which Qualifications Wales will approve. In the majority of subjects, the specifications will be published in September 2024, before first teaching in 2025. In a small number of subjects, WJEC will publish specifications in September 2025 for first teaching in September 2026 instead.

We’ll now be working with WJEC and Welsh Government to ensure that the right package of support is in place to help schools as they plan and prepare for the delivery of these new qualifications. We’ll also be working with the post-16 sector to explore how the unitised structures of the new GCSEs in mathematics and English can benefit learners who need to resit these qualifications.

As the regulatory body for Wales, we’re working closely with WJEC on the technicalities of how standards in the new set of GCSEs are set and maintained over time. We’re planning our approach to the monitoring and evaluation of the new GCSEs when they go live, to track whether they are delivering their intended benefits.

In terms of our next steps at Qualifications Wales, we recognise that GCSEs are a vital component of the full offer of qualifications available for 14-16 learners in Wales. We also know that these qualifications are important for progression onto a variety of post-16 qualifications including A levels. So, we’re now starting to plan our approach towards considering the implications of our GCSE reforms on A levels, and we’ll publish more details about this in 2024.

Headteacher conference 20th November – videos and other resources

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For the first time since 2019, headteachers came together in Cardiff to hear Minister Jeremy Miles give a keynote speech, put questions to him, and take part in workshops led by fellow headteachers, followed by a panel discussion involving Estyn, Qualifications Wales, Swansea Council and the Commission for Tertiary Education and Research.

Workshop topics focused on learning after Covid, addressing learning policy 14-16 (in advance of a consultation early in 2024); learning which is inclusive, interesting and relevant but also aspirational; family engagement; effective practice in Additional Learning Needs; and yes, headteacher well-being. All sessions were recorded.

Read the Minister’s speech here.

See the agenda and supporting resources here.

And to see videos of the speeches, workshops and discussion sessions on the day, please choose from our youtube playlist.

Consultation on revising the school calendar

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A consultation opened on 21st November, exploring options for changing the school calendar. Changes are aimed at enhancing pupil and staff well-being and supporting teaching and learning, with breaks being spread out more evenly. The first change would create a 2-week half term autumn break, reducing the summer break by one week. The amount of teaching days and holidays will not change.

One reason for the proposed change is that the current school calendar has an autumn term longer than others. Research suggests this term is tiring and challenging for learners and staff, as more teaching is squeezed into it than any other.

National Network to discuss Curriculum and Progression – Nov. 29th

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The National Network was created by Welsh Government with practitioners as a forum to discuss Curriculum for Wales implementation and practice. It meets again on 29th November.

This virtual session will focus on developing a shared understanding of progression using resources including Understanding curriculum in practice: Camau i’r Dyfodol , and designing curriculum with progression in mind using resources developed during a recent curriculum design pilot project: Curriculum Design Pilot 2023.

Colleagues from across Wales will take part, and practitioners can register to attend here: Sgwrs Rhydwaith Cenedlaethol Cwricwlwm a Chynnydd/ National Network Conversation Curriculum and Progression

Below, Dr Dale Duddridge from Ysgol Maesteg and Ceri-Anwen James from Ysgol Bro Edern explain why attending National Network sessions is so beneficial:

Also see the resources from previous sessions here.

Press notice from Adnodd – Chief Executive appointed

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Adnodd, the new arm’s-length body which will oversee the provision of educational resources in Wales, has appointed Emyr George as its first new chief executive.

Established earlier this year, Adnodd will be the one-stop shop for bilingual education resources. It will oversee the commissioning and provision of high-quality teaching and learning materials to support the Curriculum for Wales, and the roll-out of new qualifications for learners aged 14-16.

Emyr will be joining Adnodd in early 2024 from his current role as Qualifications Policy and Reform Director with Qualifications Wales. He brings a wealth of experience from across the education sector, including eight years at Qualifications Wales and prior experience at Ofqual – the qualifications and exams regulator for England.

More recently, Emyr has been leading on high-profile reforms of qualifications to support the new Curriculum for Wales, including a brand-new set of ‘Made-for-Wales’ GCSEs.

Updates to the Curriculum for Wales Framework guidance –your feedback welcomed

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The Curriculum for Wales Framework guidance is updated annually in January. A consultation on some of the proposed changes for 2024 is open until 13th November, and your feedback is welcomed.

The revised section of guidance under consultation has been developed by practitioners and other partners and is aimed at making the guidance clearer and more user-friendly. The changes make it shorter and more focussed, using hyperlinks to related areas of guidance and supporting materials rather than repeating information that’s available elsewhere. It is intended to support schools, PRUs and other education settings with the practical steps of designing, implementing, and maintaining the ongoing review of their curriculum.

Significantly, the ‘Journey to curriculum roll-out’ section is proposed to be replaced by   ‘Continuing the journey, reflecting that all schools are now using Curriculum for Wales. This will become statutory guidance in line with the rest of the Framework guidance.

The draft guidance for feedback on is available online here along with 7 questions in the online response form.

Estyn: Inspecting for the Future (2024-2030)

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With a new inspection cycle starting in September 2024, we’re keen to hear your views on how we can best design and deliver our arrangements. The changes we adopt will build on the work we’ve already undertaken to evolve our practices.

Our aim is to bring external inspection and providers’ internal evaluation processes closer together. Better alignment of these processes will help support our ambition to improve the quality of education and training for children, young people, and lifelong learners.

We’ve made significant progress over recent years. The removal of summative judgements; the increased focus on professional dialogue – including through the well-established nominee model; increased discussion with classroom teachers and our inspection reports accompanied by an explanatory version for parents are just a few examples of how we’re evolving our approach. 

You can learn more about how these changes are making a difference by clicking on our Changes to Inspection YouTube playlist.

How our inspection approach is evolving

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We’ve made significant progress over recent years. The removal of summative judgements; the increased focus on professional dialogue – including through the well-established nominee model; increased discussion with classroom teachers and our inspection reports accompanied by an explanatory version for parents are just a few examples of how we’re evolving our approach. 

You can learn more about how these changes are making a difference by clicking on our Changes to Inspection YouTube playlist.

How our inspection approach is evolving

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Assessment within Curriculum for Wales – new resources

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New resources designed to help practitioners explore assessment arrangements within Curriculum for Wales are now available on Hwb.

The resource ‘playlists’ are a suite of professional learning modules aimed at supporting practitioners, schools and clusters to develop classroom assessment practice.

The first tranche of the new playlists will focus on ‘Creating the Culture’ to enable evolution of assessment practice.  More playlists will be developed over the year to explore other aspects of assessment.

The playlists were developed by George MacBride, Honorary Research Fellow at Glasgow University who helped develop the CAMAU Workshops. They include references to academic studies and research that will help schools and settings in their thinking around the way assessment arrangements fit alongside their curriculum.

The materials, focusing on creating the culture for assessment, draw from the same principles as the recently-published Camau i’r Dyfodol practical materials. They provide a further lens for practitioners to consider and develop their assessment arrangements in Curriculum for Wales.

Bethan Moore, Crownbridge Special School said “The playlists are an appropriate and relevant resource the I can use within my school context and share with others across the cluster and beyond.  The idea is great to share effective  practice in order to secure professional learning and I believe it can promote communication between schools.”

Whilst the playlists are available here, they can also be found via the ‘Workshops and activities’ resource section on Hwb which features a range of supporting materials for curriculum and assessment.

Curriculum Design Pilot – sharing the learning

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Curriculum for Wales is asking the teaching profession to think differently about curriculum design – moving from a model of lesson planning and delivery to a more sophisticated approach of designing learning with purpose. To help practitioners make the change, work is underway to create case studies and resources through co-construction.

As part of this, Welsh Government facilitated a curriculum design pilot between January and June this year. Schools used a ’backwards design’ approach to see if it could be helpful in a Curriculum for Wales context.

Two practitioners from 30 schools attended 12 x 2.5 hour online sessions, working together to understand the principles of the backwards design approach. Also working alongside Initial Teacher Education leads, regional and local professional learning leads and advisors, they used the online Eduplanet21 – The Understanding by Design (UbD)™ Institute to develop their understanding.

Using a model of appreciative enquiry, the group then reflected on what can be applied to their own context and what might be more broadly useful to support practical application of our principles of curriculum design in Wales.

The pilot will continue in the autumn with 30 more schools being invited to join. An update will be provided in Dysg, the schools newsletter. Use the links below if you don’t already receive Dysg:

Subscribe to education and training news (Dysg post 11) | GOV.WALES

Subscribe to education and training news (Dysg pre 11) | GOV.WALES

What did we find out?

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Camau i’r Dyfodol – Phase 2 resources – available now

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We are excited to announce the release of the resources from the Camau i’r Dyfodol Phase 2 project. These resources have been developed to support the ongoing realisation of Curriculum for Wales, in particular to provide practical support for developing progression and assessment arrangements.

The resources are based on the work of a co-construction group that brought together 67 education professionals from across the system. The group met over a 7-month period to think through some of the opportunities and challenges involved in realising Curriculum for Wales.

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