As England and Wales have a shared language, many of our clients assume that the education systems are the same. However, there are significant differences between Welsh and English education systems and we discuss these below:
Throughout England and Wales, pupils aged 5-16 must be in full-time education. Literacy, numeracy and communication skills are embedded across the Welsh and English education systems and are assessed throughout the child’s time in education. However, there remain key differences between the two systems.
Understanding how education differs on each side of the border is more important now than ever. This is because September 2022 marks the first implementation of the Senedd’s new curriculum for Wales. This is a newly designed framework of learning that marks the greatest shake up in education since the national curriculum was introduced in 1988 in England and Wales.
England follows a national curriculum designated into blocks of years called Key Stages. Primary school takes children up the age of 11 and includes key stage 1 (the infant range: 5-7 years) and 2 (the junior range: 7-11 years).
Secondary school is then composed of key stage 3 and 4. Key stage 3 involves all students studying English, Maths, Sciences, humanities, physical education and a modern language. Besides these universal subjects, will be a range of subjects that slightly differ from school to school (e.g Art, Drama, Computer Science, Design Technology, Food technology etc.). These will generally be taught to all pupils within the year group.
Key stage 4 covers the last two years of secondary school, during which pupils will prepare for their GCSE exams. Pupils will usually study between 9 and 12 subjects. Some of these are compulsory (e.g Maths and English), whilst most are options (e.g Drama) or partially-optional (e.g double/triple science).
The curriculum for Wales has been undergoing a large-scale re-structure that is beginning to be rolled out to schools this academic year (September 2022). The aim of this re-structure is to help each school develop its own curriculum to suit the individual needs of its pupils. Which in turn should reference the nationally based curriculum.
The Welsh government has underlined the 4 purposes of the curriculum for Wales; the intent for all children and young people to become:
- Healthy and confident individuals
- Ambitious, capable learners
- Enterprising and creative contributors
- Ethical and informed citizens
Whilst the structure of year groups and primary-secondary transition will remain the same as England, the framework of subjects and topic-focus will look very different. Key stages 2, 3 and 4 are being scrapped in favour of a more seamless curriculum.
The new Welsh infant and junior stages took inspiration from Scandinavian models that bring more more formal (assessed) education at a later age. Foundation stages of the new curriculum will encourage a greater range of different forms of education for younger pupils (education through play, outdoor based learning etc…).
As pupils enter the secondary level, schools and teachers will have greater autonomy to develop topic lists to suit the needs and interests of pupils. The new national curriculum will be centred around 6 areas of learning and experience:
- Expressive Arts
- Health and Well-being
- Languages, Literacy and Communication
- Mathematics and Numeracy
- Science and Technology
Schools will have the autonomy to combine subjects under these areas to give more in-depth understandings of complex ideas. ‘In humanities for example a topic like climate change can be looked at holistically through geography, history and impact on society’ (Education is changing. Welsh Government, January, 2022). However, Literacy, numeracy and digital competence will continue to be central features to all subject areas.
As well as this, the curriculum will give much greater focus to Health & Wellbeing and Relationships & Sexuality education. This will include learning about healthy relationships, mindfulness, online safety, mental and physical health issues, and ethical values.
A key difference between Welsh and English education systems will be the way in which pupils are assessed throughout their time in school.
The Welsh system has significantly reduced formal assessments during infant and junior periods. SATs have been scrapped in Wales. During secondary school, pupils will be monitored on a longer-term day-to-day basis by teachers. Each individual’s progress will be assessed over time. The focus will be on more course-work based and class performance projects. The new curriculum ‘will not make a one-off judgment at a set age or point in time’ (Education is changing. Welsh Government, January, 2022). The GCSE qualification will still exist but will follow the new curriculum, so will differ from English GCSEs). This marks a move away from the current UK wide emphasis on standardised education, teaching to the test and high-stakes assessment. Countries such as Finland, with no centralised testing, top every OECD league table that matters. It will be interesting to see if the Welsh system begins to reap the benefits of these changes soon.
For families transitioning between education systems, please read our blogs on the differences between the French and English education systems, the Chinese and English, Spanish and English, and American and English education systems.