The differences between teaching in England and Wales

The journey from England to Wales may only be a short hop across Offa’s Dyke (the ancient earthwork forming a physical and symbolic divide between the two countries) but in educational terms the two countries are growing further apart every year.

The Welsh Language

The most obvious difference a newcomer to Wales’ schools will notice is the use of the Welsh language. Welsh is a compulsory subject in all maintained schools up to the age of 16.

There are a growing number of Welsh medium schools, in which all lessons are taught through the medium of Welsh, and several dual-language schools.

Although speaking Welsh is not a prerequisite for teaching in Wales, it would certainly be helpful to learn a few basic phrases, especially as most schools now encourage the use of incidental Welsh inside and outside the classroom.

Structure

Control over education policy is devolved to the National Assembly for Wales, apart from pay, conditions and pensions, which are retained by the Westminster government.

The Department for Education and Skills is the Welsh Government department responsible for education, training and children’s services. The current education minister is Huw Lewis.

There are 22 unitary authorities which are responsible for the schools in their areas, although this is set to change. Last year a report recommended the number of local education services be cut by a third, while a more recent commission into public service delivery recommended the number of councils be reduced to between 10 and 12.

In addition the local authorities are further grouped into four regional education consortia, which are responsible for improving school standards.

Schools

Wales is committed to the community-led comprehensive model of schooling. Therefore there are no academies, free schools or state grammar schools. There are a few foundation schools, which are state-funded but outside of local authority control, although the Welsh government has introduced legislation to stop more schools changing their status in this way.

Roman Catholic and Church of England schools are common, but there is only one dedicated Muslim school, a primary in Cardiff.

Curriculum

The school curriculum for 3 to 19-year-olds in Wales was introduced in September 2008. It is flexible, learner-focused and has an emphasis on skills over subject content.

Children between the ages of 3 and 7 follow a Scandinavian-influenced curriculum called the Foundation Phase, which encourages experiential learning over formal instruction. Find more information here.

However, the curriculum could soon be subject to change; the Welsh Government has commissioned professor Graham Donaldson to conduct an independent review of the curriculum and assessment arrangements in Wales.

Last year the Welsh Government introduced its Literacy and Numeracy Framework, which sets out clear expectations for literacy and numeracy for learners aged 5 to 15. It places an expectation on schools to ensure literacy and numeracy skills are embedded throughout the curriculum.

As part of this, pupils aged between 7 and 14 sit annual reading and numeracy tests, which help identify how best to challenge and support learners in developing literacy and numeracy skills. Each pupil receives an individual report at the end of the summer term.

It is the first time national tests have been sat by pupils in this age group since Sats tests were phased out in the early 2000s. More details here.

Qualifications

Until last year Wales offered the same qualifications as England, but after recent policy announcements by the Westminster government and a national qualifications review in Wales the two countries’ systems are starting to diverge.

A new national body, Qualifications Wales, is set to be developed to regulate and eventually award qualifications.

Unlike England, GCSEs will be kept in Wales, and four new GCSEs will be introduced in September 2015, in English Language, Welsh First language, numeracy and mathematics techniques. A-levels and AS-levels will also be retained.

Wales already has its own national qualification in the Welsh Baccalaureate, a skills-led qualification that includes elements of community participation and work experience. From September 2015, it is to become the over-arching qualification for 14-19 year olds in Wales.

The Welsh Bacc is studied alongside GCSEs and A-levels, and the advanced diploma is worth 120 UCAS points, the same as an A-grade A-level. The qualification is currently being revised and strengthened, with grading being introduced at the advanced level. The first grades will be awarded in the summer of 2015.

Accountability

All education and training providers in Wales are inspected by Estyn, the Welsh inspectorate. Schools were inspected every six years, but new regulations will change that, making it more difficult for schools to predict when they will be inspected.

At the moment Estyn must give schools at least 20 working days notice of inspection, although the Welsh Government is changing regulations to remove this rule, giving the inspectorate the option to reduce the notice period and introducing the possibility of no-notice inspections. However, Estyn says it currently has no plans to change the notice period.

Although league tables were scrapped in Wales in the early 2000s, the Welsh Government recently introduced a banding system for secondary schools. This uses attainment and attendance data to group schools into one of five bands, with those in band 1 showing good performance and progress, and those in band 5 showing weak performance and progress. Extra resources are targeted at schools in the lower bands.

A primary school grading system is set to be introduced this Autumn.

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