New Science GCSEs in Wales

 By Jo Richards, Director Regulation, Qualifications Wales 

There’s been a great deal of interest in the changes to GCSEs in both Wales and England this year, with a focus on the way science has been reformed. 

This is particularly relevant with the new GCSE Science suite being examined for the first time in Wales this summer. 

There are two available tiers of entry for the new science GCSEs in Wales. They are unitised (modular) qualifications, which means students can sit exams for individual units during the course. Most students have taken some units last summer at the end of Year 10, and the remaining units this summer, at the end of Year 11.  

Students can choose to sit each unit at either higher or foundation tier depending on the grade they are aiming for. Schools decide whether to enter students for a higher or foundation tier unit and students can take a mix of higher and foundation tier units. 

For two tiered subjects, such as science, the higher tier papers target grades A* to D and the foundation tier targets grades C to G.  

Because science GCSEs are unitised, the marks that students get on individual units are reported on a Uniform Mark Scale (UMS)1. The uniform marks obtained for each unit are added up and the subject grade is based on this total. 

Students sitting a higher tier unit who do not gain enough marks for a grade D are still able to gain some uniform marks. This means that the modular structure of science GCSEs in Wales allows students taking higher tier exams to achieve grades below D (or DD for the science double award).  

Here in  Wales we, as the regulator, have not had to take action in the way that Ofqual has in England to introduce an additional ‘safety net’ grade for students sitting higher tier exams.  

The design of the qualifications in Wales means that the issues experienced this year in England with their new GCSE Combined Science do not occur in the new double award qualifications in Wales. 

GCSEs are being separately reformed in England and Northern Ireland as well as here in Wales. During these reforms, we have worked closely with the regulators in those countries to ensure the new GCSEs are valued equally. 

A GCSE is still a GCSE, whether it’s taken in Wales, England or Northern Ireland. While there are some differences in content, assessment structures and even grading scales, the underlying qualifications taken by students in each country are still GCSEs. They are the same size, they are taken by students of the same ability and assess the same or very similar outcomes in each subject area.  

You can read more about the GCSE reforms in Wales including the changes to the GCSE Science suite in my blog, The final countdown to this year’s results.