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Minister happy with new Welsh GCSE progress

23 Aug 2019 4 minute read
Photo by Ben Mullins on Unsplash.

Peter Gillibrand

As teachers, pupils, parents and politicians digest this year’s GCSE results, it’s fair to say a mixed picture is emerging. The headline figure shows results across Wales have improved on last year, with 62.8% of pupils getting A*-C grades. However this 1.2% increase only matches results from 2017.

There was an overall 0.1% decline in the number of A-A* grades to 18.4% while the proportion  achieving an A*-G rose 0.8 percentage points to 97.2%.

Second-Language Welsh showed one of the biggest increases in the number of students sitting the exam, up 33% after being one of the last subjects to be reformed alongside History and Computer Science in 2017. Statistics boasted the biggest growth with a 55% increase. Meanwhile, the biggest drop in entries was Leisure and Tourism which has seen a 95% drop from 2,306 entries to just 111.

The new qualification is the only second-language one available in schools replacing the full and short course at GCSE. Despite the new full-course being acknowledged as more difficult there has been a rise of 12.5% of those doing it getting an A* to C.

This was after recommendations in the One Language For All report from 2013.

Discussing the recent changes to the Second-language GCSE, Education Minister, Lib Dem Kirsty Williams said: “This was the first year learners sat the new Welsh Second Language GCSE full course, following the removal of the short course option last year.” 

“As this is a more challenging qualification, it was expected that overall attainment would be affected with many more learners taking the new full course.”

“However, the number of pupils achieving A* to C results are up by over 1,300.”

“There’s still work to be done, but the new GCSE provides learners with a stronger focus on speaking, listening, and using the language practically in their day to day lives.”

But, despite the number achieving top grades increasing – as a percentage of the whole cohort doing the Welsh Second-Language qualification – it’s down by 11.7% according to Qualifications Wales statistics. This is attributed to the changes implemented in preparation for the new Curriculum for Wales and the ‘increased focus on everyday speaking and listening skills.’


2017 2018 2019
A* 12.5 9.3 6.8
A* to A 31.1 26.6 21.8
A* to C 79.8 74.8 63.1
A* to G 99.4 98.8 97.3
Number of pupils 12,296 14,632 19,509

SOURCE: Overview of GCSE results in Wales (Qualifications Wales)

NOTE – Figures for 2017/18 relate to full course second-language + newer for 2019.

Speaking to Nation.Cymru about the future of Welsh as a subject in the curriculum, the minister said:

“I’m pleased to see nearly a 5,000 increase in entries for the reformed GCSE Welsh Second Language – to over 19,000 entries – following the removal of the short-course option,” she said.

“The reformed Second Language GCSE will develop stronger Welsh Language skills, including more emphasis on speaking, listening and using the language.”

“This will make teaching of the language more practical in day-to-day use, including the workplace – which is essential if we are to achieve our aim of a million Welsh speakers by 2050.”

In the Cymraeg 2050 plan, released in 2017, it says education is central to the plan to garner a million Welsh speakers – but they also realise that young people need to be confident in using it ‘in all contexts.’

They hope to increase the number of each school group getting Welsh-medium education to 30% by 2031 and then 40% by 2050.

“(It) also further aligns Second Language with the Welsh First Language GCSE and moves towards a single continuum, in preparation for when the distinction between first and second language will be removed with the introduction of the new Curriculum for Wales in 2022.”

The new Curriculum will see a radical overhaul of the way Welsh is taught from 2022- no longer separating Welsh as first and second language.

The Welsh Government said at the time of publishing the draft that it’s to concentrate on improving skills and use of the language – it will still remain remain compulsory alongside English come 2022.

Overall, across the UK, the pass rate was unchanged at 98.3% – but it’s the lowest since 2007.

Meanwhile, in Wales – the number of GCSE’s sat rose by 8.8% from 271,761 to 295,690 which Qualifications Wales attribute to changes in school performance measures and a general population increase.

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Benjiman Angwin
Benjiman Angwin
4 years ago

There are a lot of positive things happening for the Welsh Language. And we have a lot more to do, to ensure education is thoroughly as Welsh medium as education is French medium in Quebec, for instance.

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