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Pupils arrive for school in the morningWelsh schools provide full-time education for children aged between 4 (as with England, starting in September after their fourth birthday) and 16. Wales follows its own national curriculum and this has recently been updated. The Curriculum for Wales was rolled out in September 2022, with primary schools the first to be taught the new curriculum.  

What does the Welsh curriculum look like? 

The new curriculum aims to raise standards, reduce the attainment gap between students and enable students to thrive in the modern world. As such, there is greater emphasis on digital skills, creativity and adaptability. And rather than focusing on either knowledge or skills, it aims to allow schools to provide a balance of both. At the heart of the curriculum are Welsh values and culture. 

There are four key purposes to the new Curriculum for Wales – to produce children who are or will become: 

Age School year Stage of curriculum Exams
4-5 Reception Foundation Phase  
5-6 Year 1 Foundation Phase  
6-7 Year 2 Key stage 2  
7-8 Year 3 Key stage 2  
8-9 Year 4 Key stage 2  
9-10 Year 5 Key stage 2  
10-11 Year 6 Key stage 2  
11-12 Year 7 Key stage 3  
12-13 Year 8 Key stage 3  
13-14 Year 9 Key stage 3  
14-15 Year 10 Key stage 4  
15-16 Year 11 Key stage 4 GCSEs
16-17 Year 12 Post 16  
17-18 Year 13 Post 16 A levels
  • Ambitious, capable learners 
  • Healthy, confident individuals 
  • Enterprising, creative contributors 
  • Ethical, informed citizens 

As part of the new curriculum, phases and key stages will be replaced with one continuum of learning from ages 3 to 16 in each of the new areas of learning: 

  • Expressive arts (art, dance, drama, film and digital media, and music) 
  • Humanities (history; religion, values and ethics; business studies; social studies) 
  • Health and wellbeing 
  • Science and technology 
  • Mathematics and numeracy 
  • Languages, literacy and communication 
  • In addition, literacy, numeracy and digital skills will be embedded throughout all curriculum areas 

State schools will also be obliged to teach: 

  • Relationships and sexuality education (RSE): with no option for parents to withdraw their children 
  • Religious education (RE): updated to include philosophy and religious views, plus non-religious views worldwide (faith schools are allowed to teach a syllabus reflecting their particular religion)  

The new curriculum has two hierarchies: the national-level curriculum (defined by the Welsh government) and the school-level curriculum (follows the national-level curriculum but is developed and planned by teachers in individual schools and in groups). 

When do children start and finish school in Wales? 

The compulsory school starting age is age 5, although most parents choose to put their child into primary school age 4 or into nursery at age 3. Secondary school starts age 11. Compulsory education in Wales ends at the age of 16, although young people have the option of staying at school to study A levels (they can also take AS levels) or enrolling in Further Education.  

Do all schools teach Welsh? 

All children in Wales have to learn Welsh up until they are 16. This includes English-medium schools where children are taught in English (in Welsh-medium schools, children are taught in Welsh, but also get a grounding in English). This also includes alternative schools such as dual stream primaries and bilingual secondaries. 

This means that children have to do Welsh at GCSE, either as a first language or as a second language. They are also taught English and have to do English GCSE.  

How are children tested in Wales? 

There are no Sats in Wales, and the old KS2 and KS3 assessments will end when the new curriculum rollout is complete (2024). Instead, headteachers will set their own achievement outcomes to build an accurate picture of pupils’ skills, knowledge and competencies. 

National Reading and Numeracy Tests, which are taken in the summer term by pupils in years 2 to 9, will continue under the new curriculum. And because there are no grammar schools in Wales, there is no need for voluntary 11+ academic assessment at the end of primary school as is found in Northern Ireland and areas with grammar schools in England. 

GCSEs remain compulsory in year 11, although in Wales they use the old A*-E grade system, not the new number grades used in England. Also, the new curriculum means that new GCSEs, which will require less fact-recall and more applied research (to meet employers’ needs). These new GCSEs will be taught from 2025. 

Do private schools follow the Welsh Curriculum? 

While the curriculum is statutory for all Welsh state schools, independent schools have the choice of whether or not to follow the curriculum. But all schools in Wales, whether state or private, have to provide a ‘broad and balanced’ teaching programme incorporating the six areas of learning set out in the new curriculum. 

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