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An overview of the Welsh education system

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A quick guide for parents about how the education system in Wales is structured, plus information about the National Reading and Numeracy Tests and the new curriculum for Wales, due to be introduced from nursery to Year 7 in 2022.

The education system in Wales used to resemble the structure set up in England, with maintained schools (most state schools) following the National Curriculum. However, from September 2022 a new curriculum will be introduced that has been created in Wales by teachers, partners, practitioners and businesses. The age of a child on 1 September determines when they need to start primary school.

From September 2022, 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. The areas are:

1. Expressive arts 

2. Humanities 

3. Health and wellbeing

4. Science and technology

5. Mathematics and numeracy

6. Languages, literacy and communication

In addition, literacy, numeracy and digital skills will be embedded throughout all curriculum areas.

What about teaching in Welsh?

The Welsh Government wants to make sure that children can be educated in Welsh if there’s a need or demand for it, so Welsh is taught as a part of the curriculum in all schools up to the age of 16. Schools have the option to teach lessons entirely or mostly in Welsh – this includes English-medium schools (schools where children are taught in English).

‘Welsh-medium’ schools are schools where children are taught in Welsh. Children going to these schools also get a good grounding in English language skills, but schools are not required by law to teach English in Years 1 and 2.

Does the curriculum in Wales have a Welsh slant?

Take the subject of history, for example. Welsh schools are given discretion on exactly what to teach in history within the curriculum. Although they’re encouraged to focus on historical figures and events from their local area and around Wales in the first instance, they’re also free to include topics involving Britain as a while. 

What tests do pupils in Wales take?

Statutory teacher assessments are usually administered at the end of Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3, as in England, but students do not take Key Stage 2 National Curriculum Tests (Standard Attainment Tests, or SATs).

However, Key Stage 2 assessments will not continue from September 2022 and Key Stage 3 assessments are to end when the new curriculum rollout has been completed (by 2024). 

Since May 2013, all children in Wales from Y2 to Y9 have taken National Reading and Numeracy Tests as part to a new National Literacy and Numeracy Framework (LNF). These will continue with the new curriculum in 2022. 

Students take General Certificate of Secondary Education exams (GCSEs) during year 11, and have the choice to continue on to Years 12 and 13 to sit A-level exams.

Please note: the table below is best viewed on a desktop (not mobile) screen.

Age during school yearEngland and Wales:
National Curriculum (plus Foundation Phase in Wales)
Northern Ireland:
Northern Ireland Curriculum
Curriculum for Excellence
4-5ReceptionYear 1(Nursery)
(Early level)
5-6Year 1Year 2P1 (Early level)
6-7Year 2Year 3P2 (First level)
7-8Year 3Year 4P3 (First level)
8-9Year 4Year 5P4 (First level)
9-10Year 5Year 6P5 (Second level)
10-11Year 6Year 7P6 (Second level)
11-12Year 7Year 8P7 (Second level)
12-13Year 8Year 9S1 (Third/Fourth level)
13-14Year 9Year 10S2 (Third/Fourth level)
14-15Year 10Year 11S3 (Third/Fourth level)
15-16Year 11Year 12S4 (Senior phase)
                         A-Levels and SCE Highers – not compulsory
16-17Year 12Year 13S5 (Senior phase)
17-18Year 13Year 14S6 (Senior phase)

When is the new curriculum for Wales being introduced?

The new curriculum for Wales will be introduced in school classrooms from nursery to Year 7 in 2022, rolling into Year 8 in 2023, Year 9 in 2024, Year 10 in 2025 and Year 11 in 2026. All schools will have access the final curriculum from 2020, to allow them to move towards full roll-out in 2022.


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