An overview of the Welsh education system

Wales flag
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 largely resembles the structure set up in England, with maintained schools (most state schools) following the National Curriculum. However, since the 2011/2012 school year, the entire curriculum for Key Stage 1 has been replaced in Wales by the Foundation Phase for all three to seven-year-olds. The age of a child on 1 September determines when they need to start primary school.

During the Foundation Phase, children are encouraged to be creative and imaginative and learn by taking part in practical activities instead of working through exercises in textbooks.

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 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).

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).

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.

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

When is the new curriculum for Wales being introduced?

The new curriculum for Wales is currently being developed and 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.