Education system in Wales

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As in all countries of the United Kingdom, education in Wales is free and compulsory between the ages of five and sixteen. There are significant differences between education in Wales and education in the rest of the United Kingdom that are worth noting. These differences have become more pronounced since the creation of the National Assembly for Wales in 1998.


As in the UK, there are both state-funded and privately funded preschool centres for children under five. There are an increasing number of state-funded preschool institutions throughout Wales, most of which concentrate on ages three and four.

Primary education

The structure of primary education in Wales is very similar to primary education in England and the rest of the UK. Children usually spend their first year in Reception (ages 4 to 5), which is designed to prepare children for later years of school, before moving up to Year 1. Children usually remain in primary school until Year 6 in Wales (age 10/11), when they sit Key Stage 2 examinations. Up until 2002 children in Wales used to be examined at the end of Key Stage 1 (ages six and seven), this practice has now been abolished however, and replaced with optional teacher assessment exercises. Key Stage 2 examinations are also under serious review in Wales.

Secondary Education

Compulsory secondary education takes place between Years 7 and 11 in Wales (ages 11 to 16), although many students continue secondary education until Year 13 (age eighteen). Students finish Key Stage Three in Year 9 (age 14) and sit Key Stage 3 exams in Mathematics, English and Science, although these exams are also currently under review in Wales. All students in Wales sit GCSE exams in Year 11 (age 15/16), in a range of subjects, of which English, Science, Mathematics and Welsh are compulsory. If students choose to continue education, they go on to sit AS level examinations in three to five subjects in Year 12, and then A level examinations in three to four subjects in Year 13. Students also have the option of obtaining NVQ qualifications during this period. As of 2000, all external examinations, from Key Stage 2, right through to A Level (but not including NVQ) are regulated by the Awdurdod Cymwysterau, Cwricwlwm ac Asesu Cymru (ACCAC), a uniquely Welsh qualifications authority.

The Welsh Language

For all schools in Wales, including schools where Welsh isn’t the principal language, the study of the Welsh language is compulsory until age sixteen.

Higher Education

There are a number of Universities, and higher education centres throughout Wales, and higher education remains popular among Welsh students. Undergraduate university applications are dealt with by the University and Colleges Admission Service (UCAS), a British organisation, and university entrance is dependant largely upon success in A level examinations.

The main difference between UK and Welsh universities is their funding. While recent legislation to increase the amount of money universities receive from students by introducing national ‘top up’ fees will effect Wales, Welsh students will only have to pay an additional £1,200 (as opposed £3,000 for many English students) due to a Welsh Assembly ruling. This is still under review however.

Other than the University of Wales (which has branches in seven Welsh cities, including Aberystwyth, Newport, Bangor and Cardiff), the University of Cardiff is perhaps the most prestigious institution in the country. Most Welsh universities offer the chance to study Welsh history, and the Welsh language.

Alternative Education

Welsh medium schools

There are many schools, particularly in northern Wales, that teach entirely, or predominantly in the Welsh language. It is estimated that over a quarter of Welsh children attend schools such as these.

Private Schools

Other than a handful of private schools that specialize in the Welsh language, the private education sector is very similar to the UK.

Home schooling

Whilst education for children between the ages of 5 and 16 is compulsory in Wales attending school is not. A small proportion of children in Wales are home schooled.

Useful links

Learning Wales
Welsh Assembly website dealing specifically with education. (Visited 20-July-05)

University of Wales (Visited 20-July-05)

Wales - Education and Learning
A BBC website containing further information about education in Wales. (Visited 20-July-05)