A major review into education in Wales has recommended that GCSEs should not be axed – but kept as part of a reformed exam system.
The new exams would be built around a “strengthened” Welsh Baccalaureate and would be overseen by a Scottish-style single body.
Former college head Huw Evans, who led the review board, said the package of 42 recommendations was “very much driven by the need to establish an education and qualifications system everybody can be proud of in Wales”.
It comes amid increasing divergence between policy in Wales and England, in the wake of a decision by Wales’s education minister Leighton Andrews to regrade English GCSEs taken by Welsh students, provoking a row with his UK counterpart Michael Gove and the English regulator Ofqual.
Mr Evans said that divergence from the rest of the UK was “impossible to avoid”.
Mr Gove has also committed England to phasing out GCSEs in favour of the English Baccalaureate. Mr Andrews has previously hinted that GCSEs could be replaced in Wales too.
Under the Welsh plans, pupils would be able to gain a “national” Welsh Bacc if they achieve at least five GCSEs at grades A* to C.
A level students would be able to complete an “advanced” Bacc. The system would see the Welsh Bacc become the basis for measuring the performance of providers in Wales.
Other recommendations from the report include measures to strengthen vocational qualifications, a continuation of literacy and numeracy testing beyond the age of 16 if needed, and a five-year communications strategy to raise awareness of the new qualifications structure.
The recommendation for a single body for examinations in Wales would see an organisation called Qualifications Wales taking responsibility for regulating, awarding and accrediting exams in Wales.
Its structure would be similar to that of the Scottish Qualifications Authority, with the body responsible for setting and then regulating exams.
Deputy minister for skills Jeff Cuthbert said: “The purpose of this review was to ensure that the qualifications available to learners in Wales are relevant, valued and understood, and that those qualifications are what employers and universities want.
“An important part of this is making sure that qualifications available in Wales are recognised and valued not only in Wales, but also across the border and worldwide.”
Elaine Edwards, general secretary UCAC, said the report had produced an “accurate analysis of the current situation” and “produced valuable recommendations for the way forwards”.
She added: “In the wake of the highly politicised GCSE English debacle this year, there is a very serious need to renew the credibility and integrity of the regulatory systems. We believe that establishing a new body, Qualifications Wales, is a step towards achieving that goal.”
The review board, chaired by Mr Evans, was made up of employers, representatives from schools, further education, work-based learning, higher education, as well as Welsh Assembly government officials.