Education minister Huw Lewis says it will work alongside a new body, Qualifications Wales (QW), when Wales-specific exams are launched in September 2015. Mr Lewis’s predecessor, Leighton Andrews, had suggested the WJEC could be “collapsed into” QW.
At the moment, exams in Wales are regulated by the Welsh government and critics have stressed the need for an independent regulator to avoid difficulties arising from last year’s GCSE English grading fiasco.
Addressing members of the Welsh Assembly, Mr Lewis said QW would provide an “independent, authoritative and expert point of reference on qualifications”, both for the Welsh government and interested stakeholders.
He also said the WJEC was a “repository of a very great deal of experience” that would be “very difficult to do without”.
Dr Philip Dixon, director of education union ATL Cymru, said: “We are pleased to see that the government has rowed back its original position of lumping regulation and awarding together from the start. To do so would have been reckless in the extreme.
“It’s also good to note that the new body will be outside government and answerable to the Senedd. This will ensure its maximum independence.”
QW is to be introduced on a phased basis, with current regulatory functions transferred from Welsh ministers to the new body in 2015.
Mr Lewis said: “In the first instance, QW will focus on the regulation, quality assurance and quality improvement of qualifications. It will enable us to address concerns about the complexity and bureaucracy of the current market structure for GCSEs and A levels, and to ensure that our qualifications are both more responsive to the needs of our country while, at the same time, being robust, challenging and free from the undue influence of others.
“I am keen that QW makes awarding and regulatory decisions independently from political activity.”
He added: “In the shorter term, we will continue to work with awarding organisations, including WJEC, on the development and revision of a suite of key ‘Wales only’ qualifications, including GCSEs, A levels and the Welsh Baccalaureate.”
Under current plans, GCSEs and A levels will remain in Wales and England, though the structure and grading of the qualifications looks certain to diverge.
Mr Lewis said new school-level qualifications would be taught in Wales from September 2015 and the Welsh government would be inviting views on reformed A levels as well as GCSEs.