Students across Wales will be approaching the new school term with optimism after some nervous weeks waiting for their A level and GCSE results.
It hasn’t been an easy period for pupils in Wales. The pandemic disrupted their studies in an unprecedented way, adding uncertainty to what’s already a challenging time for many. And the return to pre-pandemic grading has made it more difficult to achieve top marks in comparison to previous years – with the percentage of top grades for A levels at 34% compared to just over 40% in 2022. Yet, students and teachers persevered, showing great resilience and grit in the process.
On A levels, we’ve seen growth in the number of students deciding to study social sciences, while maths remains a popular choice amongst young people. It was good to see the success of those subjects – teaching students’ skills that are in demand with CBI Cymru members – many of them their future employers.
Meanwhile, almost 70% of students in Wales gained a C or above in their GCSEs. The figure was down four per cent on the 2022 figures, but still higher in 2019 – the final ‘normal’ school year before the pandemic. Many GCSE students picked vocational subjects like computing and business studies, while entries to languages, arts and design took a hit across the UK.
Employers are keeping a close eye on the decline in subjects like Design and Technology (D&T). A continued downturn in those areas could hamper efforts to reduce skills shortages in areas like product design and engineering in the long run.
Other elements of this year’s results are sure to have given firms’ pause for thought too, as both A level and GCSE results across the UK point to worsening regional inequalities.
Despite many years of talk about spreading opportunity across the devolved nations and the rest of the UK, we’re yet to see tangible action on giving chances to young people everywhere. Rhetoric on ‘levelling up’ has to be matched by action – and this year’s results – be that A levels or GCSEs – further illustrate the disparities faced by many.
Equally, there’s progress to be made when it comes to raising awareness of alternative pathways to success.
The Welsh government’s current review of vocational qualifications, led by the former Colegau Cymru Chair, Sharron Lusher, will play a key role in shaping the future expansion of this fundamental aspect of the education system that is so important for the Welsh economy.
As students learned of their exam results last month, I was struck by a recent BBC Wales interview with a 22-year-old man who quit his university course because it did not suit his learning style. He said ‘university is not everything,’ and gained an apprenticeship with British Airways at their Cardiff Airport maintenance depot. He’s now studying for an NVQ qualification and will, no doubt, have a fantastic career ahead of him in the aerospace sector.
A search of the Careers Wales website highlights some amazing opportunities up and down the country for vocational and on the job training, with high numbers of posts for those with knowledge of the Welsh language.
Businesses, keen to hire and develop young talent know the importance of strong educational foundations. As we approach the start of a new term – with MSs and MPs returning to the Senedd and Westminster – words need to be turned into actions if we are to tackle the impact that regional differences have on young people and their future.
CBI Cymru will also be working hard this autumn with business and government to ensure students have the essential skills and qualifications to make a success of their careers and contribute to a successful Welsh economy.