A Critical Examination of Pupil and Teacher Perspectives on the Revised Qualification and Curriculum Arrangements in Wales

  • Elizabeth Titley

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This study examines pupil and teacher experiences of assessment during the 2017-2018 academic year, following the implementation of revised GCSE, AS and A-Level specifications which were reviewed and changed between 2011 and 2013 and introduced from 2013. Since devolution, the Welsh education system has undergone significant reform which can be characterised in three distinct ‘waves’ of policy movements; from a high-trust, low accountability system, to one with increased accountability and associated mistrust of teachers, followed by a commitment to return to a high-trust approach to teachers, where external measures of accountability are uncoupled from teaching in classrooms (Connolly et al., 2018; Evans, 2021). During the second wave of policy movements, the Welsh government enacted assessment reform with greater accountability measures to increase rigour in the ‘complacent’ education system, and this study investigated these reforms. However, as part of the third wave of policy movements, recommendations for a new curriculum had been published by Professor Graham Donaldson (2015), which outlined a clear intention to depart from said externality. Therefore, this study also investigated how these plans aligned with the environment in which pupils and teachers operated. Resultantly, a primary affordance of this study was its timeliness, which allowed for reflections on two related, but distinct, forms of policy reform. This study examined pupil and teacher experiences of assessment at a time of significant educational reform. It foregrounded pupil voice and afforded pupils opportunities to share their assessment experiences, independently of teachers. It also allowed teachers a professional space to share their experiences of teaching in a high-stakes system, and their initial thoughts of moving to a system governed by a new ethos. Questionnaires and focus groups were used to gather data with a total of 244 pupils, and questionnaires and interviews were used with 45 teachers across four pioneer schools in Wales. Educational Equity Theory was used as the theoretical model to analyse the data, and this revealed deep inequities in the assessment system, which afforded high achieving pupils greater opportunities than lower achieving pupils, who were failed to be provided with appropriate opportunities to achieve. As a result, this study finds a clear argument to consider high- and low-achievers as distinct groups in
education worthy of consideration, separate from any demographic characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, or socio-economic status. Key findings include evidence that external accountability measures have reduced focus on high-quality learning and has resulted in outcomes being of primary concern for both teachers and pupils. It also found deep-rooted issues pertaining to the reliability and validity of high-stakes assessments, where frequent use of teaching to the test, and an excessive regime of past paper usage as a pedagogical technique dominate classroom practice, particularly at times of assessment reform. As a result, this study has strong conclusions about the lack of appropriateness of a high-stakes system determining outcomes for pupils and presents concerns about how well-prepared teachers are to enact a role of curriculum developer for the new curriculum.
Date of Award2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aberystwyth University
SupervisorStephen Atherton (Supervisor) & Andrew James Davies (Supervisor)

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