What are VCSEs? Explaining the new qualifications for Welsh pupils

Pupils in Wales will have the opportunity to study new vocational qualifications alongside or instead of GCSEs.

The Vocational Certificate of Secondary Education (VCSEs) will be introduced from September 2027 to pupils aged 14 to 16 years old.

Exam regulator Qualification Wales said the introduction of VCSEs aims to fit in with the new curriculum and that it will give teenagers the option of doing more work related qualifications with practical elements.

What are VCSEs?

VCSEs will be a new set of vocational qualifications.

These will be different to qualifications like the GCSEs which are more academic-focused.

There will be between 13 and 16 courses available which would replace around 300 current vocational qualifications including BTECs .

However, BTECS will still be an option for students over 16 years of age.

What else is changing?

Skills qualifications – there will an introduction of units covering areas for life and work like financial literacy, gardening and how to apply for jobs.

A range of foundation qualifications – these will be for pupils not yet ready to take GCSEs. They will be in broad areas such as humanities and arts.

Personal project qualification- pupils will be able to independently study a topic of their choice to test skills such as planning and creativity

The Welsh Baccalaureate and Skills Challenge Certificate would no longer be available at this level.

What courses will be offered as VCSEs?

  • Public Services
  • Health & Social Care and Childcare
  • Engineering
  • Built Environment
  • Motor Vehicle Maintenance
  • Hospitality & Catering
  • Sport, Leisure & Recreation
  • Travel & Tourism
  • Animal Care
  • Hair & Beauty
  • Agriculture, Horticulture & Forestry
  • Environmental Conservation
  • Creative and Media Production & Technology
  • Performing Arts
  • Business, Accounting & Finance
  • Retail & Customer Service

Individual schools will decide on what and how many qualifications they will offer their pupils steered by Welsh Government guidance.

Gwyneth Sweatman from the Federation of Small Businesses Wales welcomes the introduction of new vocational courses as “the skills landscape is changing and the need for skills has really evolved”.

She said small businesses are “struggling to recruit” with over half attributing this to a “skills mismatch”. She hopes the new qualifications will allow interactions between students and small businesses, give learners more real life experiences and for businesses to have skilled workers that are more relevant to them.

National Education Union Cymru said it was “critical for their members” that the new qualifications do not “add to the workload for the work force but offer students the opportunity for parity between academic and vocational qualifications”.

It said it will be “looking carefully at this offer to make sure it doesn’t have any unintended consequences” and hope the new qualifications “offer the opportunity for progression for pupils”.