Education in Wales differs in certain respects from education elsewhere in the United Kingdom. For example, a significant minority of students all over Wales are educated either wholly or largely through the medium of Welsh: in 2014/15, 15.7% of children and young people received Welsh-medium education – a drop from the 15.9% in 2010/11. An additional 10% attend schools in which significant portion of the curriculum is bilingual. The study of the Welsh language is available to all age groups through nurseries, schools, colleges and universities and in adult education. The study of the language is compulsory for all pupils in State Schools until the age of 16.
Since devolution, education policy in the four constituent countries of the UK has diverged: for example, England has pursued reforms based on diversity of school types and parental choice; Wales (and Scotland) remain more committed to the concept of the community-based comprehensive school. Systems of governance and regulation – the arrangements for planning, funding, quality-assuring and regulating learning, and for its local administration – are becoming increasingly differentiated across the four home countries. Education researcher David Reynolds claimed in 2008 that policy in Wales was driven by a “producerist” paradigm emphasising collaboration between educational partners. He also alludes to lower funding in Welsh schools compared to England, echoing similar concerns at university level. He concludes that performance data did not suggest that Wales had improved more rapidly than England, although there were considerable difficulties in making these kinds of assessments.
From the start of the January, April or September (whichever comes soonest) following a child’s third birthday they become eligible for a minimum of ten hours a week in publicly-funded nursery education, though these hours can also be provided through a playgroup or childminder. Nursery lessons are focused on developing children’s abilities in a variety of areas such as creativity, communication and general knowledge however, at this age, learning to read and write is not yet considered a priority. Depending on their parents economic and employment status children in this age-range may be eligible for up to twenty additional hours of state-subsidised childcare each week.
The Welsh government is planning to introduce universal state funded childcare for two-year-old children by the mid 2020s. Currently, only the most disadvantaged toddlers in this age group and those in some more deprived areas are entitled to 12.5 hours of care provided by the state.
A child’s age on 1 September determines the point of entry into the relevant stage of education. Education is compulsory beginning with the term following the child’s fifth birthday, but may take place at either home or school. Most parents choosing to educate through school-based provision, however, enrol their children in the reception year in September of that school year, with most children thus beginning school at age four or four and a half. This age was traditionally much earlier than in most other Western nations, but in recent years many European countries have lowered their age of compulsory education, usually by making one or more years of kindergarten compulsory.