Equality, equity, and inclusion in non-degree qualifications and the system in Wales

We commissioned research into equality, equity, and inclusion in non-degree qualifications and the system in Wales, focusing on the views of stakeholders and parents.

Here, Tom Anderson, our Head of Research and Statistics, gives some background and context on why we did this, and what we found out.


We commissioned thise research, carried out by Beaufort Research, as we acknowledge the significance of fostering a fair and just qualifications system that provides opportunities for all learners, regardless of their background, abilities, or circumstances.

As a public body subject to equalities legislation, Qualifications Wales has a legal duty to advance equality of opportunity. It is also clear that the qualifications system should be inclusive and cater for a population that is diverse in characteristics and abilities.

The main objectives of this research were:

  • to explore stakeholder views on equality, equity and inclusion (EEI) when applied to the qualifications system
  • to understand how stakeholders regard Qualifications Wales in relation to EEI
  • to inform the drafting of our equality objectives for 2024-2028

Beaufort Research interviewed representatives from a range of organisations and ran two focus groups with parents.

When reflecting about EEI, the research showed that stakeholders considered a range of factors including:

  • providing accessible qualifications that meet the needs of all learners
  • ensuring a level playing field
  • removing barriers, especially those related to social and cultural aspects
  • diversity of learners in certain qualifications such as girls taking STEM subjects or disabled learners taking apprenticeships
  • a person-centred approach

Participants in the study often thought of factors relevant to EEI that went beyond qualifications and the education system, including child poverty and other socio-economic reasons. The complexity of the concepts and various factors at play emphasise the importance of having realistic expectations about the role that qualifications can play in supporting EEI.

Qualifications need to be interpreted as consistently measuring how much learners know and can do. For example, further or higher education institutions do not need to be concerned that the same grades might have variable meanings across learners.

This ‘equality of meaning’ is important for advancing equality of opportunity, but at the same time limits the extent to which qualifications can be flexible to accommodate individual circumstances.


The discussion surrounding the terms ‘equity’, ‘equality’, and ‘inclusion’ revealed a significant challenge, since stakeholders hold diverse, sometimes overlapping and even conflicting views about what these terms mean. This makes communication and achieving consensus more difficult.

We know from this research and other work that the concept of equity is used in different ways - sometimes it is used to refer to variations from common processes to ‘level the playing field’, or to removing barriers so that variation from common processes is unnecessary, and sometimes to achieving an equality of outcome (rather than equality of opportunity). This latter use of equity is problematic in relation to the need for qualifications to measure outcomes impartially, against an agreed standard.

At Qualifications Wales we employ the term ‘fairness’ in relation to our external work instead of equity. Fairness, while not free from its own complexities, allows us to understand our work on assessment in the context of substantial research literature that exists on ‘assessment and fairness’.

The concept of fairness is also closer to how many stakeholders, especially in the wider public, talk about our work. Variations from common processes and removing unnecessary barriers remain important to achieving fairness.


Stakeholders felt that a broader range of assessment methods, including continuous and non-examination assessment, would be valuable. They also recognised the advantages of examinations, such as higher objectivity, and their importance in maintaining public confidence in qualifications. This shows the need for a balanced approach to assessment.

The report provides us with useful suggestions on how we could advance fairness in the qualification system. Participants commented positively on the diverse range of available qualifications, having qualifications that are valued for being valid, and which can accurately represent a person's knowledge and skills.


We have and will continue to support having a range of qualifications to meet different needs. Our work to develop the new National 14-16 Qualifications, which will be introduced in a phased way from September 2025, will lead to an inclusive range of nationally-recognised qualifications that meet the needs of learners with different requirements, interests and abilities. Having a fair range of qualification subjects available, with a variety of assessment methods, is just as important as ensuring that the outcomes of those qualifications are fair.

I would like to thank everyone who took part in this research.