Posted: Thu 29th Oct 2020

Exams regulator recommends next summer’s GCSE exams should be scrapped in Wales

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Thursday, Oct 29th, 2020

Exam regulator Qualifications Wales is recommending GCSE exams should be scrapped next summer with grades awarded based on coursework and common assessments.

Under the recommendations, timetabled exams for A levels would still go ahead as that would reduce “the risk that these qualifications are perceived as less robust than their equivalents elsewhere.”

The advice is contained in a letter to Education Minister Kirsty Williams.

Qualifications Wales is also recommending that schools and colleges are given windows of opportunity for when assessments take place within which there will be some flexibility.

For A levels, in addition to coursework and set tasks, learners would need to sit one exam per subject – but with a backup opportunity to take the exam if the pupil is ill or is self-isolating.

Qualifications Wales says it is working on plans with fellow regulators in England and Northern Ireland for how vocational qualifications serving the three nations will be awarded next year and has also offered the Minister advice.

This summer’s exam season saw almost half of Wales’ A-level students’ marks were initially downgraded because of the system used to calculate results.

The Welsh Government was forced into a U-turn which saw A-level and GCSE students awarded the grades predicted for them by their teachers.

In the letter to Kirsty Williams, David Jones, chairman of Qualifications Wales, and chief executive Philip Blaker said:

We believe that our proposals for GCSEs, AS and A levels offer the best approach in the circumstances and we would welcome the opportunity to discuss them with you.

If our proposals are accepted, there are other significant issues that we will need to consider and would welcome discussion on.

These include whether outcomes should be consistent with those seen in 2019 or 2020, or somewhere in between.

This is something that should be considered on a UK basis so that there is comparability and fairness for all learners taking the GCSEs and A levels across jurisdictions.

We trust that you are content with our approach to vocational qualifications. We recognise that there are no easy solutions.

Whatever you decide, we will work with your officials and other key stakeholders in the interest of learners in Wales to develop and implement the detailed arrangements, consulting where appropriate.

Minister for Education Kirsty Williams said:

I know how important next year’s exam question is to many learners and their families.

At a press conference last week, I said that we would make a decision soon on what the qualifications situation would be in Wales next year, and that we would announce that decision on Tuesday, November 10.

The reason for waiting until then is that all learners will be back at school after the short lock-in period and their teachers will be on hand to support them.

I also said that I wanted to wait for important qualifications information and advice before making any decision.

This includes the interim recommendations of an independent review commissioned by me, and further advice from Qualifications Wales, with a particular focus on practicality and equal opportunities.

Today, I am pleased to confirm that this advice has been received from both sources, and they are available for public viewing at the links below.

I would like to thank Qualifications Wales and the review panel chaired by Louise Casella, Director of the Open University in Wales, for their thorough work and for preparing these important documents for our consideration.

I have always said that it is vital to hear from learners who gained their qualifications this year, and those who will get their qualifications next year, in order to learn from their experiences before making a final decision.

The recent independent review consultation was open to learners. I look forward to reading what they had to say, and I’m pleased that this information is now going to help us reach our final exam decision next year.

I will now consider this advice before discussing next week with young people and the workforce, before announcing our decision on Tuesday, November 10.

Welsh Conservative Shadow Education Minister, Suzy Davies MS, has welcomed the review into the 2021 exam season and is calling on the Welsh Government Education Minister to ensure that there is confidence in the system for exams to go ahead next year.

Suzy Davies MS, Welsh Conservative Shadow Education Minister, commented:

It really isn’t helpful that these two reviews solve nothing, with both fundamentally disagreeing with each other. I hope that the Education Minister shows some leadership on this issue, unlike earlier in the year when she pushed decisions onto teachers and school leaders instead of leading from the front.

Qualifications Wales are clear that no national moderation system can be tested and be ready in time to bring confidence to centre-assessed grades. As they and the WJEC would be responsible for creating and implementing such a system, if they say it can’t be done, then we need to listen.  The last thing we need is another system which everyone thinks is fair but turns out to be anything but.

However, while I’m pleased to see that exams still feature strongly in the Qualifications Wales findings, I’m sure school leaders, parents and pupils will want to know which of the various combinations, that Qualifications Wales suggest, will command the greatest public confidence. They don’t have time for any cul-de-sacs when it comes to planning the way ahead.

I look forward to hearing the Minister’s conclusions but reiterate my call to her that she needs to give decisive leadership on this issue. We can’t let another cohort of young people face the anxiety about their futures that students this year went through.

A second independent review commissioned by the Welsh Government  is calling for exams to be scrapped for next year, recommending that “in 2021, qualifications should be awarded on the basis of robust and moderated assessment undertaken by the learner’s educational setting and not through an exam series.”

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