Posted: Tue 10th Nov 2020

Unions welcome announcement on the scrapping of exams in Wales, politicians react

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Tuesday, Nov 10th, 2020

Unions have welcomed the decision to scrap GCSEs, AS levels or A levels in Wales, opposition politicians have also given their views.

Education minister Kirsty Williams has confirmed there will be no end of year exams for learners taking GCSEs, AS levels or A levels in Wales.

The announcement has been made “after considering detailed advice published by Qualifications Wales on the delivery options available as well as the interim findings of an independent review into this year’s exams process.”

In place of exams, the Welsh Government will work with schools and colleges to take forward teacher-managed assessments.

Assessments will be externally set and marked but delivered within a classroom environment under teacher supervision.

Unions have welcomed the move, opposition politicians have called into question the move and asked for “clarity.”

David Evans, Wales Secretary of the National Education Union Cymru, said:

We welcome that Minister has made on an announcement on this – it is critical that we don’t have a repeat of what happened this summer, which was exceptionally difficult for those who should have been taking exams.”

We must ensure that young people have a consistent assessment process in place which means their abilities are recognised for their next steps. But this must not mean extra work for everyone involved – both staff and students alike. The education system is already struggling.

We only have a term and a half for young people before next summer’s grades are awarded. So, we need as much flexibility in the system as possible now, as we know this is not a normal year, and young people will likely have times when they are at home learning.

In the end, we know that whatever option we chose in Wales, we need a back-up plan in place, which trusts teachers to know their students. The well-being of everyone in the system should be top of mind now.

We would expect now that there is maximum engagement with the workforce, to ensure the real situation on the ground for young people is taken into account. We cannot afford to get this wrong again, we need to make the grades young people receive as fair as people.

We look forward to discussing the details, as inevitably the devil will be in the detail on this one. Sadly, these are not normal times, and we need everyone in the system to make the best of a difficult situation.

UCAC education union has also welcomed the announcement, Rebecca Williams, Deputy Secretary General and Policy Officer for UCAC said:

This announcement will be a great relief for schools across Wales. Conducting external examinations in a way that is fair to pupils in the current circumstances is inconceivable and there is no guarantee that conditions will be more conducive in the summer.

This decision means that alternative arrangements will be put in place and there will be no need to make last-minute changes, which is extremely welcome.

We agree with the Minister that this is the best option in terms of ensuring fairness and wellbeing across the system in a year when disruption to pupil education is inevitable, despite everyone’s best efforts. In addition, it significantly extends the teaching and learning period, which will help to provide full coverage of specifications despite any disruption.

We note that a Group has been established to determine the detail of alternative assessment arrangements.

There is a lot of work to be done, and detailed and technical discussions to be had. It will be important to get the decisions right especially in terms of the balance between internal processes within schools and external processes to ensure consistency, including the role of the WJEC and others.

UCAC is pressing for early recommendations and decisions – ideally by the end of 2020 – to allow schools to put the appropriate arrangements in place, and for pupils to understand exactly how they will be assessed. While uncertainty remains, teachers and pupils will continue to feel anxious.

Conservative Welsh parliament member Suzy Davies  – the shadow minister for education – said the situation was already “confused” following the review into the 2021 exam season in Wales by Qualifications Wales that called for some exams to go ahead.

A second independent review commissioned by the Welsh Government is calling for exams to be scrapped for next year.

Suzy Davies said:

What we have now is a pick-and-mix approach to the two reviews.

It has been obvious for a while that exams couldn’t take place in any way that was genuinely fair, so that element of the announcement wasn’t unexpected – especially as the Minister chose to trail that information to a Sunday newspaper before telling the elected representatives of the people of Wales on the floor of its Parliament.

The critical issue for me is that assessments are externally set and externally marked. This will give them some comparability with previous years’ exams and protect teachers against any accusations of unintended bias.

What worried me about the Welsh Labour-led Government’s commissioned review was the level of additional work teachers would have to take on at a time when they are catching up through Covid and grappling with the new curriculum.

It’s a shame that A-Level students won’t get a chance to sit at least one exam. This will be second year where sixth formers and college students won’t have the experience of sitting exams when they will be competing for university places with others who have.

Plaid Cymru has warned that “with the unknown comes more stress.” their shadow education minister, Siân Gwenllian MS said,

Plaid Cymru has been making the case for all exams to be scrapped since the summer exam fiasco.

With so much disruption to the current educational year already, cancelling all end of year exams is the right decision for the young people of Wales, and will go some way in relieving anxiety.

With so much variation in how much schooling a pupil has received this year already, a ‘one size fits all’ exam approach would not have been fair when you have an uneven playing field.

We know that coronavirus rates tend to be higher in disadvantaged areas.

We know there is a digital divide in our young people that is linked to poverty.

We also know from the summer exam fiasco that children from disadvantaged areas are less likely to perform well in exam conditions.

The independent review chaired by Louise Casella advocated scrapping all exams and using centre assessed grades as an alternative method of assessment.

This would have been the route chosen by Plaid Cymru as the fairest way forward and the best in terms of student well-being. However, in choosing to follow the advice of Qualifications Wales, which includes an element of external assessment, the Education Minister must accept that with the unknown comes more stress, all of which could have been avoided.

We must now have urgency on the forthcoming consultation period with stakeholders.

The sooner we can be clear on the detail and what is expected of everyone, the sooner we can prepare our learners for what will be another unsettled year.


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