Wales scraps GCSE and A-level exams

Traditional exams in Wales have been cancelled for next year.
Source: Pixabay.
By Morgan Perry | Political Editor

The Welsh Minister for Education, Kirsty Williams, has announced that traditional exams will not take place in Wales next summer. 

In response to the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic last summer, the decision has been made to change the structure of assessment for all children aged 15 to 18.

Instead of externally set exams taken in an exam hall at the same time for all students across the country, assessments will be set and marked externally by exam boards. However, teachers will have the opportunity to decide when and where the exams take place. 

The thinking behind the plans is to ensure that students who are self-isolating, or whole year groups that are forced to stay at home, will not be unfairly disadvantaged by traditional methods of assessment.

Announcing the move, Williams said: “The well-being of learners and ensuring fairness across the system is central in our decision-making process.

“We remain optimistic that the public health situation will improve, but the primary reason for my decision is down to fairness; the time learners will spend in schools and colleges will vary hugely and, in this situation, it is impossible to guarantee a level playing field for exams to take place.”

“The education system is already struggling”

The news comes after the initial findings of a review of GCSE and A-level exams – led by Louise Casella, the head of the Open University Wales – were published in the wake of the summer results debacle. 

Earlier this summer, governments across the UK were forced to U-turn on the decision to employ a controversial algorithm to calculate students’ final exam grades. The decision, which was later reversed,led to more than 42% of grades in Wales being downgraded. 

At the time, Williams said that “essential lessons would be learned” as a result of the debacle. 

Despite the reassurances that the new approach will be fair for all, some are concerned that results awarded to students in 2020 and 2021 will be seen as less valuable than those sat in previous years, as a result of the new system for awarding grades. 

The National Education Union’s David Evans said: “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.”

Teachers have already faced several challenges during the pandemic, including a move to online teaching, and hard decisions about whether to return to the classroom whilst the virus is still prevalent.

What’s the story elsewhere?

Elsewhere in the UK, concrete decisions are yet to be made in regard to next summer’s exams. If the previous results debacle is anything to go by, similar decisions could be made in other parts of the country.

In England, exams have currently been postponed for three weeks to allow for additional teaching.

Scotland has taken the decision to continue with its A-level equivalent Higher and Advanced Higher exams, though National 5 exams have been cancelled and replaced with teacher-assessed coursework.

Across the Irish Sea, Northern Ireland will reduce the content in some subjects to ensure it can be covered. 

Whilst the decision to cancel traditional exams in Wales will likely be welcomed by a number of students in Wales, Simon Hart, the Secretary of State for Wales said that he was “confused” as to why the Welsh Government had made the decision. 

He also expressed disappointment that the Welsh Government had not consulted him nor Number 10 ahead of the decision. 

Like other matters such as health, education in Wales is devolved and therefore additional consultation of the UK Government before announcing policy decisions is not required. 

Follow @gairrhyddpol for all of the latest updates from the world of politics.

Politics Morgan Perry

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