Wales should scrap GCSE exams next summer, says exam regulator

Wales should scrap GCSE exams next summer and award grades on coursework and assessments instead, says exam regulator

  • Qualifications Wales calls for GCSE and AS-Level exams to be scrapped in 2021
  • Pupils’ grades could instead be awarded based on coursework and assessments 
  • But the regulator said students should continue to sit A-Level exams as normal 
  • Government has said exams will go ahead as normal in England next summer

Wales should scrap GCSE exams next summer and instead award grades on pupils’ coursework and assessments, a testing regulator has said.

Qualifications Wales said A-Level students should continue to be graded as normal, but younger pupils should face a relaxed system.

It comes after the summer’s exam season turned into a fiasco as tests were cancelled due to the Covid-19 lockdown and and an algorithm was used to award grades.

Outcry over those results saw a U-turn from Government and teachers’ predicted grades were used instead.

Calls to scrap exams next year in Wales come as GCSE and A-Level pupils are set to miss school next week as part of the Welsh Government’s ‘firebreak’ lockdown. 

Pupils in England are expected to take their exams as normal, but exams regulator Ofqual is working with Qualifications Wales to see how they can be taken fairly, as pupils continue to lose out on classroom time. 

Next summer’s National 5 exams in Scotland, roughly equivalent to GCSEs, have been scrapped to make more time for Highers exams, which are similar to A-Levels.  

Pupils have faced major disruption to their learning since the Covid-19 sparked a lockdown in March. Pupils in Wales are set to miss another week of school next week as part of the nation’s ‘firebreak’ measures to reduce the virus’ infection rate

Education minister Kirsty Williams commissioned an independent inquiry into what went wrong in August and also requested advice about how next summer’s exams season could look, if there were future lockdowns or students were self-isolating.

Qualifications Wales is recommending that external assessments be retained for GCSEs, AS and A-levels next summer but that there should be no timetabled exams except for A-levels.

Grades for GCSEs and AS-levels will instead be awarded based on coursework and a set of common assessments taken during the year.

The exam regulator is also recommending schools and colleges are given ‘windows of opportunity’ for when assessments take place within which there will be some flexibility.

Students faced a miserable summer after the Government’s algorithm awarded grades far below what was predicted – until a U-turn saw pupils handed marks put forward by their schools

For A-levels, in addition to coursework and set tasks, students 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 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.

They said that whichever model was adopted for next year, it was likely to impact on 2022 as well and had concluded there was not a ‘sufficiently robust mechanism of moderation that can be put in place effectively for next summer’.

In the letter of advice to Ms Williams, David Jones, chairman of Qualifications Wales, and chief executive Philip Blaker said: ‘Should you decide to take this path, then we and (exam board) WJEC will work to implement as robust a solution as possible in the circumstances, but cannot guarantee that it will address the inconsistencies and inherent unfairness experienced in summer 2020.’

They added: ‘We are proposing different assessment arrangements that provide greater flexibility, without the need for significant additional contingency measures.’

Meanwhile, an independent review commissioned by the Welsh Government has recommended that students should not sit exams at all next year and qualifications awarded on the basis of ‘robust and moderated assessment undertaken in schools and colleges’.

Ms Williams said she would announce a final decision on next year’s exams on November 10.

Welsh education minister Kirsty Williams commissioned an independent inquiry into what went wrong in August and also requested advice about how next summer’s exams season could look

Welsh pupils are currently on their half-term holiday and Wales is at the beginning of a 17-day firebreak lockdown.

Primary school children and Years 7 and 8 will return to school on November 2, while Years 9, 10, 11 and sixth formers will go back on November 9.

‘I know how important an issue next year’s exams are for many learners and their families,’ the minister said.

‘Last week, I said that I would soon make a decision on what qualifications in Wales would look like next year and that I would announce that decision on November 10.

‘The reason for waiting until then is so that all learners will be back in school following the firebreak, with access to and support from their teachers.

‘I also said that I was awaiting important information and advice relating to qualifications before making any decisions.

‘This included the interim recommendations of an independent review I commissioned and further advice from Qualifications Wales with a specific focus on deliverability and equality in any approach.’

Suzy Davies MS, Welsh Conservative shadow education minister, said: ‘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.’

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