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No end of year exams for learners taking GCSEs, AS levels or A levels in Wales in 2021

Kirsty Williams

Wales’ approach for qualifications in 2021 confirmed by Education Minister @wgmin_education

Education Minister Kirsty Williams has today (Tuesday, November 10) confirmed Wales’ approach for qualifications in 2021 and her decision that there will be no end of year exams for learners taking GCSEs, AS levels or A levels.

The Minister outlined:

  • that in place of exams, the Welsh Government intended to work with schools and colleges to take forward teacher-managed assessments,
  • that this should include assessments that will be externally set and marked but delivered within a classroom environment under teacher supervision.
  • her expectation this work will form the basis for centre-based outcomes which will be linked to an agreed national approach to provide consistency across 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.

The Minister also discussed options with a range of people including learners and their families, head teachers, college leaders, the Children’s Commissioner and universities across the UK.

Confirming her policy decision, Education Minister Kirsty Williams said: “The well-being of learners and ensuring fairness across the system is central in our decision making process.

“In line with the recommendations of both Qualifications Wales and the Independent Review, there will be no exams for GCSE or AS level learners next year. A-level students will also not be required to sit exams.

“We remain optimistic that the public heath 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.

“We have consulted with universities across the UK and they have confirmed that they are used to accepting many different types of qualifications.

“They expect a transparent and robust approach which provides evidence of a learner’s knowledge and ability. 

“Our intended approach does just that, as it is designed to maximise the time for teaching and learning. 

“Cancelling exams provides time for teaching and learning to continue throughout the summer term, to build the knowledge, skills and confidence in our learners to progress in whatever they decide to do next.”

The Minister said Welsh Government would work with teachers to take forward teacher-managed assessments and that they should include assessments that will be externally set and marked, but delivered within a classroom environment under teacher supervision.

Teachers would have flexibility when it is best to undertake them, in the context of results timelines

The Minister said: “The full approach to this will be developed by school and college leaders, supported by Welsh Government and advised by Qualifications Wales and WJEC.

“My policy intention is that this will form the basis for centre-based outcomes which will be linked to an agreed national approach to provide consistency across Wales to assure universities and colleges of our approach. 

 “This work will be completed in the autumn term to provide time for implementation from January and we envisage that the first assessment activities will not commence until the latter half of the spring term.”

The Minister also reiterated that a £50 million package of support has been put in place to support learners in exam years to develop the skills and knowledge they need to confidently progress.

The Minister added: “This remains a highly challenging year and what I have announced today sets a course which removes pressures from learners and provides clear time for teaching and learning. 

“I now look to our schools, colleges, qualifications bodies, and the wider education sector to work cooperatively and collaboratively through the year to support our learners and enable them to progress with confidence.”

The situation for Vocational Qualifications is more complex and will require extra work.

The Minister confirmed Welsh Government officials would continue to support Qualifications Wales as they work closely with other regulators to ensure a ‘pragmatic approach that works in learners’ interests and gives them clarity about the way forward.’

dr Mary Bousted 100x100 edited 1Commenting on Wales Education Minister Kirsty Williams’ approach for qualifications in 2021, announced today, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“Yet again England is lagging beyond other nation states in their approach to education during a pandemic.

“The Welsh Government has made clear decisions about next year’s GCSE, AS and A level examinations. The current position in England of a three-week delay to 2021 examinations is simply not good enough.

“Education is not as normal. Months of classroom learning have already been lost and many young people will continue to have to spend varying degrees of time out of school.

“All of this is glaringly obvious apart, it would appear, to the Education Secretary for England.

“We now need the Department for Education to alter their course and ensure England has a system in place that ensures every young person has a fair chance to achieve their potential. Its proposals to make GCSE and A levels viable and fairer are completely inadequate and it’s about time they started to discuss the issue with the profession. 

“Gavin Williamson must take note. Parents, schools, colleges and students have not forgotten last year’s examination debacle. They will certainly not forgive another one.”

Daisy Cooper 100x100Responding to the reports that Liberal Democrat Welsh Education Minister Kirsty Williams has announced that they are cancelling GCSE, AS and A-level exams in 2021, Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson Daisy Cooper said:

“The ongoing disruption of coronavirus on education means it is now impossible to guarantee a level playing field for students in exams. Many teachers are also saying it is now impossible to teach the content needed for next summer’s exams. 

“The Liberal Democrats have been clear that rather leaving pupils under a cloud of uncertainty and making yet more last minute decisions, the Government must cancel GCSE and A-level exams in summer 2021 and make necessary adjustments to assessing BTECs. 

“In cancelling next year’s exams, Welsh Education Minister Kirsty Williams is giving schools the certainty they need, whilst ensuring no child’s education is penalised unfairly as a result of Ministers’ failures to get a grip on this virus.

“It is vital Gavin Williamson listens to the Liberal Democrats, and follows the move made in Wales today, otherwise the Secretary of State risks leaving our young people in the lurch once again.”

Jo Grady 100x100UCU general secretary Jo Grady said:

‘This has been incredibly stressful time for students with those from the least affluent backgrounds impacted most by lockdowns and working from home. It is right that the Welsh government has acknowledged the challenges students are facing during this pandemic. We now need clarity from Westminster on its plans for exams next summer and we need a coordinated response from all devolved nations, awarding bodies and universities to make sure that all students are treated fairly. We cannot risk another summer of chaos, with students being unfairly marked down by algorithm, last minute government U-turns, and overworked staff being forced to pick up the pieces.’

In response to Wales’ approach for qualifications in 2021 A Department for Education spokesperson said:

“Exams are the fairest way of judging a student’s performance, which is why Ofqual and the government all agree they should go ahead next year.

“We are working closely with stakeholders on the measures needed to ensure exams can be held, and will set out plans over the coming weeks.”

Further information:

  • Ofqual welcomed the Government’s announcement on 12 October that GCSE, AS and A level exams will go ahead in England next summer
  • Dame Glenys Stacey, acting chief regulator of Ofqual, said in a letter to the Education Secretary on 5 November that the regulator is looking, alongside the DfE, at what steps it can take to make next summer’s exams less daunting to pupils.
  • We are working closely with Ofqual and stakeholders across the sector on ensuring next summer’s exams are as fair as possible for young people, taking into account the disruption students may have experienced.
  • Ofsted Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, told the Education Select Committee today that she had not seen anything that suggests cancelling exams would be the sensible default for this year and that young people felt strongly about not having the opportunity to demonstrate what they could do in 2020.  
  • The Secretary of State wrote a letter to Ofqual on 12 October, which said:-

“It is important that we engage widely and openly with the education sector in the next six weeks to consider the measures necessary to address potential disruption to 2021 exams. This engagement will need to include gaining views from students, those organisations representing teachers, schools and colleges, and exam boards, as well as the further and higher education sectors. 

“My officials are already working with you and the exam boards to consider the risks to delivery of the 2021 exams at a national, local and individual student level. At an individual level, a student may not be able to sit an exam or exams due to illness, shielding, bereavement or self-isolation. Individual schools, or schools and colleges within a locality may be adversely affected by the pandemic during the examination season in ways that put exams for students in those centres at risk.

“The work here will need to identify all the potential scenarios, and it will be important to evaluate the risks and possible unintended consequences of each of the contingencies we consider.”

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