From education to employment

Schools and colleges are now managing centre reviews of grades requested by learners, as part of the appeals process in Wales

Jeremy Miles, the Minister for Education and Welsh Language

In my statement on Renew and Reform, I confirmed to putting learners first – supporting their well-being and confidence, and providing opportunities to develop key skills and knowledge to enable them to progress. These are principles which have informed our approach to the arrangements for qualifications this summer.

I want to wholeheartedly thank teachers and lecturers who have supported their learners through a new approach, working under time pressure, to enable them to progress.  This has understandably been challenging.

I also want to thank the Design and Delivery Advisory Group chaired by Geraint Rees, bringing together headteachers and college principals form across Wales. They have come together weekly to co-construct an approach, responding with agility to new challenges.   They have relentlessly focused on the needs of learners, their wellbeing and progression..  I have today published a letter from the Chair of the Design Group which highlights the collective role of the education sector in delivering a system where learners can feel they fully deserve the qualifications they receive. 

The approach for 2021 puts trust in the holistic judgement of centres. Learners will receive a grade based on evidence of their learning, and critically, will only have been assessed on the content covered by their school or college.  Centres have been required to consider equalities issues as part of their approach: they can draw on a range of assessment evidence, reflecting the variation of experience at learner and local levels and a clear route has been developed for private candidates to achieve their qualifications. 

To promote fairness and consistency, this flexibility has been scaffolded by guidance, exemplar materials, and professional learning.  The Welsh Government has provided over £9m to support schools and colleges, as well as allocating a national INSET day.  There are both internal and external quality assurance mechanisms, including professional dialogue with WJEC on grade outcomes at centre level, a feature requested by the sector in 2020.  I can reassure Members that WJEC will not change any outcomes as a result of this dialogue, those remain decisions of centres.

Reflecting the different delivery model this year, WJEC has been able to reduce its fees by 42% – releasing a further £8 million to schools and colleges. Recognising the role of centres, I am providing a further £1.6 million to enable fees to be reduced to 50%.

Schools and colleges are now managing centre reviews of grades requested by learners, as part of the appeals process. I am confident learners will have access to a fair and workable route of appeal.  Where a centre review has taken place, should the learner wish to pursue further, a second route is available via the WJEC.  This approach, unique to Wales, has been developed to minimise the burden on schools and colleges during the holidays.  I am today confirming that appeals will be free.

This year is distinct from previous years.  Some learners prefer exams, and some will do better in continuous assessment.  These learners have experienced significant disruption as well as adapting to a new approach to assessment.  I am confident we have developed a system that is transparent, fair, equitable and credible. Learners can have confidence in the grades awarded, so too can the wider education system and employers, within and beyond Wales. We have supported schools, colleges and higher education institutions to support learners in transitioning to their next steps. 

Wales was of course the first to cancel the summer examinations, but all four UK nations are now on a broadly similar path. We remain closely engaged with our counterparts to achieve a level playing field for learners across the UK.

This is particularly important for higher education admissions,. Universities in Wales and the Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol have collaborated under the leadership of the Open University to introduce ‘University Ready’, an online platform of resources ranging from study skills to support for mental health and wellbeing.

Finally, I would like to update Members on vocational qualifications that are regulated jointly with other administrations.  For qualifications similar to GSCEs and A levels, for example BTECs, grades will be determined by schools and colleges in a similar way to general qualifications, and will be awarded no later than GSCEs and A levels.

For other vocational qualifications used for progression or licence to practice, qualifications have been adapted and assessments can continue where it is safe to do so. FE institutions have been awarded £26m to allow for the safe return of learners to ensure vocational programmes are completed.

In closing, I would like to reaffirm my gratitude to teachers and lecturers, the Design Group, Qualifications Wales, WJEC, and partners across the education system for their collective effort to ensure a generation of learners will be awarded qualifications, marking their hard work and attainment during a period of unprecedented disruption. These efforts have required a significant contribution from our workforce and strong, ethical leadership from our school and college leaders. I thank them for their efforts. I also would like to congratulate learners for their resilience and commitment during what has been a truly challenging year.

Jeremy Miles, Minister for Education and Welsh Language

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