Wales scraps end of year exams for 2021

Exams (PA Archive)
13:35pm, Tue 10 Nov 2020
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End of year exams in Wales will be scrapped in 2021, Welsh education minister Kirsty Williams has announced.

GCSE, AS-level and A-level exams will be replaced by coursework and assessments amid ongoing disruption to schools caused by the coronavirus.

Ms Williams said the ongoing pandemic made it “impossible to guarantee a level playing field for exams to take place” and the decision “removes pressures from learners”.

She 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.”

Ms Williams said universities across the UK had been consulted and had 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,” she said.

“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.”

Teacher-managed assessments will include assessments that are externally set and marked, but delivered within a classroom environment under teacher supervision.

Teachers will also have flexibility when it is best to undertake the assessments.

The Welsh Conservatives’ shadow education minister Suzy Davies said it was a “shame” that A-level students in Wales would not get a chance to sit exams before heading to university.

Ms Davies said: “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.

“It’s a shame that A-level students won’t get a chance to sit at least one exam. This will be the 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.”

Neil Butler, national official for the NASUWT teaching union, told the PA news agency: “The good news is that there’s been a recognition on the serious impact that school-based assessments will have on workload for teachers. Talk of externally marked and externally set assessments is helpful.

“The bad news is the Welsh Government has got this idea that co-construction means just talking to school and college leaders, which it doesn’t because the people who are going to have to put this into practice are the classroom teachers and middle leaders in schools.”

Ruth Davies, president of school leaders’ union NAHT Cymru, said: “We welcome the acknowledgement that things need to be different in 2021, but there is a real concern that we will end up with exams by stealth.

“It has been announced that pupils will still be given externally set and marked tests, just in the classroom. We can’t see how that isn’t an exam.

“There is an awful lot of detail still to be determined, and we await further clarification, but we are worried we will end up with exams in all but name.”

This decision will give students certainty about how they will be assessed and I welcome that students and teaching staff now have the time to plan and prepare

David Evans, Wales secretary of the National Education Union (NEU) Cymru, said: “We welcome that the minister has made 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.”

Becky Ricketts, president of the National Union of Students (NUS) Wales, said: “This decision will give students certainty about how they will be assessed and I welcome that students and teaching staff now have the time to plan and prepare.”

Downing Street said there was “no change” in relation to exams in England despite their cancellation in Wales.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We’ve set out that they will take place slightly later this year to give students more time to prepare.

“I think we fully understand that they’ve experienced considerable disruption and it’s right that we get them and their teachers that extra time.”

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