GCSEs 2021: Scrap next summer’s exams, says regulator

Grades should be awarded based on grades and common assessments, says Welsh regulator

Tes Reporter

GCSE and A-level results: How this summer's controversial exams U-turn unfolded

Next summer’s timetabled GCSE examinations in Wales should be scrapped, with grades awarded based on coursework and common assessments, an exam regulator has recommended.

Qualifications Wales has said that students should continue to sit summer A-level exams as in previous years, but the testing regime for GCSE and AS-level students would be different.

It follows the fiasco of this summer’s exam season, after tests were cancelled because of the Covid-19 lockdown.


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Grades were instead awarded by a controversial algorithm before that was scrapped and replaced by teacher assessments.

Yesterday, the Northern Powerhouse Partnership of local authorities and regional business leaders said that the Department for Education should commit to continuous assessment for students' grades this year, warning that pushing ahead with exams will risk another fiasco next summer.

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

In response, Qualifications Wales is recommending that external assessments are 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 would instead be awarded based on coursework and a set of common assessments taken during the year.

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

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 also 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 have said that whichever model is adopted for next year, it is likely to impact on 2022 as well, and conclude there is not a “sufficiently robust mechanism of moderation that can be put in place effectively for next summer”.

In a 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.

“For the most part, our proposals move away from reliance upon timetabled exams and all of them include the ‘banking’ of some assessment evidence prior to the summer that could be used to generate results if schools were closed.

“Our proposals make use of question types already included in specifications, so will be familiar to learners and teachers.

“Given that arrangements would stem from familiar assessments, our proposals provide as much certainty as possible to learners and teachers at the earliest opportunity.

“The provision of common assessments designed by WJEC would avoid increasing the assessment burden for teaching staff allowing them to maximise teaching and learning time.”

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

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 pupils in Years 7 and 8 will return to school on 2 November, while students in Years 9, 10, 11 and sixth-formers will go back on 9 November.

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

She added: “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 10 November.

“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.”

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