Wales promises ‘robust’ assessment after cancelling 2021 A levels

Minister says she has consulted with universities across the UK on the decision

November 10, 2020
Kirsty Williams

Wales’ education minister has promised universities a “transparent and robust” approach to assessment after confirming that A-level exams in the country will be cancelled next year.

Kirsty Williams said that students’ grades would be based on teacher assessments, amid expected variation in the amount of time pupils in different schools will be able to have in class due to the coronavirus pandemic. GCSE and AS-level exams will also be cancelled.

The move comes after students leaving school earlier this year entered university on the basis of teacher-predicted grades, following the abandonment of algorithms designed to recreate the likely results of formal exams, because of concerns that students from disadvantaged backgrounds and schools were being unfairly penalised.

Ms Williams said that the scoring process should include “assessments that will be externally set and marked, but delivered within a classroom environment under teacher supervision”. Teachers would be able to decide when it was best to take these tests.

The minister said that the Welsh government would draw up an agreed national approach to school-based assessments in order to guarantee consistency.

“We remain optimistic that the public health 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.

“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.”

Ms Williams added that full plans will be drawn up this 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”.

Julie Lydon, chair of Universities Wales and vice-chancellor of the University of South Wales, welcomed the “timely decision”, which would “mean universities are well placed to adapt their admissions processes to take into account the proposed changes to examinations next summer”.

“Universities are used to working with a wide range of qualifications and arrangements, and considering individual circumstances, when making offers for entry. We look forward to working with the Welsh government, colleagues and regulators in the implementation of changes to assessment and what these changes mean for admissions,” Professor Lydon said.

“Students have shown incredible resilience during these difficult times and these new arrangements will help to maximise learning opportunities for students, allowing them the time to cover the syllabus in as meaningful a way as possible.

“What’s most important is that those students who wish to enter higher education are able and supported to do so.”

The Westminster government has insisted that exams will go ahead in England, but most tests will be held three weeks later than usual in a bid to address the disruption caused by Covid-19.

chris.havergal@timeshighereducation.com

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