Students in Wales will not sit A-level exams next summer, the Welsh education minister has today announced, as she pledged that universities could have confidence in the “transparent and robust” approach of the Welsh government.
In place of exams, the Welsh government now requires schools and colleges undertake teacher-managed assessments, which would be externally set and marked, but delivered within a classroom environment.
The results of these assessments would form the basis for centre-based outcomes, aligned to a national framework “to provide consistency across Wales”. Teachers have flexibility around when to set assessments in the context of “results timelines”.
Announcing the decision, Kirsty Williams said: “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.”
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 Welsh government, colleagues and regulators in the implementation of changes to assessment and what these changes mean for admissions
– Prof Julie Lydon, Universities Wales
Universities Wales, which represents the 10 higher education institutions in the nation, greeted the “timely decision”.
Prof Julie Lydon, chair of Universities Wales, said: “This will 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 Welsh government, colleagues and regulators in the implementation of changes to assessment and what these changes mean for admissions.
“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 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 University and College Union (UCU) described the approach as a “welcome acknowledgement” that next year “cannot be business as usual”. UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “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.”
Smita Jamdar, head of education at law firm, Shakespeare Martineau, said: “It was inevitable that a decision was needed sooner rather than later around how to manage exams and assessments in 2021, and Wales has taken it early.”
“English schools, colleges and universities may face a similar decision in the very near future and unfortunately, there’s no perfect solution,” Ms Jamdar continued. “There will always be critics of classroom assessments, questioning the accuracy of algorithms and teacher grades. However, any decision is better than no decision and giving students some peace of mind and certainty is important.”
“For universities, which have undergone a turbulent few months, the basic rules apply when thinking about next year’s admissions: communicate often, communicate clearly and communicate consistently. Plan to the best of your ability and be open to changes, whilst keeping the students firmly at front of mind,” she added.