Covid-19 in Wales: 2021 exam students facing difficult situation

Covid-19 in Wales: 2021 exam students facing difficult situation

The “huge disruption” to education is being taken into account ahead of decisions about next summer’s exams, the qualifications watchdog has said.

The boss of Qualifications Wales said exam students faced a “more difficult situation” than last year’s, with more disruption from a planned “firebreak”.

Philip Blaker said it was looking at “moving away from timetabled exams” to offer a “performance experience”.

Plans for summer 2021 exams are due to be announced next month.

Children in Year 9 and above, including those studying for GCSEs and A-levels, will be learning from home for a week as part of the measures announced by First Minister Mark Drakeford on Monday.

Mr Blaker said Qualifications Wales would publish its advice to the education minister on the summer 2021 exams next week.

“Last year we had the issue of not being able to hold timetabled examinations,” he said.

“This year, on top of that, is the disruption to teaching and learning.

“What we want to do is to find a means of assessment which is fair, robust and removes that dependency as far as possible on timetables, but allows them to have that performance experience.”

Alice Barrell, head girl in Year 13 of Monmouth Comprehensive School, is doing A levels in chemistry, biology, and maths in the hope of studying medicine at university.

Her teacher-assessed AS levels will not count towards her A-level marks.

She said last year was “definitely difficult… because we had to learn so much of the course content on our own in lockdown with some online lessons”.

The disruption has caused “a lot of anxiety”, but she would like exams to go ahead with reduced content because of pupils’ time away from school.

“We’ve been studying to pass exams our whole time at secondary school… so it’s not really the time to have a whole new method of assessment.”

She said the most important thing was that “right now… students know exactly what’s going to happen next year.”

Results in summer 2020 descended into chaos after uproar about “downgrading” of teacher estimates, resulting in pupils being awarded grades given by their schools and colleges.

Mr Blaker said the watchdog “could have done things differently” but insisted he did not consider stepping down, like his English counterpart.

“I didn’t consider it to be an error that would lead to me considering my position,” he said.

But he acknowledged the row had dented trust.

“We know that we’re in a position of having to rebuild confidence in the qualifications system and confidence in us as a regulator and we’re committed to doing that.

“And that’s why we’re thinking very hard about different solutions for summer 2021.”

Meanwhile, the head teacher of Risca Community Comprehensive School, John Kendall, does not want GCSE exams to go ahead.

He has written an open letter to the education minister, saying there should be a system of moderated teacher assessments for GCSE pupils throughout the term.

He said this would make things “different” but not “easier” for students, and would give them an incentive to keep working through any disruption to their schooling.

“I think Year 13 exams probably do need to take place in some form, supported by centre assessments,” he added.

He also said students need clarity as soon as possible.

Next summer’s exams will go ahead in England and Northern Ireland, but the Scottish government said National 5 exams, equivalent to GCSEs, would be replaced by teacher assessments and coursework.

The Qualifications Wales chief executive said decisions in other parts of the UK would “play into the thinking” in order to make sure learners in Wales are not at a disadvantage.

In a Twitter video on Monday, Education Minister Kirsty Williams said she was waiting for important advice related to exams, including the findings of an independent review, and would make an announcement after the firebreak had ended and all year groups had returned to school.

Some pupils will be sitting GCSEs in core subjects in November.

Plaid Cymru said it would reiterate its call for the summer exams to be cancelled in a Senedd debate on the future of education.

“If it wasn’t already apparent from the high numbers of pupils having to self-isolate, it should be clear from the announcement this week that the 2020-21 school year will be as equally – if not more – disrupted than the last academic year,” said Siân Gwenllian MS.

“The Welsh Government must ensure that the A-level fiasco of summer 2020 is not repeated, by making an immediate statement that exams will not be held in summer 2021.”

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