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A-level exams could be dropped in Wales next year

Image: Guilia Forsythe [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr

Independent panel advises scrapping exams, but qualifications watchdog says they should stay

A-level exams in Wales could be scrapped for next summer after an independent panel said the results would be “unfair” to students.

Members of a panel commissioned by the Welsh government to review the 2020 exam series warned that trying to organise exams in 2021 “remains a high-risk endeavour” during the pandemic, in an interim report published on 29 October.

But in separate advice to Welsh education secretary Kirsty Williams, the watchdog Qualifications Wales said that some A-level exams should go ahead.

Williams—who has announced that she will step down as a member of the Welsh parliament at the May 2021 election—thanked the review panel and Qualifications Wales. She said she would “consider these pieces of advice” before announcing a decision on next year’s exams on 10 November.

In its interim report, the independent panel said it “would be far better to invest concentrated time and effort now in developing, collectively, an alternative centre-based assessment plan and committing to it”.

Panel members, including Andy Youell, a former director of data policy and governance at the Higher Education Statistics Agency, explained that students who were due to take exams in 2021 had suffered “unevenness” in their education because of Covid-19, which “would make any exam series an unfair way to judge progress and ability across the 2021 cohort of learners”.

Instead of exams, the panel said results should be awarded “on the basis of robust and moderated assessment undertaken by the learner’s educational setting”. It recommended that the Welsh government should establish “robust” centre assessment methods to make sure qualifications were fair, and said it should set up an independent delivery board to oversee the 2021 exam series.

“We believe that with such an approach in place there is a real opportunity to rebuild confidence in the qualifications system in Wales,” the panel wrote.

But Qualifications Wales said that some A-level exams should go ahead. In a letter to Williams published on 29 October, chair David Jones and chief executive Philip Blaker said that changes to how qualifications were assessed were “not a panacea that will address the underlying issue of lost learning”.

Instead of exams being cancelled altogether, they said that A-levels should consist of externally assessed exams, “sub-unit assessments” that could be taken at different points in the year and assessed internally, and “non-exam assessments”.

Blaker and Jones said that keeping A-level exams “reduces the risk that these qualifications are perceived as less robust than their equivalents elsewhere”, as the other UK nations have confirmed that exams will go ahead.