The independent regulator of qualifications in Wales has recommended that all timetabled exams should be scrapped next summer, apart from a single paper for each A-level subject, as schools continue to grapple with disruption due to Covid.
Qualifications Wales (QW) told the Welsh government there should be no timetabled exams for GCSEs and AS-levels, and that grades should be awarded based on coursework and a set of external assessments taken during the year.
Schools and colleges in Wales should be given flexibility over when assessments take place with a number of “windows of opportunity”. The assessments should be set and marked by the WJEC exam board to retain the rigour of external assessment.
QW said that dropping timetabled exams, under secure conditions, posed “some risk to public confidence” but it was a reasonable compromise, allowing schools greater flexibility and external assessments would be fairer than school-assessed grades.
On A-levels, the regulator proposed that students should sit one timetabled exam per subject, along with coursework and other set tasks, with an additional “backup” opportunity to take the exam if a pupil is ill or self-isolating.
In a letter to the Welsh education minister, Kirsty Williams, QW said: “The current public health crisis means that we cannot be confident that timetabled examinations will be able to take place as usual next year. We are, therefore, 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.”
The single A-level exam would enable students in Wales to apply for higher education places next summer, alongside their peers in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, where A-levels are being retained.
Education minister Kirsty Williams will consider the proposals and make an announcement on Tuesday, 10 November, when pupils are back in school after the Welsh “firebreak” to reduce Covid transmission.
The Scottish government has cancelled National 5 exams, which are roughly equivalent to GCSEs, and replaced them with teacher assessments and coursework. Northern Ireland is keeping exams, but has asked schools to keep evidence of pupil progress as a contingency measure.
The UK government, meanwhile, has announced that GCSEs and A-levels will go ahead in England, but three weeks later than usual to allow for more teaching time and with some reduced content.
Head teachers are calling for a rethink, warning that pupils have lost too much learning time and may be unable to sit exams due to illness or self-isolation.
All exams were cancelled in Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland this summer after schools were closed to all but vulnerable pupils and children of key workers because of the pandemic.