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Information on examinations and assessments, including A levels, during the coronavirus pandemic.

First published:
24 March 2020
Last updated:

What is happening with qualifications in 2021?

The Minister has confirmed her intention that there will be no end of year exams for learners taking GCSEs, AS level and A level qualifications approved by Qualifications Wales in summer 2021.

This remains a highly challenging year - this year’s exam cohorts were not only out of school and college during the summer term, but have also experienced a disparity in their learning experience in the autumn. In some schools and colleges, COVID-19 has required them to self-isolate for weeks at a time. Other schools and colleges have been more fortunate to date, but we cannot be confident as to what will happen for the rest of the school year. In light of this, we believe this is the fairest approach for all and limits pressures for learners and teachers.

Removing examinations is designed to maximise time for teaching and learning: this approach will enable learners to build knowledge throughout the summer term and put them in the best position possible to progress into employment, training or further education.

The minister’s announcement is available.

The letter sent to headteachers is available.

What will replace exams in 2021?

Instead of exams we will work with teachers to take forward a set of teacher-managed assessments. This will include some assessments which are externally set and marked, but delivered by teachers within a classroom environment under teacher supervision, with teachers having some flexibility when it is best to undertake them. This will form the basis for centre-based outcomes underpinned by a model of external verification to provide consistency.

To develop this approach we have established a Design and Delivery Advisory Group of school head teachers and college principals this will include key considerations such as the range of assessment, the appeals process and arrangements for private candidates.

The group will complete this work so that the Minister can consider and confirm the policy direction by the end of December, to provide time for implementation from January. We do not expect there to be a need for any assessments to be completed until the latter part of the spring term.

The terms of reference for the Design and Delivery Advisory Group are now available.

Does the minister’s 10 November decision to cancel exams in Wales apply to English exam board qualifications?

No, the new summer 2021 arrangements only apply to Qualifications Wales approved qualifications designed for Wales and delivered by the WJEC and not to qualifications delivered by English-based awarding bodies.

What about the November exam series?

For learners in schools and in further education colleges there was an opportunity to sit core GCSEs in English Language, Mathematics, Mathematics-Numeracy and Welsh Language in November 2020 which ran as planned. These were intended primarily for learners looking to re-sit their qualifications in order to improve their grades and they are separate from the summer exam series.

What does this mean for exams in January 2021?

Following the Minister for Education’s policy decision to cancel WJEC Qualifications Wales regulated GCSEs, AS and A levels exams in summer 2021 and having listened to early proposals from the Design and Delivery Advisory Group, Qualifications Wales has confirmed that GCSE unit examinations scheduled for January in English Literature, Welsh Literature and ICT have been withdrawn.

They have decided to retain examinations for GCSE Home Economics: Child Development and GCSE Health and Social Care as this is the final opportunity to gain certification in these subjects as they are being withdrawn.  A full list of planned assessments can be viewed on the Qualifications Wales website.

Non examination assessments (NEA) will continue to be included in GCSEs, AS and A levels in 2020-2021.

With regard to Vocational Qualifications, the January WJEC examinations for the Health and Social Care are expected to go ahead as scheduled.

Will the cancellation of exams affect my entry into university?

We have engaged with universities who have highlighted that their priority is students who have covered core aspects of their course, and that a transparent and robust approach which provides evidence of a learner’s knowledge and ability will not disadvantage learners in their next steps.

Universities across the UK assured us that this proposal will not disadvantage Welsh learners as long as the alternative arrangements are robust and transparent.  The Design and Delivery Advisory Group will be looking to develop proposals which meet these needs. 

The approach that we are proposing is intended to maximise the time available for teaching and learning so that learners have the opportunity to develop the skills and knowledge they need to confidently progress.

What is happening with private candidates?

We recognise that due to the arrangements that were put in place last year to calculate grades not all private candidates, including mature students who were re-taking qualifications and learners who are home-educated, were able to receive grades as schools and colleges might not have had enough knowledge of a candidate to make a professional judgement on their ability.

We can provide reassurance that the needs of private candidates will be one of the key aspects that the Design and Delivery Advisory Group considers in co-constructing its approach to centre-based outcomes.  We anticipate their proposals to the Minister will include this consideration.

Our priority is to support learners in developing the skills and knowledge they need to confidently progress – this includes the needs of private candidates.

What is happening with vocational qualifications?

Most vocational qualifications taken by learners in Wales are also available in the other UK nations. To ensure consistency we have asked Qualifications Wales to work closely with other regulators to ensure a pragmatic approach that works in learners’ interests and gives them clarity about the way forward.

Guidance for vocational qualifications was published in October, which sets out the principles that awarding bodies must apply when making adaptations in response to the impact of COVID-19. This means that timetabled examinations for vocational qualifications for the summer series will continue in order to maintain a consistent approach across Wales, England and Northern Ireland. Qualifications Wales will keep this position under review and will continue to work closely with other qualification regulators in light of the public health situation.

Will learners have to sit the Numeracy (Reasoning) paper test this year?

The 2020 National Numeracy (Reasoning) Test was cancelled, and there will be no statutory paper-based tests in Wales in 2020/21. Following the cancellation of the 2020 Reasoning test, schools that wish to use the papers as teaching and learning resources have been able to request copies for informal use. Standardised scores will not be available.

The online personalised assessments in Numeracy (Reasoning) are being trialled in 2020/21 and will become a statutory requirement from the 2021/22 academic year.

Will learners be required to take the online personalised assessments in Numeracy (Procedural) and Reading?

Yes. Personalised assessments in Numeracy (Procedural) and Reading are statutory in 2020 to 2021. The assessments are available for schools to schedule when they consider it appropriate to do so.

Where learners have completed procedural numeracy assessments this year, schools will have access to feedback on their skills, age-standardised scores and progress reports.

Feedback reports for the reading assessments are also available. However, scores and progress reports will only be available once the majority of learners have taken the reading assessments. Given current circumstances, this will not be until the end of the summer term 2021.

It should be noted these assessments are not part of the qualifications process, and are to support learners in understanding their own progression.