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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?

Before Christmas the Minister announced  that general qualifications in 2021  would be based on a three pillar model of non-examination assessment, internal assessment and external assessment. This decision was informed by advice provided by a Design and Delivery Advisory Group of headteachers and college principals nominated by regional consortia, Colegau Cymru and local authorities. 

Since this announcement was made the public health crisis has worsened. Unless the rates of community transmission reduce significantly by 29 January, schools and colleges will continue remote learning for most students until the February half term. As a result we have had to revisit our proposals for qualifications, to reflect the impact of this on learner wellbeing and confidence.

The Design and Delivery Advisory Group (DDAG) have since reconvened and have developed revised proposals in this new context. This includes considering the recommendations of the final report of the independent review of qualifications led by Louise Casella, and which will be published on Friday 22 January.

The Minister has agreed the revised proposals and accepted them as her policy, they are summarised below.

Learners undertaking GCSE, AS and A levels approved by Qualifications Wales will have their qualifications awarded through a Centre Determined Grade model.

This means that grades will be determined by their school or college based on an assessment of the learner’s work. 

Schools and colleges will be able to use a range of evidence to determine the grades to be awarded to their learners, including NEA elements, mock-exams, and classwork. In addition, the WJEC will offer a set of adapted past papers which can enable schools to continue to assess learning within their teaching plans, providing extra support for teachers and learners. But there will be no formal external assessments.

Qualifications Wales will work with WJEC, supported by the DDAG, to provide an assessment framework to support schools and colleges in developing their assessment plans, which should demonstrate sufficient coverage of key concepts to allow learners to progress, and detail for how the centre has determined a learner’s grade. These assessment plans will be quality assured by WJEC. 

Once quality assurance has been completed at the centre, the grade will be submitted to WJEC. There will be no algorithm. Learners will appeal to their school or college if they are unhappy with their grade, and to WJEC if they are unhappy with the process. 

This Centre Determined Grade approach puts trust in teachers’ and lecturers’ commitment to prioritise teaching and learning in the time available, and their knowledge of the quality of their learners’ work.

We have sought to make the grading approach as clear as possible in the circumstances, while remaining as simple and responsive as possible. Teaching the core content and aspects of each course remains my absolute priority for learners in exam years, so they are supported to progress with certainty into their next steps, and with confidence in the grades they’ve been awarded.

Further information on the centre-determined grade model and what it means for teachers and learners is available on the Qualifications Wales and WJEC websites.

What about private candidates?

On 20 January, the Minister for Education announced that learners undertaking GCSE, AS and A levels approved by Qualifications Wales will have their qualifications awarded through a centre-determined grade model. This means that grades will be determined by their school or college based on an assessment of the learner’s work. At the same time, a clear commitment was made to develop arrangements for private candidates to ensure that there is a clear route available to support their progression – recognising last year not all private candidates were able to receive their qualifications.

Since then we have worked with the Design and Delivery Advisory Group, supported by expert advice from WJEC and Qualifications Wales, to develop these arrangements for private candidates and in summer 2021 there will be two routes available

Centre-assessed route

If a private candidate has an existing relationship with a centre, for example a learner in the centre taking a re-sit, or a candidate where a centre has already accepted a provisional entry, then these centres will undertake assessment activities using the same approach as for their own learners. The centre will produce the centre determined grades and will also be responsible for the centre review if a candidate appeals against their provisional results.

Centre-hosted route

If a private candidate does not have an existing relationship with a centre, then centres will be identified to host private candidates for assessment purposes. Private candidates will attend these centres to undertake assessment activities set by the WJEC. WJEC will mark these assessment activities, alongside a portfolio of the learner’s work to produce a grade. WJEC will base their judgements on the same guidance as that used by centres, including the published grade descriptors, WJEC will also manage the appeals process for these candidates.

Qualifications Wales has also published guidance for centres who accept private candidates.

Centres hosting private candidates

We have worked closely with local authorities to ensure that there is at least one school or college in their local area identified as a centre to host private candidates. This is to ensure that all private candidates wanting to gain their qualifications have access to appropriate assessment arrangements.

A list of the centres in Wales that have been identified to host private candidates is available. Private candidates wishing to be entered for a GCSE, AS, A-level or Skills Challenge Certificate qualification provided by WJEC are advised to contact their local centre to arrange their entry. Please note that depending on the location of the private candidate and the designated centre, a designated centre in a neighboring local authority area may be closer.

The entry deadline for the centre-hosted route is 26 April, however, private candidates are encouraged to make early contact with a designated centre to allow enough time for assessment. Centres may still accept candidates via the centre assessed route after this date however, that is at the discretion of the centre and a late entry fee may apply.

Private candidate support grant

A grant will be available to support centres identified to host private candidates. This is to meet costs associated with supporting assessment arrangements for private candidates this year, to avoid any extra costs being passed on to candidates.

This funding will be provided flexibly via a grant to local authorities so that it can be used to support centres hosting candidates, as well as for related costs to support private candidates in accessing these assessment arrangements - for example, transport to the designated centre, assessment for access arrangements etc.

Fees for private candidates

In a normal year, most private candidates pay the entry fee for their qualification, and an additional charge for the centre to administer that entry. This will remain the same for summer 2021.

The available grant of £200 per private candidate per entry is intended to cover any additional costs that would be incurred this year in hosting private candidates because the assessment approach is different – we do not want private candidates to face any additional barriers to entry. Centres are expected to only charge private candidates the same fee they would charge in previous years where exams have taken place. The private candidate should, at a minimum, pay the awarding body entry fee.

Arrangements for private candidates taking non-approved general qualifications

The arrangements set out above relate only to general qualifications provided by WJEC, as Qualifications Wales regulate these. However, we recognise that private candidates in Wales may also take qualifications that are regulated by Ofqual and the Department for Education in England has agreed the approach that will be taken for private candidates taking these qualifications.

A list of centres who have capacity to accept private candidates taking Ofqual regulated GCSE, AS and A level qualifications has been published by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) and is available.

Whilst the centres listed are primarily based in England, they include a number of distance learning providers, which may be more accessible for private candidates based in Wales for example Tutors and Exams.

If private candidates seeking to take Ofqual regulated GCSE, AS and A level qualifications are having difficulty finding a centre then in the first instance they should contact their awarding body:

The Department for Education is providing a grant to centres accepting private candidates for Ofqual regulated qualifications, DfE eligibility criteria has been updated to include the following provision for Private Candidates in Wales.

Candidates in Wales

“Exceptionally, where a candidate has been unable to find an opportunity to enter for their qualifications in Wales, a centre in England can include a candidate in their claim who is in Wales or would have had a reasonable expectation that they would have entered exams in Wales if they had gone ahead. With the exception of the requirements relating to being in England, the candidate must meet all other eligibility criteria in this guidance. In addition, the candidate must not be receiving any other financial support specifically for the cost of assessing that qualification from the Welsh Government or local authorities. The qualifications in scope for these candidates are GCSE, AS, or A levels, provided by a board other than WJEC. Centres should note that they will be required to indicate in their claim which candidates are from Wales, as funding for these will be provided by the Welsh Government, not the Department for Education”.

Private candidates taking international GCSEs or A levels

These qualifications are not regulated by Ofqual or Qualifications Wales, so in the first instance private candidates taking these qualifications are advised to contact their awarding body directly.

Local authorities have been allocated additional funding to provide support to home educating families of children of compulsory school age. Welsh Government has not been prescriptive in how the funding should be allocated in order to allow local authorities flexibility to help meet the differing needs and circumstances of Elective Home Educated (EHE) families across Wales – this could include support with any additional costs associated with accessing international GCSEs or A levels accessing. Families should discuss with their local authority EHE officer what funding may be available to them however, it is for the local authority to determine how best to allocate funding.

What about learners in Year 10?

Where learners in Year 10 are due to complete a qualification this year then the centre-determined grade approach will apply, but it won’t apply to learners due to take individual units of assessment. Qualifications Wales will consider what assessment adaptations might be necessary for these subjects next year.

What about learners in Year 12?

Learners in Year 12 will be awarded an AS grade that is Centre Determined. This will recognise the hard work and learning that they have undertaken this year, provide for progression into the A-level course of study, and support UCAS applications, but will not contribute to the final A level award in 2022.

What about Non-Examination Assessment?

Recognising the challenges posed by the ongoing disruption and remote learning, the deadlines and controls around non-examination assessment (NEA) are being removed and it will not be moderated by the WJEC.

However where possible we would continue to encourage schools and colleges to support learners to undertake some or all of their NEA to continue to build learning and skills.

Building knowledge and skills, and covering core concepts to support progression, remains a priority and should continue to be a focus, supported by our guidance and approach to distance learning as appropriate.

What support will be available for learners in years 11, 12 and 13?

The Welsh Government is investing an additional £1.9m in education resources to support learners in years 11, 12 and 13 in preparing for their GCSE and A Level assessments. The revision tools, available on the Hwb and the WJEC website, include ‘knowledge organisers’ to help with learning key facts and information, walk-throughs and revision guides. The resources are in addition to £7m being provided for schools and colleges to deliver mentoring and revision support programmes for learners taking qualifications. 

Teaching the core content and aspects of each course remains our absolute priority for learners in exam years, so they are supported to progress with certainty into their next steps, and with confidence in the grades they’ve been awarded and the centre-determined grade model is designed to support this so that learners can continue with their learning through to the summer term.

We are working with higher education institutions to look at how they can support learners in Wales through this transition, and can provide a bridge into university courses. Initial engagement and commitment from our universities have been very positive.

Equally, we will explore with further education institutions and schools how they can support those learners currently in years 10, 11 and 12, as they move to the new academic year. It is vital that the wider education sector continues to come together to support our learners.

When will Year 11 and 13 learners be able to leave school?

We recognise that learners and educational professionals have experienced a significant level of disruption during the last two academic years. In recognition of the need for stability, there will be no changes to term dates nor to the school leaving age this academic year. We all wish to ensure that learners are prepared and confident to move to their next steps. During the remainder of the summer term, schools and colleges have the flexibility to focus on further supporting student transition from Years 11, 12, and 13, including through the recently announced £8.5m funding allocation for schools and colleges. We recognise the stress and uncertainty the pandemic has caused for many of our learners, and acknowledge that learners will benefit from having time off during summer in order to be well rested in advance of the next academic year in September 2021.

Does the Minister’s 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, as these bodies are regulated by Ofqual. 

What happens if I think there is an error with my grade?

Schools and colleges are required to have an appeals process, which will allow you to ask for a review of your grade if you think it is wrong and /or correct any factual errors. WJEC will be required to have a process which will allow for an appeal of a grade on the grounds of a procedural error, such as the wrong result being given to someone with a similar name.

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 approach which provides evidence of a learner’s knowledge and ability will not disadvantage learners in their next steps.  

The Design and Delivery Advisory Group have looked 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. 

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

There will be no statutory paper-based tests in Wales this year. The online personalised assessments in Numeracy (Reasoning) are being trialed and will become a statutory requirement from the 2021 to 2022 academic year. 

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

Personalised assessments in Numeracy (Procedural) and Reading provide schools with a flexible means of gaining information on their learners’ skills. They have been designed to support progression and engage learners in understanding where they are in their learning journey. For the 2020 to 2021 school year, the requirement for schools to run the assessments is on a ‘reasonable endeavours’ basis.

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 after the majority of learners have taken the reading assessments.

It should be noted that the purpose of these assessments is to support leaners to make progress; personalised assessments are not part of the qualifications process.