Will England hold firm on GCSEs and A-levels after Wales' decision?
Wales' move to swap the 2021 GCSEs and A-levels for classroom tests sounds 'rather like exams', writes Nicholas Pietrek from Thorpe House School
Education seems to be at the forefront of the battleground for the Union. The announcement in Wales today that they are going to scrap the GCSE and A-level exams next summer certainly throws the cat amongst the pigeons given that Gavin Williamson seems committed to the exams going ahead in England. What will Scotland decide? It almost seems as if any opportunity to do something different to England will be seized upon so chances are that there will be an announcement forthcoming from north of the border before too long.
Will Mr Williamson and Boris hold firm? Their resolve last summer was tested over the exam results and they capitulated pretty quickly. There are certainly strong calls from teachers’ unions and school associations to reconsider the exams process during these times of uncertainty.
It is clear that at the forefront of any thinking in Wales is the “well-being of learners” and that is certainly a cause to be championed. Our youth have been presented with extraordinary challenges over the past year and any degree of clarity and certainty right now will surely be well received not just by them but by their families as well.
"Surely this leaves schools and pupils open to collusion?"
Futures are at stake and it is not the level playing field right now that it ought to be. I say that as head of an independent school where I can confidently say that my pupils will have an advantage over many. They have been able to access excellent resources and their education has been able to continue, not unhindered, but certainly without the impediments that many have had to try and overcome.
However, I am uncertain as to exactly what Kirsty Williams’ announcement really means for pupils in Wales. There isn’t mention of last year’s Centre Assessed Grades, instead they are looking at teacher-managed assessments, externally set but delivered in schools and supervised by the teachers. I may be missing something but to me this still sounds rather like exams. Furthermore, there is to be flexibility over when best to do the assessments. Surely this leaves schools and pupils open to collusion and if they are striving for fairness how can this possibly be assured if they can do the assessments at different times to one another?
Avoiding the fiasco of last year is so important but it is more important that whatever is done is done well and that appropriate planning is in place. I am eager to find out more about the Welsh plans because the promise of what they are proposing seems to have great merit. But it would be good to flesh out the bones to provide full clarity as to what is going to be done. It is still too vague.
"There is a very serious issue which no-one really seems prepared to tackle head on."
Come what may, there is a very serious issue which no-one really seems prepared to tackle head on. If we are going to say that our pupils simply haven’t been taught enough to be tested fully at a level that we have expected of previous years of pupils, when are we ever going to expect the same of them that we have expected of pupils in the past.
Pupils progressing from GCSE to A-level will not be able to meet the challenge of A-levels because they will simply be lacking key content to fully understand those courses. The same is true for those progressing from school to pursue undergraduate studies at university. Will they really be adequately prepared for the demands of their future studies if they haven’t the foundation knowledge and skills to carry them forwards?
The greatest merit to not having exams next year is that it would enable the pupils to have more time in the classroom and ensure that they have covered all the material that will be necessary for them as they seek future success in whichever field of study they pursue. Once we are beyond all that is happening right now, exams will have their place again but let’s not leave our pupils under-prepared for the challenges they are going to face – surely that is “testing” enough. Wales may be on the right track. It will be fascinating to see what happens next.
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