November 24, 2020

Welsh move to cancel GCSE and A-level exams puts pressure on No 10 – The Guardian

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/nov/10/wales-government-no-gcse-a-levels-exams-next-summer

The UK government is under pressure to reconsider cancelling exams in England next summer after Wales called off end-of-year GCSE and A-level tests for its students.

The Welsh education minister, Kirsty Williams, said instead of exams the Labour-controlled government would work with schools and colleges to put in place teacher-managed assessments. She said this was the fairest way given that the time students spend in school or college could vary greatly, adding: “It is impossible to guarantee a level playing field for exams to take place.”

Williams said some of the assessments would be set and marked externally but delivered within classrooms under teacher supervision. There would be an “agreed national approach” to provide consistency across Wales.

She said the Welsh government had consulted with universities over difficulties comparing students who would have been through different regimes in the devolved nations. She said: “They have confirmed that they are used to accepting many different types of qualifications.”

Boris Johnson’s spokesman said there were no plans for England to follow Wales. He said: “There’s no change in our own position in relation to exams. We’ve set out that they will take place slightly later this year, to give students more time to prepare. We continue to think that exams are the fairest way of judging a student’s performance.”

But Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said England was “lagging behind”.

“The Welsh government has made clear decisions,” she said. “The current position in England of a three-week delay to 2021 examinations is simply not good enough. Education is not as normal. Months of classroom learning have already been lost and many young people will continue to have to spend varying degrees of time out of school.”

In Scotland, National 5 exams – the equivalent to GCSEs – have been replaced by coursework and teacher assessments, but Highers are to go ahead.

Nick Brook, the deputy general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said the UK government should look closely at the reasoning behind the Welsh decision and explain how keeping exams in England was justifiable and fair.

He said: “They need to explain how they plan to mitigate the issues which are across all of the nations. That’s not to say exams shouldn’t go ahead in England, but the government needs to explain how this approach will be fair to students in the circumstances.”

The Liberal Democrat education spokesperson, Daisy Cooper, said a level playing field could not be guaranteed.

“Many teachers are also saying it is now impossible to teach the content needed for next summer’s exams,” she said. “Rather than leaving pupils under a cloud of uncertainty and making yet more last-minute decisions, the government must cancel GCSE and A-level exams in summer 2021 and make necessary adjustments to assessing BTECs.”

But the chief inspector of the English schools watchdog, Ofsted, Amanda Spielman, cautioned against scrapping exams in England next summer, warning it could do “real harm” and might not be in young people’s interests.

Giving evidence to MPs on the Commons education committee, Spielman said schools were worried that a large proportion of older pupils might not return to lessons for the rest of the academic year if next year’s exams were cancelled.

Quick Guide

Who in the UK will get the new Covid-19 vaccine first?

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The UK government’s joint committee on vaccination and immunisation has published a list of groups of people who will be prioritised to receive a vaccine for Covid-19. The list is:

1. All those 80 years of age and over and health and social care workers.

2. All those 75 years of age and over.

3. All those 70 years of age and over.

4. All those 65 years of age and over.

5. Adults under 65 years of age at high at risk of serious disease and mortality from Covid-19.

6. Adults under 65 years of age at moderate risk of at risk of serious disease and mortality from Covid-19.

7. All those 60 years of age and over.

8. All those 55 years of age and over.

9. All those 50 years of age and over.

10. Rest of the population

She said: “One of the messages that came across really strongly from young people themselves last summer in the face of the calculated grades model was how much they resented not having the chance to show what they could do for themselves.”

Welsh unions cautiously welcomed the decision. David Evans, the Wales secretary of the National Education Union Cymru, said: “We must ensure young people have a consistent assessment process in place.”

Ruth Davies, the president of NAHT Cymru, said she was concerned that GCSEs, AS-levels and A-levels were being cancelled in Wales “in name only”. She said: “We welcome the acknowledgement that things need to be different in 2021, but there is a real concern that we will end up with exams by stealth.

“The same problems still exist that pupils may not be able to attend school that day, and that the exams will be testing areas that haven’t been able to be taught.”