Education chiefs at six local councils have urged the Education minister to say now that next year’s GCSE and A-level exams should be scrapped or risk “failing” children and students.
In a series of letters seen by ITV Wales, councillors who lead on education at Wrexham, Conwy, Flintshire, Gywnedd, Anglesey and Denbighshire, have told Kirsty Williams they’re “deeply concerned” about the effect of covid-related disruption on the studies of students facing major exams in 2021.
The councillors, who represent different political parties and independents, say they “strongly believe” the Welsh Government should state at the earliest opportunity that next year’s qualifications will be assessed using the “centre assessed” system (CAG) based on teachers’ grades, the method used to judge pupils’ performance this year.
In one of their letters they write: "Over the last few weeks, we have seen a sharp rise in COVID infections across Wales leading to the implementation of local lockdowns.
"We have already seen numerous incidents across North Wales where whole year groups, including Year 11 and Year 13, had to self-isolate for a two week period.
"We believe that Qualifications Wales is failing our children and students by not making an imminent and clear announcement to adopt CAGs for the summer 2020-21 examination series.
"We therefore urge you, once again, to provide an urgent response to our concerns so that schools can plan properly and provide parity and equity to all regardless of the local COVID situation."
Plaid Cymru has also been putting pressure on the Welsh Government to scrap the exams. Its education spokesperson, Siân Gwenllian, said the “A-level fiasco of summer 2020” must not be repeated.
She added: “GCSE and A-level exams have to go. This style of ‘one size fits all’ is especially unfair on the pupils who have missed a lot of school through having to self-isolate, and for the older secondary school pupils who will have to stay at home under the national ‘fire break’ rules.
“We mustn’t underestimate the toll this disruption has on the mental health and well-being of our students.
The worry about exams is one extra layer of anxiety that could so easily be removed
“The worry about exams is one extra layer of anxiety that could so easily be removed.
"Taking the decision this week – before the fire break – to cancel next year’s exams would avoid another A-level fiasco and a last minute U-turn which we saw last year and which benefited no-one. It would be a big step in alleviating some of the anxiety experienced by young people at this time of national crisis.”
The Education Minister is resisting calls to make an early decision. She's said publicly that she's personally in favour of keeping the exams but is due to receive an independent report next week into what went wrong during the build up to this year's exams and will await those recommendations before asking.
She's also said to have been inundated by school leaders urging her not to make any announcement while children are away from school for half term and for the fire break lockdown.
I understand that she's accepted the need for students to be in a position where they can be better supported by staff when any announcement is made which will affect their future and is willing to take the political criticism for not making an early announcement.
She also has two different models to consider from other parts of the UK. Scotland has cancelled its version of GCSEs but is keeping its equivalent of A-levels. In England exams are due to go ahead but three weeks later than planned.
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “The Minister has commissioned an independent report into exam arrangements and the findings and recommendations will be received next week. Qualifications Wales and WJEC are also working through these matters and will soon publish their recommendations.
“In response to the fire-break, the Minister has confirmed she will announce the decision when all pupils will be back in school where they will have support from their teachers.”