Wales A-Level and GCSE exams cancelled in 2021

GCSE, AS and A-level exams in Wales have been cancelled for 2021 in favour of classroom based assessments.

Education Minister Kirsty Williams made the announcement, saying the decision was taken to prioritise "learner wellbeing" and "fairness."

Grades will be based on teacher led assessments which will be externally marked but delivered within a classroom environment. There will be a national approach to provide consistency across Wales.

A decision is yet to be made for those studying for vocational qualifications.

This summer's exam season turned into a "fiasco" after tests were cancelled because of the Covid-19 lockdown.

Grades were instead awarded by a controversial algorithm before that was scrapped and replaced by teacher assessments.

Kirsty Williams said the wellbeing of learners and "ensuring fairness" was at the heart of her decision to call off the exams early.

Kirsty Williams has announced she will not be standing for re-election to the Senedd next year.

She said: “In line with the recommendations of both Qualifications Wales and the Independent Review, there will be no exams for GCSE or AS level learners next year. A-level students will also not be required to sit exams.

“We remain optimistic that the public heath situation will improve, but the primary reason for my decision is down to fairness; the time learners will spend in schools and colleges will vary hugely and, in this situation, it is impossible to guarantee a level playing field for exams to take place.

“We have consulted with universities across the UK and they have confirmed that they are used to accepting many different types of qualifications.

“Cancelling exams provides time for teaching and learning to continue throughout the summer term, to build the knowledge, skills and confidence in our learners to progress in whatever they decide to do next.”

An independent review set up by the Welsh Government said any form of exams in 2021 would be unfair and argued in favour of internal assessments based on coursework.

Exam regulator Qualifications Wales also called for next summer's GCSE examinations to be scrapped.

They said students should continue to sit summer A-level exams as in previous years, but the testing regime for GCSE and AS-level students would be different.

Analysis by ITV Wales News reporter Megan Boot

This decision has been one that staff and teachers have been waiting for, ever since the 'fiasco' of A level results day this August. The Education Minister's decision to cancel all GCSE, AS and A Level results comes down to one key reason - fairness. The idea that, because of coronavirus, the time students will spend in schools and colleges will vary hugely, and, as she sees it, it becomes 'impossible to guarantee a level playing field for exams to take place.'

Whilst that may give a level playing field domestically, when it comes to how Welsh students' results will compare to others across the UK, there is a big question mark as to how that will work out. Last month, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland all confirmed that exams would go ahead for Highers and A levels - as such Welsh students will be competing for university places without having the opportunity to show their skills in a similar setting. This was one of the reasons Qualifications Wales were in favour of retaining a timetabled exam to reduce the risk of qualifications being perceived as less robust than their equivalents elsewhere.

Kirsty Williams says they've consulted with universities across the UK as part of this decision and she is confident that the Welsh approach will provide the evidence of a student's knowledge and ability, that places are decided on. 

  • Watch: Kirsty Williams speaks more on plans for A-Level and GCSE pupils

Number 10 has insisted the decision to scrap GCSE and A-Level exams in Wales won't change its intention to hold exams in England next year.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said "There's no change in our position in relation to exams: they will take place [next year] slightly later in order to give students more time to prepare. Given the considerable disruption they've experienced, it's right to give them and their teachers extra time... It remains the intention for exams to go ahead [in England] with a slight delay."

The Association of School and College Leaders have backed the decision "wholeheartedly."

Eithne Hughes, Director of ASCL Cymru said: “This is the right decision for our young people.

“It recognises the fact that they will have been affected to differing extents by the impact of the pandemic and it allows for as much teaching time as possible to catch-up with lost learning.

“We are confident that the planned approach is robust and that it will avoid the pitfalls that occurred in the grading of this summer’s qualifications.

“Parents can be reassured also by the steps the Welsh government has taken to ensure this approach will not disadvantage students in Wales in comparison to those in the other UK nations.”

School leaders' union NAHT have expressed concern that exams have been cancelled in "name only."

Ruth Davies, president of NAHT said: “It has been announced that pupils will still be given externally set and marked tests, just in the classroom. We can’t see how that isn’t an exam. There is an awful lot of detail still to be determined, and we await further clarification, but we are worried we will end up with exams in all but name.

 “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. We can't have a situation where pupils are assessed on teaching they simply haven't had."