Exams have a future and should not be ditched long term or changed radically in the middle of a pandemic, the head of the exam board used by all maintained schools in Wales has said.

Ian Morgan, chief executive of the WJEC, insisted there should be confidence in the system to award grades this summer on teacher assessment after exams were cancelled for a second year. But he said that did not mean this should be the model for the future.

“There is a future for sit down, written exams in the context of a balanced set of qualifications,” Mr Morgan said.

“Some learners do better without the over arching stress and pressure of exams but some learners thrive on exams. Some learners want external justification for their grades. I am not wedded to exams, but if you were coming up with a new way of assessing grades you would not do it in the middle of a pandemic in three months.”

The WJEC and exam regulator, Qualifications Wales, were heavily criticised by an independent review into the results fiasco of last summer when thousands of results were downgraded by a standardising algorithm. Results were finally awarded on teacher-assessed grades only.

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The regulator. The WJEC and the Design and Delivery Group, appointed by Welsh Government, are now providing an assessment framework to support schools and colleges to develop assessment plans for this year.

Mr Morgan, whose signature is on every WJEC exam certificate, said he would not put his name to them if he didn’t trust results based on processes arrived at this year. But he admitted “there would be an element of nervousness” because of the new process this year. If any anomalies become apparent schools will be asked to look again at grades arrived at, but there would be “no blanket upgrading or downgrading”.

“It is an unknown. We are trying to do the best we can in the current circumstances and have learners at the heart of what we’re doing,” said Mr Morgan.

“We don’t want a free for all. The solution is in the profession and school and college leadership doing what they need to do.”

WJEC Chief Executive Ian Morgan

Initial plans to replace cancelled exams in Wales with internal and external assessments were scrapped after schools shut again in January. They will now be graded by teachers looking at pupils’ work.

Schools have been given guidance on what different grades should look like and will already have assessment policies in place because course work has been used for many years, long before Covid-19, to help award qualifications. But teachers can decide for themselves how best to assess pupils in this framework. Some may use past papers provided by the WJEC to assess knowledge and skills, while others may not, Mr Morgan acknowledged.

Either way, formal tests in exam-like conditions will not take place, he stressed.

“There is no requirement to sit at a desk and do a past paper, like an exam. What we don’t want is for that to be seen as an exam at 2pm on Tuesday.”

This year, those involved will be keen to avoid any accusations of teacher bias in grading.

“The important thing is the rigour to justify the final outcome. There will be internal and external quality assurance to ensure consistent approach.”

Prolonged school closures and two years of cancelled exams means teaching and exams will likely be affected for years to come. An announcement on qualification specifications for 2022 will be made soon, the WJEC said.

Whatever emerges, the head of the WJEC was adamant sat exams had benefits and a future.

“To some extent exams give some uniformity because every one does the same thing at the same time and they are delivered and marked in a structured approach. There are examiners trained to mark those exams and there is no concept of who the learner is so there is no bias. The exam system is more transparent. The examiner marks what they see in front of them so there is independent rigour.”

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The exams 2021 timetable

March – Schools and colleges given grading guide, assessment materials and training.

Early June (no exact date) – Pupils told their expected exam results and can ask for them to be looked at again before they are submitted by teachers who assessed them.

June 14 – July 2 – Centre Determined Grades submitted

Aug 10 – A level and AS results day

Aug 12 – GCSE results day

Aug 24 – to Sept 21 – final appeals period

What about pupils in years 10 and 12?

Pupils in Year 12 will be awarded Centre Determined Grades (CDG) to recognise work done, but that will not contribute to their final grades in 2022.

For learners in Year 10 due to complete a qualification this year the CDG will apply, but it won’t apply to learners due to take individual units of assessment.

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