How qualifications were awarded in Wales this year

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a dramatic impact on all our lives, not least our young people studying for qualifications. In this section we describe our approach in dealing with this extraordinary situation.

The priority in this extraordinary year is enabling learner progression to university, further study, apprenticeships, or employment  

This year, learners, schools and colleges faced unprecedented disruption in teaching and learningIn November 2020, the Minister for Education announced that there would be no exams in summer 2021so the priority was to find the fairest alternative approach to awarding grades to learners so that they could progress to further education, apprenticeships, or employment. Exams, alongside non-exam assessment, normally provide the fairest means of assessing learner attainment, so to meet this priority compromises had to be made. 

Learner wellbeing has been at the centre of our approach  

We have carefully considered learner wellbeing through feedback from schools, colleges and our Learner Advisory Group, since they were formed in May. The alternative assessment arrangements put in place considered the need to support learners’ health and wellbeing at all stages. We know that the implementation of a flexible approach will have resulted in a variety of approaches being taken by different schools and colleges (centres). This may have led to increased anxiety for learners but given the varying impact of the pandemic across Wales this was the fairest possible approach in the circumstances. 

Equality was at the heart of our decisions  

Fairness is a core consideration in our work. Qualifications in themselves cannot address the inequalities in society; but we are committed to doing all that we can to prevent them from adding disadvantage or exacerbating existing disadvantages.   

Our regulatory equality objectives promote equality and inclusion for all learners, including those who share any of the relevant protected characteristics. In June, we published an overview of how we have managed our approach to equalities since the pandemic began, which includes considerations of this year’s assessment arrangements. 

Alternative assessment arrangements were developed in collaboration with the Design and Delivery Advisory Group  

We worked with the Design and Delivery Advisory Group, a group of head teachers and college principals, who advised the Minister for Education on workable proposals to deliver the Welsh Government policy on qualifications in 2021.

Schools and colleges awarded centre determined grades using a flexible approach  

Schools and colleges were asked to determine the grades for their learners using professional judgement supported by relevant evidence – Centre Determined Grades.  Wales was not alone in this, as the other UK nations took similar approaches.  

The alternative assessment arrangements provided as much flexibility as possible, to recognise that different learners had different learning experiences and it would not therefore be fair for them to complete the same assessments as they would normally when taking exams. It was necessary to give schools and colleges the flexibility to choose the assessments for their students. In this way they could choose assessments covering content on those aspects of the course that had been taught.  

National guidance was provided by us and WJEC, to schools and colleges to plan an approach that was right for them and their learners. They needed to decide what evidence to use to make grade judgements, balancing evidence from past assessments and new assessments.  

The education sector came together to support learners  

Schools and colleges have been at the forefront of delivering the alternative arrangements and have responded quickly to deliver assessments and continue teaching. We know that it has been a very difficult task and we thank teachers, lecturers and all others involved in schools and colleges for working so hard to deliver the assessments in very difficult circumstances. 

Adaptations were made to some vocational qualifications 

Learners across Wales were awarded Centre Determined Grades for vocational qualifications that are like GCSE, AS and A levels. Other vocational qualifications that required demonstration of practical skills and are not like GCSE, AS, A levels had alternative arrangements for awarding.

The overall pattern of national results are different this year  

This year, national results are higher than normal exam years. It is hard to deliver exam grades without exams and the alternative arrangements allowed schools and colleges to take a flexible approach to assessments to reflect the unprecedented challenges learners had faced.  

Schools and colleges have managed the challenging task of making grading decisions that are as fair as possible in the circumstances for their learners. Differences in national results this year will reflect everything being different. We have written a blog that provide contexts and further detail.  

There will be exams with adapted assessment in summer 2022, subject to there being no further substantial disruption

We confirmed in March that exams would go ahead in summer 2022 and suitable assessment adaptations would be put in place by WJEC, to fairly reflect the level of disruption faced by learners. After consultation with teachers, WJEC has made the necessary adaptations. These have been shared with schools and colleges and will be publicly available in September.   

We are considering what alternative arrangements would be put in place if the pandemic continues to have a significant impact on teaching and learning during the next academic year.  We will inform schools and colleges about contingency arrangements early in the autumn term, so they are ready to be implemented if needed.