Next steps for learners following another challenging year in education
With a week until the A level and AS results are announced, David Jones, Chair of Qualifications Wales, looks at next steps for learners following another challenging year in education.
There is no doubt that the last two years have been extraordinarily difficult for the education sector in Wales and beyond. The unprecedented situation in which we found ourselves at the height of the pandemic – in 2020 and last summer - was difficult for learners working towards qualifications whilst adhering to lockdowns and social distancing measures. It was difficult for teachers and centres, many of whom took on the added task of marking final assessments as part of the centre-determined grading process, as well as having to adapt so swiftly to online teaching. It was also difficult for parents, carers and guardians, who strove so hard to support and reassure the learners in their care.
This summer, there has been a return to formal exams alongside other forms of formal assessment. Echoing the thoughts of Philip Blaker, Chief Executive of Qualifications Wales, I believe that exams are a fair way to assess learners and will continue to play an important role along with other forms of assessment, but I also appreciate the unique challenge for learners, many of whom have sat formal external examinations for the first time this year.
At Qualifications Wales, we have made several decisions to ensure that learners are at the heart of everything we do, and these decisions have been taken in partnership with others. We have continued to work closely with WJEC, other awarding bodies, the wider education sector and Welsh Government to make specific changes this year to help offset some of the disruption that learners have experienced. This summer, as in previous years, we’ve invited learners, teachers, lecturers, and anyone with an interest in the exams to share their views; and a great many of them have. We have done this because we genuinely want to learn from their views.
This year is a transition year. In recognition of the challenging times during the pandemic, Qualifications Wales has implemented an alternative grading approach so that results will broadly reflect a midway point between 2019 and 2021. This is in line with what is happening in England and will ensure that learners in Wales are not at a disadvantage compared to their peers across the border.
Our aim this year has been to enable a coherent and balanced transition towards the usual examinations and assessments. At the same time, we need to take the positive learnings and developments from the Covid period, such as a greater use of technology in teaching, learning and assessment, and the debate around variety in assessment types, and the role of teacher-based assessments.
It is also vital to remember that many universities still primarily assess by examination, and so it is important to give learners in Wales the experience of sitting formal examinations to prepare them for what may lie ahead if they choose to move into higher education.
The progression of learners has been at the forefront of my mind of late. With the AS and A level results being announced next week, there will be many young people anxiously waiting to receive their grades in order to plan their next steps. Some will be hoping to go to university; others will be keen to find employment as soon as possible; and some will be looking to pursue an apprenticeship, which will allow them to earn while they learn.
UCAS’s initial analysis suggests an increase in applications for university this year, with the expected demand for higher education from 18-year-olds continuing to increase year on year.
What that means is that 2022 is a highly competitive year. In response to this situation colleagues at UCAS have been working with higher education institutions to ensure a robust clearing system to support learners.
I’d like to reassure young people that there are many courses and alternative progression routes out there. I know that every school and college across the country will be there to advise and support young people if they need to go through the clearing system, and there are helplines available for those learners who may need additional support.
Of course, university is not the only option as learners progress to their next steps. There is a raft of vocational courses available in further education colleges, in many subjects and at a range of levels, along with a whole host of other opportunities across the training sector.
We know that there are several sectors where there is a great demand for skilled employees - such as health and care, construction, engineering and catering - and there are more opportunities than ever for apprenticeships in these areas.
Certainly, if I were a teenager again, I would look very closely at all the options available. Young people can benefit hugely from the experience of working and gaining highly specialised and sought-after skills while at the same time earning their own money, giving them a real sense of independence. It also gives them the opportunity to continue learning if they so choose, allowing them to work towards Level 3/4 qualifications, or even a degree, through their apprenticeship.
As a former Chief Executive of a further education college, I would encourage anyone who is interested in an apprenticeship to contact their local further education college, or attend an open day there, and find out more about apprenticeship options. They are well connected with employers and so will be able to provide useful help and guidance.
Whatever the results are this month we all need to congratulate young people for what they have managed to achieve in extremely difficult and unprecedented times.
It is also important that we all, including the media, avoid trying to make too many comparisons. There is no merit in looking at grades from the past two years when assessment arrangements were different. Similarly, care should be taken with all comparisons, including those with other parts of the UK.
With the forthcoming results almost upon us, it just remains for me to wish our learners in Wales all the very best. I very much hope that they can progress in the direction of their choice or find suitable alternatives that may well take them in an exciting and fulfilling direction that they may not have previously considered.
Pob lwc to all our learners.
By David Jones OBE DL, Chair, Qualifications Wales