Pupils sitting GCSE and A-level exams in Wales next summer will be awarded fewer top grades

By Abbie Wightwick

Pupils sitting exams in Wales next summer will be awarded fewer top grades than this year’s cohort but papers will be adapted to take into account “lost learning”.

Grade boundaries for A levels, AS and GCSEs and the Skills Challenge Certificate will be set to halfway between pre-pandemic 2019 and 2021's r ecord results after exams were cancelled for a second year and replaced with teacher assessments.

Announcing the plan, exam regulator Qualifications Wales said exam board WJEC will award grades for its summer 2022 exams unless they have to be cancelled again. If exams are cancelled there will be a return to teacher assessed grades, but with slight alterations.

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Summer 2022 exam grading will run as a “transition year” before returning to 2019 pre pandemic grading in 2023.

It is expected that those at the start of their GCSE and A level courses won’t have suffered so much Covid disruption to their learning.

It is hoped the transition will subdue what has been seen as grade inflation during Covid without a sudden fall in exam grades.

The regulator announced in March that exams would go ahead next summer but the specification for WJEC GCSE, AS and A levels and Skills Challenge Certificate qualifications would be reduced and adapted in recognition of “lost face-to-face teaching and learning time during the pandemic”.

Contingency plans are being made in case Covid worsens and exams have to be ditched again next summer.

If exams are cancelled, schools and colleges will be asked to award centre determined grades to learners. The centre determined grade approach would be similar to that used in summer 2021 “but with some improvements to take account of the learning from this year”.

Exams were graded on teacher assessments after outcry when results for 2020 were downgraded by an algorithm used to ensure they didn't clash with results from previous years.

Critics said that led to high achieving pupils in schools with historically lower results unfairly losing out.

Philip Blaker, Chief Executive of Qualifications Wales said: “Many learners studying for GCSEs, AS and A levels in summer 2022 will have faced unprecedented disruption to their education over the past 18 months and we want to make sure that their assessments next summer are as fair as possible.

“Next year we will see a return to normal assessments which provide a fair and consistent approach for learners.

“We have considered the fairest way to award grades, taking views from stakeholders across Wales and working with other qualifications regulators across the UK. Our approach will align with that taken in England.

“This means that results in 2022 will reflect broadly a midway point between 2021 and 2019 and provides a level playing field for Welsh learners, particularly those applying for admission to universities across the UK.

“These are uncertain times and if circumstances change, and the exam series is cancelled we are putting contingency plans in place that will allow schools and colleges to award grades in an approach based upon that used in summer 2021.

"We will work with WJEC to inform schools and colleges of these plans so everyone is clear what needs to be done. We know that learners may be anxious and have concerns about the return to exams, which is why we are planning a range of communications to support them.”

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