Looking ahead for those halfway through courses

So far, for understandable reasons, we’ve had to focus on arrangements for this summer’s exams. We’re clear about how we think it best to proceed this summer, and we’re currently consulting on our proposals. We’ve now started to look ahead to 2021.

 by Kerry Davies, Head of Standards

Schools have now been closed to most learners for more than four weeks. They would normally have been open, and we know that this will be affecting the way that people engage with their learning. We hope that learning continues, but we also acknowledge that the pace of learning might be slower than usual and access to teaching and resources might vary for learners. Online learning is, of course, a new way of working for many learners - as well as for teachers and lecturers - and practical work is also more difficult to complete in many subjects, like science and creative arts 

We know that learners in Year 10 and Year 12 who are halfway through their GCSE and A level courses are worried about how they will cover the work ahead of summer 2021. Understandably, teachers and lecturers share these concerns and want to do their best for their learners. For all these reasons we think adjustments to exams next summer may be needed.   

We don’t yet know when schools and colleges might reopen for learners. Nor do we know how that might look when they do. Schools might open for some learners, rather than all learners, and social distancing might still be required. The ‘normal’ could be very different.  

Even so, we are considering ways to support learners in their GCSEs and A levels. We are working with WJEC, and other regulators and organisations, to consider what might be done. There are no easy solutions and any adjustments will need to be worked out on a subject by subject basis, while ensuring that adjustments are made fairly across subjects.  

All qualifications are different in the ways they are assessed and how content and skills relate to the assessments. No decisions have been made yet, but some of the options being considered for qualifications awarded in summer 2021 include reducing, adapting or removing the requirements for NEA and reducing content and/or coverage of assessment objectives. There are also practical issues related to the exam timetable for summer 2021 that might help. In addition, there are some allowances that can be made in relation to how qualifications are awarded in summer 2021.  

This is a really complex situation and decisions cannot be rushed. What might appear to be a simple solution, may not be. For example, thinking about reducing content: Content is not delivered in a consistent way across schools and colleges, so removing something that’s already been taught won’t help that teacher or group of learners; content might be important to some stakeholders; content could be in the core body of knowledge that represents the subject, and this could be a subjective judgement; and some content might be needed for progression to the next stage in education.   

We want to do everything we can to support those affected by the current situation, but we also need to ensure that GCSEs and A levels remain credible qualifications in summer 2021. We need to ensure that qualifications cover and assess enough of the course content to allow learners to progress on to their chosen pathway after summer 2021.  

We hope to share more information about summer 2021 before half term. This will still be at a high level, but we want to reassure you that we are working hard to find answers to some very difficult questions.

Published 6 May 2020