Ensuring our exam system is up to the job

  By Emyr George, Associate Director, Qualifications Wales

With GCSE, AS and A level exams over for another year, everyone catches breath as the countdown to results begins. And for 2018, there are a few new aspects in the mix.

Last summer’s exam season was a landmark for education in Wales. For the first-time, learners sat GCSEs and A levels designed specifically for Wales and awarded independently of qualifications taken in the rest of the UK.

This year we’ll see an even greater number of newly reformed GCSEs, AS and A levels examined and awarded for the first time. And with legacy qualifications also being awarded for the last time in many subjects, this summer is shaping up as the busiest exam series on record.

As aregulator, our role is to ensure that qualifications taken in Wales are high quality and give an accurate, fair and trusted measure of achievement. It’s also our role to make sure that teachers, learners and the public fully understandthe changes happening to qualifications in Wales and how they compare to changes elsewhere in the UK.

We work closely with our fellow regulators across the UK to make sure a GCSE is a GCSE and an A level is an A level, wherever they are taken. So studentsare still studying GCSEs and A levels which are the same size and same level of difficulty, whether they are sitting them in Wales, England or Northern Ireland. The new qualifications are updated, but just as accessible as the ones they replace.

The reason for renewing the qualifications was to make sure that the content and the assessments are fit for the future. So a learner taking a new version of a GCSE shouldn't have a better or worse chance of getting the same grade they’d have got if they were taking the old version of the qualification.

We carefully oversee the award of each GCSE, AS and A level to make sure that this year’s students are treated the same as students in previous years, so that they can be confident that their results are a fair reflection of their performance.

There are some important differences to be aware of. Here in Wales, for example, we have retained the A*-G gradingscale for GCSEs that universities and employers know and understand.

Meanwhile in England new GCSEs will be graded using a new 9 to 1 system andNorthern Ireland has introduced a new C* grade.

New A levels designed for Wales still consist of AS and A2 components, withAS results counting towardsan A level. Whereas in England, while the AS and A level content still overlaps, AS results can’t count towards an A level – students taking A levels must sit exams that cover AS content again.

There are also some differences across individual subjects where content has been designed to be more relevant to a Welsh context.

In GCSE History, for example, unit one requires learners to consider a Welsh perspective within a wider historical context such as the time of Depression, War and Recover of 1930-1951. Or there is the Welsh Writing in English section in the new GCSE English Literature.

Some of the GCSEs being awarded for the first time this yearare in the Science subjects. These include separate GCSEs in Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Applied Science, as well as two new ‘double award’GCSEs, one in Science and one in Applied Science.

The content and assessment for these new GCSEs has been updated, and they still include an assessment of students’ practical laboratory skills. They are unitised qualifications, so students will typically sit exams in some units at the end of Year 10, with the overall grade for the qualification awarded at the end of Year 11, when all units have been completed.

We know that students and teachers across Wales have worked hard to prepare for their exams, some for brand new specifications, others for more established ones. It’s our responsibility to ensure that their results are a true reflection of effort and ability.