Adrian Mason is a lawyer and a former Deputy Chair Political of the North Wales Conservatives.
The Welsh Labour Government has announced that it is scrapping GCSE, AS, and A-Level examinations for the second year in a row, in contrast to the decision to proceed with exams in England. The consequences of the decision could well be a further deterioration in Welsh education as the system falls further behind its English counterpart. Already bottom of the league of home nations in the PISA tables, Labour has a track record of using education as a political football, with the losers being Welsh children.
Sarah Atherton, the Conservative MP for Wrexham, said:
“The Labour Government in Wales has a woeful record on education, and this simply continues the trend which has let down Welsh children again. This is reflected in the international PISA scores, where Wales scores over 15 points lower in English, reading and mathematics. Welsh Government needs to do better if they are to promote our young people’s life chances.”
The decision announced in the Welsh Senedd by Kirsty Williams, the Education Minister, is another example of how the socialists in Wales run the government. Engaged in a race to the bottom, they make decisions that are more to do with political ideology than the wellbeing of its citizens.
The decision not to run the exams in 2021 was announced, unusually, by Williams in the Sunday Times, two days before the formal decision was given to the Senedd. In the article, she stated that she was ‘not concerned’ whether Welsh students would end up with higher grades than their English counterparts and that was a matter for Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, to worry about.
However, what is becoming clear is that by deviating from the English position, the Welsh Government is potentially damaging the future of Welsh school students. It is not the first time they have played politics with our examination system. They recently took the decision to retain AS Levels as a stand-alone qualification, and not follow England with linear A Levels, provoking accusations that they had debased the ‘gold standard’ of the qualification in Wales.
This latest attempt to be ‘different’ (which frequently seems to be all that inspires the decisions of Welsh Ministers) followed on from a number of options presented to Williams by the regulator, Qualifications Wales. The Minister chose the most extreme option and now assessments will be undertake in the classroom, under the supervision of teachers, not through formal examinations overseen by independent invigilators. This leaves Williams open to the charge that these assessments will not be as robust as those taken in England under traditional methods.
Suzy Davies, the Conservative Senedd member and Shadow Minister for Education said:
“The critical issue for me is that assessments are externally set and externally marked. This will give them some comparability with previous years’ exams and protect teachers against any accusations of unintended bias.”
The Vice Chancellor of Bangor University, Professor Iwan Davies, commenting on Williams’s announcement, said he was awaiting further details but providing the assessment is robustly externally moderated then that should not prejudice Welsh students when they apply to university.
However, this is currently far from clear. Under the new rules, schools will be able to run ‘teacher managed assessments’ at a time of their choice between February and April next year. These assessments, which are likely to be part-papers taken from the full examination, will be externally prepared and assessed by the Welsh examination board, WJEC, but overseen by teachers.
This raises two issues. The first is that with such a wide window to take the assessments, it will be impossible to keep the contents of the papers confidential. What is to stop students simply sharing the contents with the outside world? How can fairness be maintained so that all students have an equal opportunity? The second issue is that by not having independent invigilators, how can we be sure that these classroom assessments will ensure the same level of examination rigour and compliance which is required by OFQUAL, the regulator in England?
These are questions that need answering before any semblance of confidence in the robustness of the system can be assured. The consequence of getting it wrong once again after last year’s grade debacle, will be that Wales’s students will potentially be becoming second class exam graduates.
To deny our young people the opportunity to excel in traditional examinations is a disservice to the hard work and dedication they put into their learning. It is an illogical decision. Williams says she consulted with a number of stakeholders before making the decision to not run the exams, amongst them the universities, but clearly as all the details of assessment have yet to be finalised, these discussions would have been based on conjecture and not hard facts. It remains to be seen whether Higher Education institutions in England and the university admissions service, UCAS, retain confidence in the standard of A-Levels achieved by students in Wales compared to their counterparts in England, when the full implications of the Welsh system of assessment are fully thought out.
And what about those children who have worked hard to achieve their GCSEs so they can leave school and find a job? Will employers consider their assessed qualifications to be as robust and secure as the exam results of their English job-hunting competitors?
Welsh political debate on the issue meanwhile consists of the usual hand-wringing contributions from Labour and the Welsh nationalists, Plaid Cymru. They say it would be ‘unfair’ or ‘stressful for children’ to allow the exams to proceed. Williams herself referred to ‘the mental stress that the pandemic had already inflicted upon young people.’ This is the type of propaganda we have grown used to in Wales.
The Welsh Government do our children a disservice by denying them the opportunity to compete in the real world, rather than the fantasy world dreamed by their socialist dogma. They believe so fervently in their ideology that some Cardiff politicians are calling for Gavin Williamson to follow the Welsh example.
I sincerely hope that Williamson has more respect for English students than to inflict this lunacy on them.