Ministers face calls for England to end high school graduation and GCSE exams next summer after Wales suspended its tests for 2021 to help students affected by coronavirus lockdowns.
Welsh Education Minister Kirsty Williams said next summer's papers would be replaced with coursework and assessments to ensure the system's "fairness" in the event of ongoing disruption to schools.
She said the ongoing pandemic had "made it impossible to maintain a level playing field on exams" and the decision "unburdened learners".
Wales is the youngest UK country to shut down its exam program for next year after the summer 2020 grading system in England and Scotland got into a farce over computerized grades.
Scotland has announced that its 5 national exams – equivalent to GCSEs – will be replaced with assessments next year.
So far, exams in England have been postponed by three weeks to allow students to catch up despite the unions demanding that they be abandoned entirely.
Sarah Mulholland, head of policy at the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, said there was already a north-south divide in terms of participation due to different levels of covid.
"What the Welsh Minister of Education recognized – unlike Gavin Williamson – is that unless we change course now, we risk repeating the same mistake we saw on Results Day this summer," she said.
"It is either naive or deliberately ignorant of the government to pretend that there is hope of a fair and level playing field for students when there are large disparities in both a child's attendance and ability to work from home . "
But No10 refused to follow Wales' lead this afternoon. The Prime Minister's official spokesman said today: “Our own position on exams is not changing.
Welsh Education Minister Kirsty Williams said next summer's papers would be replaced with coursework and assessments as schools continued to be disrupted due to the coronavirus.
Wales is the first UK country to shut down its exam program for next year after the summer 2020 scoring system in England and Scotland got into a farce over computer-calculated grades
“I think we have decided that it will take place a little later this year to give the students more time to prepare.
"We fully understand that they have experienced significant disruption and it is right that we should give them and their teachers this extra time."
Meanwhile, Ofsted's chief inspector said schools were concerned that a significant number of students would not return to classes for the remainder of the school year if exams were canceled this summer.
Amanda Spielman warned that abolishing high school graduation and GCSE exams could do "real harm" and said she saw no evidence that the same approach that was adopted last summer would "make sense".
Appearing before MPs in Westminster today, she said, “It is very important, before making any sudden drastic changes in the way a system works, to think about how it will go with children and parents at the reception end
“One of the messages that was very much perceived by young people themselves last summer, given the calculated grading model, was how much they refused not to have the chance to show what they could do for themselves.
“There were many who believed they could do better than their teachers suggested. So we should think about what young people can do before they do. & # 39;
Announcing the Welsh decision today, Ms. Williams said: “The well-being of learners and ensuring fairness throughout the system are central to our decision-making process.
& # 39; In line with recommendations from Qualifications Wales and the Independent Review, there will be no exams for learners at GCSE or AS level next year. High school graduates do not have to take any exams.
“We remain optimistic that the public health situation will improve, but the main reason for my decision is fairness. The time that learners spend in schools and colleges varies widely and in this situation it is impossible to ensure a level playing field for exams. & # 39;
Thousands of A-level students had their scores downgraded from school estimates by an algorithm last summer before the English examination board Ofqual announced a U-turn that would allow them to use the teachers' predictions. A similar situation occurred in Scotland.
Last month, Gavin Williamson confirmed that most high school graduation and GCSE exams in England will be postponed by three weeks in 2021 to allow students to catch up on time lost by the closings of pandemics.
The Education Minister also outlined plans to streamline some subjects, saying this would "help teachers and students by freeing up valuable class time".
Most of the exams take place between June 7 and July 2, but Mr Williamson also said a math and English GCSE exam will be held before the May semester to give students a chance to self-test During the main exam period itself to isolate a paper sitting on a core topic.
Mr Williamson confirmed that he had turned down calls to cancel or postpone exams next summer, as requested by some teaching unions.
The announcement came after Ofsted School Inspector Amanda Spielman warned against canceling exams because of the impact on children and their families
Ms. Williams said universities across the UK had been consulted and confirmed "that they are used to accepting many different types of qualifications".
"They expect a transparent and robust approach that demonstrates a learner's knowledge and skills," she said.
“Our intended approach does just that, as it is designed to maximize time spent teaching and learning.
"Abandoning exams provides time for teaching and learning throughout the summer semester to increase the knowledge, skills and confidence of our learners and to make progress on the next steps."
Teacher-managed assessments include assessments that are set and flagged externally, but performed in a classroom setting under the supervision of teachers.
Teachers also have flexibility in when it is best to do the assessments.
The National Education Union (NEW) Cymru welcomed the news that the exams would not take place in Wales at the end of 2021.
David Evans, Wales Union Secretary, said: “We are delighted that the Minister has announced this. It is important that we not repeat what happened this summer, which was extremely difficult for those who should have taken exams.
“We need to ensure that young people have a consistent assessment process, which means that their skills are recognized for their next steps.
“However, this must not mean additional work for everyone involved – for both employees and students. The education system already has problems.
“We only have one and a half semesters for young people before the grades are awarded for next summer. We now need as much flexibility in the system as possible as we know this is not a normal year and young people are likely to have times when they will study at home. & # 39;
But Suzy Davies, shadow education minister for the Welsh Conservatives, said it was a "shame" that A-level students in Wales had no chance to take exams before going to university and that assessments had to be set and tagged outside of schools.
Ms. Davies said, “The key problem for me is that the ratings are set externally and externally flagged. This will give them some comparability with previous years' exams and protect teachers from accusations of unintentional bias.
“It's a shame that high school graduates don't have the opportunity to take at least one exam. This will be the second year that sixth graders and college students have not had the experience to pass exams when competing with others for university places. & # 39;
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