Wales has got it wrong

Wales has got it wrong

The decision by the Welsh Assembly to do away with exams next year is foolhardy and will store up major problems.

There is a faction in progressive educational circles that want to axe exams, and the pandemic has given them the perfect opportunity to kick-start the process. But exams, while not perfect, are by far the best method we have of determining children’s levels of learning and knowledge.

The alternatives, as we have already seen this year, can be chaotic, unfair and prone to grade inflation. Relying on teacher assessments means there will be a drop in accuracy because there will be differences in interpretation.

My experience of moderating coursework, which complemented exams in the past, is that it is extremely difficult to do. As head of English, I was in charge of a whole department and the teachers who worked with me had very different opinions on grades with regard to coursework.

If regular tests are set in Wales to assist the process, they would need to be monitored and consistent right across the country. It will only be fair if every child faces the same set of assessments and is marked by exactly the same criteria. Exams do this – teacher graded assessments do not.

There will be problems further down the line with universities again having to make selections on unreliable information. They will also have the added difficulty of making comparisons between English students who have taken exams and Welsh students who have not. How can this be fair? Employers, too, will have that judgement to make.

It’s astonishing that the Welsh administration hasn’t learnt from the exam debacle this year. It was a disaster.

With thousands of schools virtually empty for months, it would have been perfectly possible to have conducted exams safely – students could have been socially distanced easily. Germany managed to hold exams, as did Hong Kong and even China held theirs, albeit after a delay.

The administration in Wales has made the decision very early. It’s as if it couldn’t wait to make the announcement.

It certainly dovetails with much of the progressive educational agenda, but it is a dangerous road to go down.

It is already causing problems in England and Scotland because students there are now worried that their exams will be axed and are considering how to best prepare in order to ensure a high grade by means of teacher assessment.

Instead, students should be focused entirely on their end of year exams, after all, they have lost school time and this needs to be made up. A clear decision that exams will be held needs to be made now. This will provide certainty and clarity.