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A statement by Louise Casella, Chair of The Independent Review Panel on Qualifications in Wales

The Independent Review Panel on Qualifications in Wales has published its final report today.

Over a three-month period, we have consulted widely in order to understand the challenges with how GSCE, A-level and vocational qualifications were awarded in 2020 and ensure that lessons learned from 2020 would inform the process for 2021.

Our report commends the hard work and professionalism of all who worked on qualifications in 2020. That hard work continues now given the ongoing challenges in 2021. 

We also highlight several issues that arose from deficiencies in the overall systems and processes applied, including:

  • over-reliance on algorithms and statistical standardisation processes in order to predict grades for individual learners without adequate exploration of alternative methods
  • insufficient dialogue and communication between qualification bodies, other organisations in the education sector and learners
  • a failure to put in place a fair and workable appeals process
  • a lack of coherent overview on how all aspects of the interim process were being brought together at a Wales-wide level.

The pandemic has had a profound impact on all aspects of life in Wales, not least education and the awarding of qualifications to young learners during some of the most formative years of their lives.

No-one, including the Welsh Government or anyone in the education sector, could have foreseen this, and a lot of key decisions on the new method for awarding qualifications had to be made very quickly.

While those making the decisions did so diligently and in the belief that they were securing fair and comparable outcomes, opportunities were missed to introduce safeguards that would have helped ensure individual learners received results that were fair for them.

The Panel concludes that the experience for learners could have been better had the organisations responsible for administering exams and qualifications worked more collaboratively with schools and colleges. The risks of relying on statistical processes to produce outcomes at individual levels should have been given greater consideration. And more attention should have been given to ensuring good two-way communication with learners and those supporting them.

During 2020, staff at schools, colleges and qualification bodies worked tirelessly to support young people in Wales to get the grades they deserved, under some of the most difficult circumstances. We’ve made our recommendations to ensure that everyone’s hard work will have a greater impact in 2021.

The pandemic continues to affect learning in this academic year, and learners already have certainty that they won’t face the traditional exam series this summer, giving the whole sector the opportunity to put a more robust model in place for 2021 and ensure that the learning from 2020 is taken on board.

The recommendations we’ve published today follow the recommendations of our earlier interim report and are made in the spirit of helping create a fairer and more transparent system of awarding qualifications in 2020-21 and beyond.

I would like to thank the very large number of people who contributed to the review’s evidential base, including schools, colleges, qualification bodies and regulators, parents and, perhaps most importantly, learners. My sincere thanks also to the panel members for their insight and tireless work over the past few months.

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