Wales will rely on teacher predictions as well as assessments that will be externally set and marked but taken in the classroom under teacher supervision © Keith Morris/Alamy

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Wales has cancelled all summer exams for secondary school students because of the coronavirus pandemic, increasing the pressure on England to follow suit.

Welsh education minister Kirsty Williams said it would be unfair to set A-levels, A/S levels and GCSEs because the time students have been spending in school is so varied. Many have had to self isolate after contracting or being exposed to coronavirus.

However, ministers in England have been clear that exams will go ahead, although most have been delayed by three weeks, and regulator Ofqual is examining whether further changes to grading and assessment are needed to make them fairer. 

The Department for Education said: “Exams are the fairest way of judging a student’s performance, which is why Ofqual and the government all agree they should go ahead next year.

“We are working closely with stakeholders on the measures needed to ensure exams can be held, and will set out plans over the coming weeks,” the department said.

Instead of exams, Wales will rely on teacher predictions as well as assessments that will be externally set and marked but taken in the classroom under teacher supervision. 

Ms Williams said: “The time learners will spend in schools and colleges will vary hugely and, in this situation, it is impossible to guarantee a level playing field for exams to take place.”

Universities Wales, which represents Welsh vice-chancellors, said the “timely” decision meant universities would be “well placed” to adapt their admissions processes to take the proposed changes into account. 

“Universities are used to working with a wide range of qualifications and arrangements, and considering individual circumstances, when making offers for entry,” said Julie Lydon, the chair of the group.

“These new arrangements will help to maximise learning opportunities for students, allowing them the time to cover the syllabus in as meaningful way as possible.”

In England unions and regional bodies have called on the DfE to revisit the plans for end-of-year exams. Government figures show that pupils in areas with high rates of coronavirus infections have had higher levels of absence. School attendance in north-west England in September and October was on average 87 per cent, while in the south-west it was 95 per cent. In Liverpool, where infections have been among the highest in the country, it was just 82 per cent.

The Northern Powerhouse Partnership, a lobby group chaired by former chancellor George Osborne, has also said exams should be scrapped. Sarah Mulholland, the partnership’s head of policy, said education secretary Gavin Williamson risked repeating last year’s results fiasco, when an algorithm downgraded students from state schools in poorer areas, particularly in the North and Midlands.

“It is either naive or wilfully ignorant of the government to pretend that there is any hope of achieving a fair, level playing field for pupils when there are huge disparities both in attendance and a child’s ability to work from home,” said Ms Mulholland.

The National Association for Head Teachers, a union, said the Welsh decision increased pressure on the government in London to revisit its exam policy. “The government needs to look at the reasoning behind it and explain how a different decision in England is justifiable and fair,” said Nick Brook, the deputy general secretary of NAHT. 

Scotland in October cancelled the nation’s National 5 exams, roughly equivalent to GCSEs, but is keeping the Highers and Advanced Highers used for university entry.

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