Minister under fire over exam probe answers

Education Minister Kirsty Williams. Photo by the Welsh Government

Suzy Davies MS, Welsh Conservative, Shadow Minister for Education, has expressed grave concerns about answers given by the Education Minister to questions raised by the Senedd’s Children, Young People and Education Committee.

The Committee was recalled on Tuesday to quiz the Minister, Kirsty Williams, together with senior officials from WJEC and Qualifications Wales, about the botched grading of students A-level results, published last Thursday.

Mrs Davies said that she was worried by evidence which suggested that either the Minister was not kept fully informed about developments or that she had not challenged WJEC and Qualifications Wales on reassurances they may have given her.

Mrs Davies stated that by Monday, 3 August Qualifications Wales (QW) knew that some 35 percent of students would receive lower than their Centre-Assessed Grades and, in some cases, by two or three grades.

The Minister claimed she did not know that there was an issue until two days before results were published, at which point the figure was 42 percent.

At that point she took urgent action to create a grades ‘floor’ by confirm that no student should receive grades lower than those they achieved at AS level.

Mrs Davies said: “The Minister has said that she is unaware of that figure and that she was told – on August 11 – that the figure was 42 percent. This led the introduction of the AS-Level floor to mitigate that, a step we welcomed but were surprised was necessary.

“Knowing that the vast majority of students go on to get the same or higher grades in their A-Levels than their AS exams, why was this not baked into the algorithm as a floor from the beginning? The inclusion of AS data was supposed to have created the most robust system in the four UK nations and yet it threw up a higher number of unsupportable downgrades than elsewhere.

“I am asking the Minister very specific questions. These are:

• Can the Minister explain why she was not made aware of Qualifications Wales’s knowledge, by August 3, 2020, that 35 percent of students were going to be awarded A level grades that were lower than centre-assessed grades? Has the Minister since established whether this working figure was applicable to Wales or whether it was England-only?

• Will the Minister state when she was made aware of the potential issues with the grading system used in England, and what conversations did she have with WJEC, Qualifications Wales, and officials regarding these issues?

• After being made aware of the UK Parliament Education Select Committee report that expressed concerns about the algorithm used within the English grading system, what discussions did the Minister have with WJEC and Qualifications Wales?

• Knowing that the vast majority of A levels students achieve the same or higher grade over-all than they do in AS-levels, what reassurance did the Minister seek from WJEC/QW at the outset that their algorithm would not result in A-Level students receiving a grade lower than that achieved at AS level? If she asked but was not given that assurance, what was the explanation given by WJEC/QW, and what was her response?

• When was the Minister made aware that 4,000 students would have received higher grades had the AS-Level floor been introduced into the algorithm used to calculate A-Level grades in Wales, whilst it was being developed?

“The uncertainty caused to students, their families, and in fact their teachers, too, by what happened here in Wales added to the anxiety faced during what is at best a stressful time.”

“The Minister must give full and transparent answers.”

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