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After a week of exam chaos – there are questions that remain unanswered

23 Aug 2020 4 minute read
Students protesting outside the Senedd. Photo by Plaid Cymru

Sian Gwenllian MS, Shadow Education Minister

Last Sunday, hundreds of young people came out in force to protest against unfair downgrading of their A/AS Level and GCSE results on the steps of our Senedd.

By Monday, they had won.

Let us be under no illusion. This was an historic win for the young people of Wales that was achieved solely through determination and the power of their united voice crying out for change against an unfair system that produced so many inconsistencies and anomalies.

It was a win in which the voices of young people prevailed and one in which the Welsh Government’s hand was forced by the power of a collective movement.

However serious questions remain unanswered.

Why did the Welsh Government go down the route of a “national algorithm” in the first place without first looking at local standardisation? Did they not see the serious inequalities and problems that would arise with such a mathematical approach?

Why didn’t they look at local standardisation instead?

What exactly was the relationship between WJEC and Qualifications Wales and the Education Department at the Welsh Government? Who truly led on the decision to go with this algorithm?

And what of Ofqual in England? Were Qualifications Wales merely following their lead rather that doing what was truly best for the young people of Wales?

On Monday, the First Minister Mark Drakeford said the decision to U-turn on its plan for using an algorithm was because England and Scotland had already reviewed their system in the last week.

The next day, the Welsh Government seemed to distance themselves from those remarks.

So, what really happened?

The focus on “losing credibility in the grades” was the wrong focus from the start – to what extent was that really challenged by the Minister?

On Tuesday, the Education Minister will announce more details on her upcoming independent review of events following the cancellation of this year’s exams.

I do not believe that a review is sufficient.

Only an urgent and full public inquiry into the handling of this year’s exam debacle will give the answers our young people need.

If the Welsh Government is truly serious about building back public confidence, then surely the Education Minister should initiate a public inquiry looking into what went wrong – in order to pave the way for future change?

The current Welsh Government and future governments must be able to learn lessons from the recent mishandling of qualifications grading and exam results.

Some of the problems started to come to light during Tuesday’s Senedd Committee meeting.

But we only touched the surface very lightly.

I’m concerned that the Minister’s ‘review’ won’t achieve the level of public scrutiny that’s needed. This catalogue of blunders affected and is still affecting thousands of young people in Wales.

The level of anxiety that was created must not be underestimated and only a public inquiry will suffice.

A public inquiry would help illuminate any systemic failures that need rectifying in a robust and transparent way, indicating that the Government is seriously committed to learning the lessons.

In the meantime, the Minister must work with the profession to ensure a fair system for 2021.

An election is looming – one in which a new Welsh Government can be elected.

Young people are angry, rightly so. They have gone through an unprecedented and difficult time just like the rest of us, but they have simultaneously been subjected to additional stress, fear, and uncertainty because of this debacle.

But in that time, there has also been an awakening. And those young people who joined Adam Price on the steps of the Senedd last Sunday will not forget the unfairness and inequality they were put through.

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