Hindsight is a gift; foresight is a requirement: An extraordinary year  for the education sector in Wales

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The year 2020 and the term ‘unprecedented’ will forever be synonymous. Nobody could have foreseen the extent of disruption brought about by the pandemic across schools, colleges and universities. There have been, and there remains many challenges ahead as we all adjust to the ongoing impact of Covid19. To date, the furore around results has been the single largest challenge to the face the FE sector and our colleagues in schools. Whilst hindsight enables us to reflect on what went wrong and what could be put in place next year the outcome was in many ways also very predictable.  

Prior to the summer series, it was clear to us that no system to award results in the absence of examinations would be perfect. By calculating grades for learners as early as mid-March 2020, results would inevitably be higher as learners who are normally unable to complete their courses and leave after this point would remain in the system. Likewise, no learner had the opportunity to under or, for that matter, overperform in exam assessment. Add to that the perennial challenge of moderation and standardisation, it was clear as early as the spring that the summer results season would present many significant challenges.   

What matters now is that we look to learn from the experiences of summer 2020. Key to that is the Minister for Education’s recent announcement that there will be an independent review of the events surrounding this year’s decision to cancel exams. This is very much welcomed. 

There are several areas that need to be covered. These include how the regulatory bodies, both Ofqual and Qualifications Wales, developed the moderation algorithms and any testing against Centre Assessment Grades (CAG), as well as the process for ultimately deciding not to use this moderation tool.   

The role of Qualifications Wales and the balance between maintaining a UK-led (but in truth an England-led) approach versus a Wales-led solution also needs further exploration. Wales will continue to deviate from England as across the border T Levels are introduced, and the impact of the introduction of the new Health and Social Care, and Childcare qualifications in addition to a suite of new construction qualifications, are felt closer to home. Despite this there will be a number of important areas of qualifications that remain designated and not regulated by Qualifications Wales. We are very clear in ColegauCymru, that good regulation needs to reflect the need for a made-in-Wales solution as well as the challenge of recognition and portability. As the National Contact Point for Skills we are very aware of the need for vocational qualifications to travel well. 

An enduring concern is the lack of parity between academic and vocational learners which must be highlighted. Swifter, and more definite resolution, was achieved for academic learners while those studying vocational qualifications faced further weeks of uncertainty. This was not just about the process for awarding results, but also in terms of receiving grades.  

Assessments in 2021 will need to be adapted to consider the potential for ongoing disruption. It is important we plan now. Government, the regulators and the awarding bodies need to work closely together, but importantly, with learners too. There are longer-term questions to address, such as the role of assessed coursework in all qualifications. All this needs to be done in a way that maximises the benefit of a made-in-Wales solution and acknowledges England is already divergent to Wales in key policy areas. These answers must emerge soon, and we have set out a deadline of half term for this to enable staff to know what is likely to lie ahead as soon as possible. Our Curriculum and Quality Group with support from the new Teaching and Learning Network will be key to this and will help inform the view of the Principals’ Forum as it meets throughout the autumn term. 

Much of the focus of the last weeks has been in securing a safe teaching environment for the return to college. This of course will continue to be a priority but so too will be adapting teaching and learning approaches to the new working environment Covid19 imposes. 

Whilst hindsight is indeed a wonderful gift, in such changing times foresight is also a necessary requirement. Despite all the change and uncertainty one thing is predictable: trying to identify and impose a solution unilaterally will fail and it will fail the most vulnerable learners the most. We will make sure the voice of FE is heard in all discussions and not least the questions arising around assessment and examination. 

“What matters now is that we look to learn from the experiences of summer 2020.”

Iestyn Davies,
Chief Executive, ColegauCymru

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