The journey back to pre-pandemic GCSE, AS and A level standards

The new academic year is now well underway, and young people across Wales are busy continuing, or beginning, studies for their qualifications.

I know those who will be taking qualifications in 2023 are keen to know more about what will happen this year as we continue the journey back to pre-pandemic arrangements.

Last year, learners sat formal exams and assessments for the first time since the start of the pandemic. Exams and assessments will take place again this year, however we’ve made some changes to provide extra support for learners.

What support is in place to help learners prepare for exams and assessments in 2023?

Back in May we confirmed that advance information will be provided for made-for-Wales GCSE, AS and A level qualifications for this academic year.

Advance information may also be suitable for some made-for-Wales vocational qualifications. We will require awarding bodies to consider what is in place for GCSEs and A levels when they set standards for made-for-Wales vocational qualifications, to make sure that vocational learners are not disadvantaged.

The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), which includes WJEC, has also considered feedback on how the summer 2022 timetable worked, so that some of the principles can be applied in 2023. For example, in 2022 there was a ten-day separation between units of the same qualification to minimise the potential for learners missing all units because of Covid.

Though the gap might not be as much as ten days in 2023, it is likely there will be more separation than there was before the pandemic. JCQ started a consultation period on the provisional summer 2023 timetable last month.

What is advance information?

Advance information is intended to support learners by giving an indication of the topics, themes, texts or other content that they can expect in their exams. Its main aim is to help learners focus their revision as they prepare for exams. It is not intended to limit what is studied as part of each qualification. It will be released in time to support revision.

How will exams and assessments be graded this year?

We know that the pandemic has had a significant continuing effect on learning and want the grading approach to reflect this in the fairest way possible. The intention is for this year’s results to fall broadly midway between the 2019 and 2022 results. This is to reflect disruption to learning throughout the pandemic, potential disruption this winter and the unitised nature of some qualifications where units that have been taken and graded in 2022 will contribute to overall qualification grades awarded in 2023.  

The process will be very similar to this summer. An awarding committee of senior examiners will use a combination of statistical information and judgements drawn from the review of example of learners’ work to establish how many marks are needed to achieve a certain grade on each assessment.

Will grade boundaries change in summer 2023?

As in any series, awarding committees may recommend grade boundaries that are in a different position to previous series, to account for differences in the level of demand in exam papers. In summer 2023, there will also be other factors linked to advance information and the policy decision on the grading approach that could have an impact on grade boundaries.

Who will award grades this year?

With the return to usual assessment arrangements, WJEC will award grades to learners in summer 2023.

Will the approach to grading affect university entries for Welsh learners?

The grading approach in Wales is slightly different to that in England. We will continue to work with other regulators and UCAS to communicate our approach to universities and other institutions. Learners in Wales will not be disadvantaged, as we will make it clear this is a step in the transition back to pre-pandemic standards. Universities have welcomed early transparency on our approach.

Are there any changes to non-examination assessments (NEA) for summer 2023?

There are no changes to the assessment requirements for NEA. WJEC has already shared information with schools and colleges about support for moderation arrangements, building on some approaches that worked well during the last academic year.

Will the same approach be taken for learners in Wales taking qualifications other than Made-for-Wales GCSEs, AS and A levels?

The approach for GCSEs, AS and A levels that are made-for-England has been announced by Ofqual in September. These qualifications will see a return to results that look similar to 2019 and there will be no advance information.

For Made-for-Wales vocational qualifications that are similar to GCSEs, AS and A levels, WJEC will be expected to take account of the approach taken for those qualifications when awarding. The approach to awarding three-country vocational qualifications will align with decisions taken on general qualifications in England.

Will the approach be the same for the Skills Challenge Certificate qualifications?

The approach to grading the Skills Challenge Certificates will be in line with the approach for GCSEs, AS and A levels. The adaptations that were put in place during the pandemic worked well. Feedback from centres and WJEC was that the changes allowed more time for learners to develop the required skills without undermining the validity of the qualifications. We have therefore decided to carry forward these changes permanently in the qualifications.

What approach to grading will apply to the November 2022 series?

GCSEs in English Language, Mathematics, Mathematics-Numeracy and Welsh/Cymraeg are available in the November series.  In Wales most entries are usually for learners who are in year 11, wither fewer entries for older learners who are re-sitting the exams. If this is the case next month, the grading approach will be like the approach to be taken in summer 2023.

By Philip Blaker, Chief Executive of Qualifications Wales