What can we expect from A Level and GCSE results this year in Wales?

After two years of disruption for learners, this year has been the first time since 2019 that externally assessed exams have been held in schools and colleges. But what can we expect when the results are announced next month?

The straight answer to that question is that results will be different this year – different from the results of 2020 and 2021 when no formal exams took place – and different to pre-pandemic results when national examinations were sat.

What was the situation during the pandemic?

The last two years have been challenging for many professions, and education professionals have been on the front line working hard and adapting to provide the best possible education for learners in difficult circumstances.

Learners have suffered significant disruption. Schools and colleges were closed for most learners between March and June 2020. Many then had regional or local lockdowns between September and December of that year, followed by another national lockdown from January until mid-March in 2021. This disruption led Welsh Government to cancel both the 2020 and 2021 exam series.

This meant that schools and colleges awarded grades. Alternative arrangements were put in place to provide flexibility for schools and colleges to determine grades rather than have learners complete standardised assessments in an exam series.

How were learners assessed last year?

In a recent report published by us at Qualifications Wales, Perceptions and experiences of grading in summer 2021: Research with education professionals in Wales, school and college staff members were interviewed about the process that they used to assess learners in 2021 for GCSE, AS and A levels.

In that report, we saw that striving to ensure fairness and consistency for learners was at the heart of the school and college’s approach throughout the summer 2021 grading process.

Over half of respondents stated that they had used the adapted past papers or assessment tasks provided by WJEC (or other awarding bodies) to make grading decisions for summer 2021.

Just under a third (32%) of respondents reported using exam papers or assessments from previous years and making their own adaptations to them, whilst a similar proportion (31%) used past papers without adaptations. Around a quarter (27%) had used the assessment tasks provided by the awarding bodies after further adapting them for their own learners.

The report showed that school and college staff felt that reliance on past papers made grading less fair and may have widened gaps between learners from advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds. The staff also noted that many learners were behind and lacked maturity as they’d missed large chunks of their education.

Reflecting on the alternative assessment arrangements, staff noted that they worked many additional hours to ensure that their learners received grades. There was a sense that providing centre determined grades (CDGs) had been implemented as a one-off commitment under exceptional circumstances, but that staff could not, and should not, be expected to handle that volume of additional work again.

What happened to results in 2020 and 2021?

National results seen in the ‘pandemic years’ were substantially higher than normal results.

The flexible approach to assessment arrangements that was put in place to support schools, colleges and learners meant that many schools and colleges used past papers with known mark schemes, which learners were able to prepare for. The system was designed to be flexible to allow schools and colleges to adapt to their circumstances, but we know this led to inconsistencies in approach and variation in results.

Supporting learners with the exam approach in summer 2022

With the return to exams this summer, additional support was put in place to offset some of the disruption experienced and the transition back to normal processes. Changes this year to support learners and to recognise this lost teaching and learning time included:

  • reducing the amount of content that could be assessed this year allowing learners to focus on less material as they prepared for the exams
  • a grading approach whereby the outcomes will be broadly midway between 2019 and 2021 results.

We want to reassure all learners in Wales that these changes were made to make the return to a full exam season as manageable and fair as possible. 

So what are the key facts about this year’s results?

  • The grading approach will mean that subject results at a national level will reflect broadly a midway point between summer 2019 and summer 2021 results.
  • National results will be higher than 2019 and lower than 2021 – but results will not fall exactly on the midpoint between these two years.
  • The grading approach is applied nationally at a subject level - not at a school or college level - which means that schools and colleges will see different levels of change in their results relative to 2021 and 2019.
  • Most schools and colleges will have results lower than last summer and likely above 2019 - by how much lower depends on how their learners have performed and the level of change in their results over the last three years.
  • This year, comparisons should be made with 2019 results as that is when national standardised examinations and assessments were last taken.
  • Decreases in results in a school or college compared to 2021 may be caused by the change back towards the normal system and cannot be interpreted as evidence of a decrease in the quality of education.

Results Days

This summer’ results will be released on the following dates:

Thursday 18 August – results day for AS, A levels and Advanced Skills Challenge Certificate

Thursday 25 August – results day for GCSEs and National/Foundation Skills Challenge Certificates

The anticipation as learners wait to find out their results can be daunting. It is important to remember that you’ve done all you can now; you should be proud of your hard work. I hope that all learners in Wales get the grades that they need to progress, however, if you don’t quite achieve as you’d hoped, there are many options available and different paths that you can take. Try to relax and enjoy your summer.

By Jo Richards, Executive Director Regulation, Qualifications Wales