Education minister Leighton Andrews is standing by the AS and A level exam system but in its more traditional form with students doing all exams at the end of the course and only getting one chance to re-sit.
The announcement is confirmation that Wales will not adopt the overhaul of A levels planned for England. Education secretary Michael Gove wants to separate the AS level – which currently counts towards full
A levels (A2) – to make it a “high-quality standalone qualification”.
It comes after a cross-party group of MPs raised concerns about England, Wales and Northern Ireland having separate exam systems and urged ministers to prevent this from happening.
Mr Andrews said the Welsh government’s support for AS and A levels had “not wavered” and the administration remained committed to retaining them. The decision has been welcomed by teaching unions.
In a statement, Mr Andrews set out the new exam system, which has been agreed following a review of qualifications in Wales:
AS and A levels will continue in Wales as coupled qualifications; that is, with the AS contributing towards the full A level.
Learners in Wales will have one opportunity to re-sit each individual AS and A2 module – which will be available each summer – with the best mark counting.
After January 2014, there will be no further January assessment opportunities.
“The removal of January assessments will reduce the amount of time spent on assessment rather than learning, will make the system simpler and more cost-effective, and will reduce the examination burden for teachers and learners,” Mr Andrews said.
“The retention of the AS/A2 structure in Wales will align with the views of stakeholders in Wales and beyond on the merits of the current system, and will continue to provide valuable information to higher education institutions on the progress being made by potential applicants.”
Dr Philip Dixon, director of ATL Cymru, welcomed the announcement, adding: “Many of the UK’s leading universities have recognised the predictive value of AS level for final A level achievement and have resisted Michael Gove’s move to have them decoupled.”
Wales’s stance is in line with proposals being considered in Northern Ireland and the Welsh government has said it is keen for education chiefs to work together. The confirmation that England, Wales and Northern Ireland are to have separate exam systems comes after the House of Commons’ Education Select Committee ruled it would be a “regrettable” move.
Chairman Graham Stuart said: “The committee is concerned that there is a rush towards separate exam systems for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, without careful reflection on what might be lost, or consensus that this is the right thing to do.
“The turmoil surrounding last summer’s GCSE English results highlights the importance of carefully developing new sets of exams.
“A series of avoidable errors were made when the current GCSE English was being designed under the previous government. Failures in the modular approach, and the moderation of internal assessments, led to a highly unsatisfactory level of confusion.”
He added: “When pursuing future reforms, it is crucial that ministers and Ofqual pay careful attention to expert opinion and don’t ignore warning voices. They must understand how much pressure schools and individual teachers are under to deliver results, and ensure that the exams children take are robust enough to withstand that pressure.”