Welsh education minister makes ‘unreserved apology’ to students over grading

Wales’s education minister has apologised “directly and unreservedly” for the effect the country’s controversial A-level grading system had on students.

Kirsty Williams said anxieties over the decision to use statistical models to award exam results had worsened the “anguish” students were already experiencing due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ms Williams’ apology came after health minister Vaughan Gething had admitted earlier on Tuesday there were “imperfections” with the now aborted system.

Appearing via video before the Welsh Parliament’s recalled Children, Young People and Education Committee, Ms Williams said: “For our young people, just like everyone else, the last few months have been and continue to be a stressful time.

“Many of us will know people who’ve been ill or have lost someone. I certainly do. And it’s been a time of anguish for people right across the country.

“And I am sorry that for some of our young people, the results process has made that worse. That was not the intention of anyone. Not me, not Qualifications Wales, not teachers, not (exam board) WJEC.

“But it is right that I apologise directly and unreservedly to our young people.”

Ms Williams – the sole Lib Dem MS in the Welsh Labour-led Government – said “decisions elsewhere” in the UK to scrap similar models meant the “balance of fairness” was now with awarding grades based on teachers’ assessment.

She said she would make a statement next week on an independent review into the issues which have followed the cancellation of exams in schools and colleges due to the Covid-19 crisis.

Ms Williams said she first became aware that the nature of the system would downgrade some students from their predicted results on “Monday of last week”.

Her answer prompted Plaid Cymru’s shadow education minister Sian Gwenllian to audibly gasp and say: “Bit late.”

And Ms Williams said she was not aware of any formal notification from the UK Government’s Education Secretary Gavin Williamson that England was going to make its own U-turn on its grading system despite speaking to him on Saturday.

But Welsh Government sources told the PA news agency that the decision in Wales to scrap the grading system for A-levels and GCSEs was made in part due to the knowledge that Westminster was planning to follow Scotland and Northern Ireland in doing so.

In Wales, 42% of A-level results predicted by teachers were lowered by Qualifications Wales, leading to claims that its algorithm, which took into account the past performances of schools, had unfairly downgraded some pupils.

Mr Gething also apologised for the “anxiety or stress caused to learners or their families” due to the grading fiasco at Tuesday’s Welsh Government Covid-19 press conference.

But he warned that students may not be sitting A-levels and GCSEs next summer either, and there was “much to learn and much to do ahead of next year”.

“We need to learn because next year we may not have a normal exam season either. I cannot look anyone in the eye and say that everything will be fine come next May and June,” Mr Gething said.

He told the briefing the review would identify lessons to be learnt for the Welsh Government, Qualifications Wales, exam boards and teachers.

“Having to do things that are generally unprecedented in a once-in-a-century event does mean that there are imperfections in choices we’ve made,” Mr Gething said.

“It’s really important we don’t try to say that everything was perfect and there’s no learning for us to take.

“Schools go back in just a few weeks’ time with all of the circumstances around the Test, Trace and Protect.

“I’m afraid there will be continuing uncertainty to live with, because next year we may have to have a different set of assessments for official exams that we sat many years ago.”