The latest head teacher on the GCSE in Wales warns of inequality in January exams

A head teacher has warned that students will take exams in Wales next week under very different conditions, depending on where they sit them.

Some people will wear masks as they sit on paper while others will not. The examination rooms will also have to be ventilated and some may feel cold with doors and windows open. Candidates must have experienced various levels of disruption such as Covid teacher absenteeism and online learning.

Lee Jarvis, head of St Martin’s School, Caerphilly, called for the exam to be canceled for the third year and replaced again with teacher-assessed grades.

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Mr Jarvis said 2021-22 was the most unfair school year of the pandemic due to widely varying amounts of COVID disruption in different regions.

“Exams are never a true representation of what a child can do, but this year more than anything they will give a true representation of a child’s potential,” he said.

“It’s because of factors that have come into play over the years and so many months of lost learning, emotional turmoil, and loss that so many people have suffered.”

Lee Jarvis is head teacher at St. Martin’s School, Caerphilly

The WJEC GCSEs begin on Tuesday, January 11, with English Literature and Mathematics Arithmetic for seated students.

Schools are adopting different approaches keeping in mind the local conditions along with the location, staff and the virus situation locally.

Some will need to be socially distanced and masked and others will not. The lack of socially distanced space means that some non-exam students will have to learn online from home to clear classes for GCSEs. Mr Jarvis said candidates may also have to take the test in cold conditions, with doors and windows open for ventilation.

He said the lack of supervisors meant that some schools were training scavengers and other administrative staff to do the job or using teachers, which is against union agreements.

Other head teachers and unions have warned that the 2022 examinations may not be fair after so many staff and students absenteeism and disruption in the previous term.

More disruption and distance learning are anticipated in this period, although Education Minister Jeremy Miles has asked schools to prioritize test years and weaker children.

Jeremy Miles
Jeremy Miles

Giving details of how the January GCSE will be run, Mr Jarvis said: “In the context of examinations next week and to manage these especially in schools, the learners have to be divided into small groups so that they can socially distance themselves. and avoid creating a situation where it would normally be seen. as a ‘mass gathering’.

“Some schools will have two-year group exams and potentially it can be around 400 learners. They would all usually sit together in a hall and take their exams, but this is also not advisable with the current guidance on not holding meetings in schools.

“There will be a need to wear masks and the need to keep small groups together will require additional observers and hence multiple locations are being used.

“As additional venues are needed, these will usually be classes that will then have an impact on the lessons being taught and in schools where there are no additional classes, it may happen that schools have to take exams in other year groups. will need to return to distance learning. Space being unavailable for classes lessons.”

He said examination supervisors in most schools are usually retired people and “schools feel that the invigilators are shying away from coming because of the risk of catching Covid”.

Candidates may also get chills, he warned. “The added issue with the exams is the need for a high level of ventilation to reduce the possible spread of the virus.

“This will make the test-taking environment very harsh – especially with bad weather forecast at this time of year.”

Students preparing for exams are also worried whether they only catch COVID or be asked to isolate themselves and be unable to sit this weekend. All this adds up to the examinations in 2022 to be “very unfair”, Mr Jarvis said.

“There has been a huge disruption to learners in some schools in the last session and this creates a very unfair and uneven playing field.

“We have observed that some schools have little or no staff absenteeism and low student absenteeism and others have significant levels of missing weeks of learner education.

“Continuing the examinations will further widen the gap between those who have been lucky and have not contracted Covid and those who do not have teachers who have contracted Covid and those who have.

“Schools are particularly concerned about the growing unfairness in the system and its impact on growing prejudice in communities where home learners who can support their children with additional learning services continue to learn further than those who cannot. can proceed.”

Mr Jarvis said Welsh government funding for catch-up sessions in schools is welcome, but this will only have an impact where teacher and learner absenteeism is not high.

Jarvis said, “In some schools that require specialist teachers for subjects such as electronics or geology and there is a shortage of subjects such as math and science, it becomes impossible to cover supply teachers when the COVID-19 outbreak of staff is critical. absenteeism has an effect.”

“This, with teachers getting COVID multiple times and some suffering from longer COVID, is the biggest factor in learning disruption and a significant factor in unfairness between schools and subjects.”

I have called on the government to cancel the exam and return to teacher-assessment grades for the third year.

“The profession hopes that the government will be brave and that nation will once again move forward by going to the centrally-determined grades as this will give every learner an opportunity to be recognized for their skills and abilities in each and every subject of their school. to advance in university and career in which they have the potential to excel.”

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However, in some schools the situation is easier. Hugh Powell, head teacher at Mary Immaculate RC High in Cardiff, where students will take GCSE English Literature next week, said: “We are running our own GCSE. Candidates will not be required to wear masks at most places as they are already away due to examination requirements.

“We have our usual team [external] Visiting inspectors and using support assistants where special attention is paid. We will be using multiple venues including our sports hall.

“The only complicating factor would be student absenteeism – something we don’t know yet. So they will have to sit again for a second time. Staff absenteeism is not an issue for us.

“We are of the view that students and staff have worked hard to prepare for this exam and will be disappointed if it doesn’t go ahead.”

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Prestatyn High students will wear masks during GCSEs English Literature next week

Prestatyn High head teacher Neil Foley said his pupils are sitting next week at the GCSEs English Literature, with desks about two meters apart and all facing the same way.

“Students wear masks during exams and invigilators wear masks, gloves and visors. It is not always possible for invigilators to stay two meters away from students during exams, so we have increased security for them.

“Students wait to be called out and sit in the hall and gym. Every exam hall also has good ventilation – doors open to outside etcetera.

“I am confident of their safe and sound completion. If there is any further disruption the exams will need to be reconsidered in the summer.

“It’s very variable across Wales and it’s been like this for months. That new version will only increase this variability for students and make exams less fair for different regions.”

WJEC’s GCSEs begin on 11 January with a foundation English Literature unit and a Higher Level English Literature unit as well as Mathematics, Arithmetic and ICT Unit A.

Welsh Literature Unit One Foundation Tier and Welsh Literature Unit One Higher Tier is on 13 January.

As well as GCSE entry level certificates, health and social care, and child care qualifications, level 1/2 general qualification, level 1/2 vocational award and level 3 applicable certificates and diplomas will run till January 24.

The results are due in March.

What if a candidate cannot appear for the exam due to COVID?

Exams regulatory qualification Wales and head teachers said that students will have to take the test again if they do not take the test in January because they have caught Covid or are self-isolating.

But the WJEC said: “If a student misses an examination due to an acceptable reason, special consideration may apply, provided that the student is certifying his/her eligibility in the January series and has sufficient units (WJEC examination or non-exam). Assessment) Qualification.

“If students are not proving their eligibility in January exam series and missed their exam they should be re-admitted for their missed exam on the next evaluation opportunity.

“It is worth noting that special considerations may apply if students appear for their exams but are deprived due to temporary illness, injury, etc.”

Welsh government wants exams to go on

The Welsh Government and examination regulator Qualification Wales have said they intend to hold the exam as normal in the summer of 2022.

But teachers and students were warned to take coursework and mocks seriously in case the assessed grades returned.

A WJEC spokesman said: “In November Qualifying Wales published guidance on contingency arrangements should exams for the summer of 2022 not be possible.

“On 5 November we published support material on our secure website providing guidance to schools and colleges detailing evidence centers that should conform to the contingency arrangements produced by Qualification Wells.

“Contingency arrangement information was also provided on the individual qualification pages of WJEC’s public website at the end of November.

“At this time Qualification Wales has confirmed that summer exams will proceed as planned with the necessary adaptations to our qualifications to make up for loss learning time.”

A spokesman for the Welsh Government said: “Qualifying Wales announced the decision to hold the exam in 2022, which is in line with the approach taken in other parts of the UK. Contingency arrangements are being made.

“We have taken measures to provide two additional planning days to support schools to return safely in January, including preparing for exams. WJEC has also made several adaptations to the examinations and assessments in response to the disruption caused by COVID.

“We continue to monitor the public health situation and we have announced £24m of additional aid focused on learners in the exam years.”

When asked last week about the fairness and plans for the exams, Qualification Wales said in a statement: “All exams currently scheduled for this summer are set to go ahead. Any reason for the cancellation of the 2022 summer exam series is The decision will be made by the Welsh Government.

“If learners can’t take exams this January because they are sick or need to self-isolate, they will take them over the summer instead.”

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