Welsh A-level students to be graded more generously than those in England

A level students
A level students

A level and GCSE pupils in Wales will be graded more generously next year than their English counterparts, in a move which education experts warned would be “bewildering” for teenagers and universities.

In Wales, grade boundaries will continue to be marked more generously than they were pre-pandemic, which Qualifications Wales said would reflect the “long-term impact” of Covid-19 on learners.

However, in England, the exam regulator Ofqual said that grading would largely return to 2019 levels. Kit Malthouse, the Education Secretary, said that the transition in England would ensure “fairness in exams”. It follows a period of record grade inflation when grades were teacher-assessed during the pandemic.

In a move which threatens to further confuse the education system across the UK, Qualifications Wales announced proposals to reform GCSEs in 2025 so that there is less emphasis on traditional exams. In a new combined English language and literature course, and Cymraeg language and literature GCSEs, the regulator has proposed 60 per cent of exams being assessed by exams compared to 80 per cent at the moment.

Tom Bennett, the Government behaviour tsar warned on Twitter that the approach would put “less emphasis on fairness and reliability” in a “shock move towards systems that privilege the already privileged.” He added: “Please do not do this.”

Dr Mick Walker, president of the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors and former Government adviser on education, told The Telegraph: “Fifteen and sixteen-year-olds must look at the adults in the room and say, ‘what’s going on?’ We had teacher-assessed grades, we had the mutant algorithm…And I think when you look at what’s happening in Wales and Northern Ireland and Scotland and the different approaches it’s bewildering.”

‘Widening disparity between grading’

The divergence in the school systems in England and Wales has widened since devolution in 1999.

Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the Independent Schools Council, said the widening disparity between grading in England and Wales could be “disastrous”.

He added: “Teachers and pupils need to be confident about the meaning of different grades and the best way of achieving this is to re-establish the pre-Covid standard.”

Prof Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research, said:  “Ever since education was devolved to the administrations of Wales and Northern Ireland, GCSEs and A-levels have grown increasingly apart in their structure and grading.

“This year sees a further step which will lead to the proportion of top grades awarded in Wales being considerably higher than in England. This will be unnecessarily confusing to those using the grades to allocate competitive places. To be fair, there is the need now for the qualification certificates to clearly show in which part of the UK they were obtained.”

Northern Ireland has yet to announce its approach to grading next year. In Scotland, where pupils sit Highers instead of A Levels, the regulator has not yet made a decision on grading next year.

‘Education is a devolved matter’

A spokesman for Ofqual said: “Education is a devolved matter, and other regulators take decisions in relation to their jurisdictions.

“GCSEs, AS and A levels in England and Wales are structured differently, and have been for a number of years. University admissions officers are used to dealing with qualifications from students from around the UK and all over the world that are designed and graded in different ways.”

He said that for the new qualifications Wales is consulting on, the Ofqual logo will not appear on students’ certificates. “This means people will be able to see whether a qualification is regulated by Ofqual or not,” he said. “In addition, GCSE qualifications designed to be offered in Wales are graded on an A* to G scale, whereas those regulated by Ofqual are graded on a 9 to 1 grading scale.”

A spokesman for Universities UK, which represents 140 institutions, said: “Universities are well practised at contextualising student backgrounds and experiences, and this year will be no different. It is important to stress that the 2023 cohort will not be disadvantaged compared to other years due to grading arrangements, or the region in which they live.”