GCSEs in Wales should now be replaced permanently, said the Future Generations Commissioner, following the Welsh Government announcement that students won’t sit them next year.

Today, the Education Minister Kirsty Williams said there will be no GCSE, AS Level or A-Level exams in 2021.

Sophie Howe welcomed the decision and asked Welsh Government to spare all 16-year-olds from the testing in favour of teaching that better prepared them for the future.

The commissioner first made the call in October 2019 to replace GCSEs, and asked the minister for a “radical rethink” on qualifications at age 16, towards assessments which focus on diversity and are centred around pupils, not testing.

Her Future Generations Report, published in May, asked for a longer-term approach to lifelong learning, prioritising mental health and well-being in the delivery of the new curriculum, to help nurture a generation of emotionally resilient children.

A total of £5m has been allocated to mental health in schools by Welsh Government this financial year.

“Now more than ever, we need to be educating young people not just for work, but for a life well-lived,” said Ms Howe in response to today’s announcement.

“I’m pleased that Welsh Government have responded to calls for exams next year to be cancelled.

“I urge the government to ensure that this isn’t a one-off solution and that new ways of thinking are applied to other existing challenges like automation, climate change and the skills implementation gap.

“Our young people are going to need a great deal of assurance that they will be supported through the changes.

“I look forward to continuing to support and challenge the government’s plans to deliver an education that’s fair, child-centred, well-being focused and fit for the future.

“We have to continue to use bold thinking in considering new approaches to educating our current and future generations.”

Replacing GCSEs is also one of recommendations the commissioner had asked political parties to commit to in her Manifesto for the Future, ahead of the Senedd election in May 2021, where 16 and 17-year-olds will be voting for the first time.

In June, the commissioner said GCSEs in Wales don’t reflect the needs of society as we rebuild after COVID-19.

Young people, she said, should be educated to be global citizens trained in the latest technology, rather than being tested on what they can remember in an exam, adding that the climate crisis is impacting work, community and well-being and education needed to quickly adapt to the challenge.

She highlighted the need for Wales to teach more care-givers and more green employees to ensure people have the right skills for the future.

Qualifications Wales had recommended that external assessments be retained for GCSEs, AS and A-levels next summer but that there should be no timetabled exams except for A-levels.

An independent review set up by the Welsh Government said any form of exams in 2021 would be unfair.



The Future Generations Report cites countries including Australia as models of good practice, where its new curriculum has the tagline ‘Ready for a world yet to be imagined’ and seeks to provide pupils with capabilities they will need in the workplace.
Welsh Youth Parliament has asked for life skills to be taught as a designated lesson and integrated into other subjects as part of the curriculum.

Countries with world-leading education systems such as Finland, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan have reformed their assessment methods, away from standardisation, and centred around empowering learners to conduct their own learning.


Media enquiries to Claire Rees at claire.rees@futuregenerations.wales