Wales considers online GCSE exams

Pupils sitting examsImage copyright PA
Image caption A thing of the past? Pupils currently sit traditional hand-written exams

Paper and pens could become a thing of the past for GCSE exams in Wales.

Regulatory body Qualifications Wales is consulting on the exams’ future, which could include a major shift towards 16-year-olds sitting tests online.

New chairman David Jones believes we could see “significantly more” electronic assessment in the new curriculum, to reflect the way teenagers live their lives.

But he said we need to ensure the technology works.

However he believes GCSEs should be called the same, to avoid the “confusion” of a new name.

One of the biggest shake-ups of the school curriculum in decades is under way in Wales with a new curriculum for children from three to 16.

It will be taught from 2022, replacing traditional subjects with six “areas of learning and experience”.

As part of the proposed changes, consultations are under way regarding the testing of 16-year-olds from 2026.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Pupils now spend much of their time using computers in class

Qualifications Wales, the independent organisation that oversees exams, said qualifications must be fit-for-purpose in a “fast-moving world”.

“It doesn’t seem right if children spend most of their life using technology and then once or twice a year they have to go back to do traditional examinations that are at least 50 years old,” said Mr Jones.

However, there are potential pitfalls in going digital. Last May, the WJEC exam board had to apologise after a “technical issue” affected pupils taking a GCSE computer science exam.

It is unclear how many schools were affected, but people in the Vale of Glamorgan, Cardiff, Pembrokeshire and Rhondda Cynon Taff raised issues.

“There are concerns and risks. We saw last year in Scotland there were problems around electronic assessment,” said Mr Jones.

“So we need to make sure the technology works to be able to do qualifications online.

“But ultimately, at some point in the future, we have to have significantly more electronic assessment – or we risk being left behind by the rest of the world.”

Image caption “Other countries are increasingly moving towards electronic assessment,” said David Jones

While the exams watchdog believes the content and assessment of qualifications must change “significantly”, it has urged against ditching the GCSEs brand.

The Future Generations Commissioner wants GCSEs to be scrapped and a move to other forms of assessment.

“Right now we think we should stick with the name GCSEs,” Mr Jones added.

“The structure, framework and assessment of the qualification will change significantly but changing the name could be confusing.

“GCSEs are well-known and well-respected. What’s important is what’s inside the qualification.”

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