The Welsh Government’s decision to cancel GCSE, AS and A-level exams next summer will be bitterly disappointing for parents and students. Classroom-based assessments cannot be as fair or accurate as an exam and employers are unlikely to have confidence in them. Cancelling exams shows online learning provision is nowhere near as effective for teaching children as being in a classroom. Every parent who has experienced trying to get their kids to learn during lockdown (myself included) will surely agree! Even more worrying is the suggestion that exams in Wales should be completely scrapped. This utterly disastrous idea would put Welsh students at a disadvantage in order to fulfil the whims of an establishment which has already presided over falling education standards in Wales.
The UK Government is determined to make sure exams go ahead in England and I have already heard from parents in Monmouthshire who want their children to sit the exams set by the English exam boards. Welsh schools have tried to ensure children get lessons online, but nothing will replace the experience of sitting in a classroom with a teacher. The approach adopted by Welsh Education Minister Kirsty Williams towards qualifications clearly proves this.
There is a mood of cautious optimism in the heart of Westminster after Pfizer and BioNTech announced the development of an effective Covid-19 vaccine. The UK Government will buy the vaccine on behalf of the whole UK and has already ordered 40 million doses – enough for about a third of the population, since you need two doses each. A mass vaccination drive is now being planned by the NHS and military to quickly get this rolled-out to communities up and down the country through care homes, GPs, pharmacists and “go-to” vaccination centres open seven days a week. Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said it is “absolutely a possibility” that the vaccine could be available by Christmas, with priority given to those in care homes, the elderly and health and social care staff. Uptake would be voluntary, and the government is not proposing compulsory vaccination.
While this is an important scientific breakthrough, there are many hurdles to overcome and we need to remain on our guard. Nothing is certain during these topsy-turvy times and it is still early days. However, I very much hope we can look forward to a much happier and brighter 2021.
*Published in the Monmouthshire Beacon on 18 November 2020 and the Abergavenny Chronicle on 19 November 2020*