GCSEs and A-levels grades U-turn: 'A triumph for Welsh students'

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Media caption,

Emily Mundy, from Anglesey, will now be able to study medicine in Manchester

Students have spoken of their "massive relief" after they were given the A-level results they were fighting for.

The Welsh Government announced a U-turn on Monday and said those and GCSE results estimated by teachers would now be used, rather than those produced by an algorithm.

There had been outrage after 42% of A-level grades in Wales were downgraded because of the system.

For some students, the change means future plans are no longer in tatters.

Universities said they were "working hard to place applicants on the course of their choice".

'A-levels are for life'

Image caption,
Maia Gould is now hopeful she can pursue a career in medicine

Maia Gould, from Llangorse, near Brecon, was devastated to learn her dreams of a career in medicine were in jeopardy after being awarded A*,B,C and D instead of her predicted A*, A, A, B.

She said the announcement over centre-assessed grades was "an absolute triumph for all Welsh students".

The Crickhowell High School student, who plans to study medicine at Liverpool University, said: "I burst out crying straight away. I don't think I've ever been so happy in my life.

"Not just for me, but for everyone. These A-levels are for life, they are the most important things to get you on your next steps from school to university."

But she added she might have some difficult decisions to make, as the universities had filled so many places.

"Fingers crossed it's a place in Liverpool, either this year if they can fit me in or next year if I have to defer, or a place this year at Southampton University, also for medicine," Ms Gould said.

"As soon as I heard the news I was on the phone to Liverpool, speaking to them about the next steps.

"It's still going to be a struggle for all the universities to try to get all the places, fit all the students in."

But, for now, she can celebrate getting the results she deserves.

"I don't know if I've ever been so stressed in my life. Opening the results... then finding out it wasn't what I wanted.

"It's not something anyone wants to go through. I am so, so relieved," she added.

'I'm feeling much better'

Image caption,
Riley Mann said it seems he can now go to the university of his choice

Riley Mann, from Cardiff, had been predicted A*, A, A but got B, B, C.

His dreams of studying physics at Bristol University seemed over, but things are now looking hopeful.

"I'm feeling much better than I was on Thursday, I can tell you that," he said.

"It's looking like everything's heading in the right direction and I will be going to the uni that I want to go to and the uni I deserve to go to."

His sister, Laani Mann, was "heartbroken" for her brother when he received his first set of grades.

After that she became nervous for herself and her GCSE results which are due on Thursday.

She was worried if she did not get good grades at GCSE top universities would rule her out for a medicine degree.

Image caption,
Laani Mann was "heartbroken" for brother Riley when he was given his first set of grades

When she heard about the U-turn she was relieved for Riley - and herself.

"It was a huge relief when I knew they were still on the table, as long as they go through with the teacher's predictive grades," Laani said.

"Going into A-levels, as long as I keep my head down, those top universities will still be an option for me."

She said she has been predicted "one A*, a few As, a few Bs and two Cs".

"It's been such a surreal year, and I feel like the last few days have just been all over the place," she said.

What will happen with universities?

Universities Wales, which represents institutions in Wales, advised students to discuss their options with universities.

"Every effort will be made by universities to ensure that they are not disadvantaged by this year's processes," it said in a statement.

"Universities admissions teams have been working hard to place applicants on the course of their choice, and they will look at the circumstances of each applicant who has had their results improved as a result of today's announcement, to ensure that wherever possible they can start a course this term.

"Our advice to students would be to contact their first-choice university who will be happy to discuss their options. They also have the choice of applying to courses through clearing, which has been enhanced to provide more tailored options than ever before."

Courteney Sheppard, from the further education admissions service Ucas, said it had been "an interesting" period.

He said this time of year was "always an emotional time for people taking the next step for their future."

Universities would be "as flexible as possible", he said.

"This is an unprecedented situation."

"I think what we might find is there will be some courses which will be more constrained by particular physical elements, there could be particular lab space or spaces where students need to do any performances or things like that.

"Those are the courses where they will likely feel they have got less spaces on them."

Mr Sheppard said universities would also need to contend with things like accommodation arrangements.

"We need to navigate through a changing situation and understand what is in the best interest of all students, for those whose grades have changed, but also those who have secured their place," he said.

Cardiff University said it would honour places for students with revised grades, who selected the university as their firm or insurance choice, if the required grades are awarded by certain deadlines.

What happened with the initial results?

Image caption,
Students protested outside the Senedd at the weekend to call for the change

Exams were cancelled across the UK after schools shut in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Last week's results in Wales were produced by a system known as standardisation - designed to ensure grades were "as fair as possible" and consistent with previous years.

Teachers had estimated grades but they were then processed by an algorithm.

The system was criticised by students and politicians for producing unfair grades for individual students after 42% of grades were lower than teacher assessments.

The U-turn also affects AS-levels, skills challenge certificates and the Welsh Baccalaureate.

But students who received higher grades than those predicted by teachers will keep them.

GCSE results in Wales are due to be published on Thursday.

What has the first minister said?

Media caption,

Exams had been scrapped because of the coronavirus lockdown

Despite the U-turn, on Monday Wales' First Minister Mark Drakeford defended the original process.

In an interview with BBC Wales, Mr Drakeford said the original process, was "fairer" than that used elsewhere in the UK, and was "more based on evidence".

But he said the decision to award estimated grades instead was taken because "we heard early in the day that things were moving elsewhere" in the United Kingdom.

"We were determined that we would have a level playing field where our young people were not disadvantaged," he said.

What about the rest of the UK?

Students in England and Northern Ireland will also have their results based on teacher estimates, in decisions taken on Monday.

Pupils in Scotland had their exam results upgraded last week after an outcry.