Wales signals GCSE split as grading row continues


The Welsh government has demanded an overhaul of GCSE English exam criteria and has said that WJEC is to be the only board which will offer the new specification for first award in 2014.

The Welsh government has demanded an immediate overhaul of GCSE English exam criteria in a bid to ensure “fairness” for students in the future.

And it has revealed that, having spoken to AQA, Edexcel and OCR, the WJEC will be the only awarding organisation offering accredited specification for GCSE English language in Wales for first award in 2014.

The dramatic move comes after more than 2,000 students in Wales, who took English with the WJEC exam board, were awarded a higher grade following a review of the marking process. 

The new criteria will see a reduction in the percentage of marks allocated to exams in the classroom and more emphasis on the final exam, while maintaining a modular system. 

It will ensure a very different exam in Wales compared to England and it is likely that all future GCSE students in Wales will sit the WJEC paper.

Writing to headteachers in Wales, director of schools Chris Tweedale said there were significant concerns about “the overall validity and reliability of the assessment model”.

Education minister Leighton Andrews said: “The decision to change the regulatory criteria for GCSE English language in Wales is an important step towards ensuring that the injustice suffered by our learners won’t happen again in the future.”

The changes will be published in the next month and teachers will be expected to switch mid-term to the new specification with year 10 pupils, while continuing to following the existing model with year 11. Early indications are that teachers in Wales support the move.

The main differences between the new and current criteria are that:

  • The weighting of the controlled assessment elements will be reduced from 60 to 40 per cent. 

  • The weighting of the external assessment elements will be increased from 40 to 60 per cent. 

  • The requirement to study spoken language (which is not part of the key stage 4 programme of study for Wales) will be withdrawn.

Anna Brychan, director of National Association of Head Teachers Cymru, said the changes were a sensible way forward and went some way to addressing concerns about the teaching time taken up with controlled assessment in subjects such as English. 

She added: “It has come as a surprise to some that in this era of devolution the examination systems of Wales, Northern Ireland and England are still so entwined. Education policy on the other hand is increasingly different in the three countries; this is leading to significant tensions in the structures devised to service the three-country model. 

“The decision on the English GCSE is pragmatic and workable but is no doubt the beginning of a series of interesting conversations to come.”

While the new specification will come into effect for students getting their final award in 2014, the Welsh government has also pledged fairness for students completing their GCSEs next summer.

The grades for these candidates in Wales will be determined in the context of comparable outcomes for learners in Wales rather than on the basis of predictions of performance for candidates in England.


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