Welsh minister predicts examinations split


The cross-border spat over GCSE English looks likely to end with new exam systems created in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The cross-border spat over GCSE English looks likely to end with new exam systems created in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The prediction was made by Wales’s education minister Leighton Andrews who controversially ordered a remarking of GCSE English papers in Wales. 

His comments came as exams regulator Ofqual angrily called for assurances from the Welsh government that it would play by the rules in future.

Glenys Stacey, chief regulator of Ofqual, said: “We need to know whether there is still a commitment, in Wales, to joint regulation and we need to discuss what assurances we need to have in place, so that we continue to regulate jointly.”

In a strongly worded letter to the Welsh government, Ms Stacey said the decision to regrade GCSE English papers would lead to confusion among employers and universities about the value of the GCSE title and worse still risk candidates from Wales having certificates which are seen to have “less value” than those from elsewhere.

It appears the deepening row has refocused attention on reform with the only common ground now between Mr Andrews and his Westminster counterpart Michael Gove being the agreement that a shake-up of the GCSE system is necessary.

While plans for a new exam system were unveiled this week in England, in Wales Mr Andrews said fallout from this year’s fiasco could signal the end of the qualifications as we know them. “I think what we could see as a result of the current situation is potentially the end of the three-country co-operation on GCSEs,” he said.

A review is already taking place in Wales into the future of qualifications for 14 to 19-year-olds. Mr Andrews added: “It may well mean that we (England and Wales) end up with different systems.”

The cross-border row blew up after it was revealed that thousands of teenagers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland received lower than expected grades after GCSE English grade boundaries were moved between January and June.

Last week, the Labour-led Welsh government ordered the WJEC exam board to regrade English GCSE after pupils felt the “injustice” of receiving lower grades than expected. 

The move was welcomed by unions and the wider teaching profession – but criticised by Mr Gove, who accused his counterparts in Cardiff of playing politics.

Mr Andrews held firm, accusing Mr Gove of pursuing an agenda of “grade deflation” and called on him to allow students in England the opportunity to have their GCSE English language papers remarked.

The rejection of that offer means that students in Wales may now end up getting a better grade than English counterparts who received the same marks in the same exams.

Mr Gove has conceded that students were treated unfairly but says it would be wrong of him to intervene.


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