Collateral Damage a Certainty When Exam Reform Goes Sour; Unions Demanded Answers This Week after GCSE English Language Results Fell Faster Than They Had Ever Done before. but While Abnormal Marking Is Not Unprecedented, Education Editor Gareth Evans Explains Why a New Grading Fiasco Can Be Avoided

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), March 8, 2014 | Go to article overview

Collateral Damage a Certainty When Exam Reform Goes Sour; Unions Demanded Answers This Week after GCSE English Language Results Fell Faster Than They Had Ever Done before. but While Abnormal Marking Is Not Unprecedented, Education Editor Gareth Evans Explains Why a New Grading Fiasco Can Be Avoided


Byline: EDUCATION EDUCATION Edited by Gareth Evans 029 2024 3638 gareth.evans@walesonline.co.uk

TO those who've been involved in Welsh education long enough to have lived through the last GCSE grading fiasco, this week's revelations brought back some bad memories.

Changes to GCSE English Language specifications, introduced as a result of 2012's grade war, were supposed to prevent anything like that ever happening again.

But as we near the end of the first "cycle" - students learning under the new regime will finish their two-year course this summer - the Welsh Government has already hit a snag.

Concerns began to surface on Wednesday when results of exams sat in January were dished out to schools.

Suffice to say, the scores presented to pupils a day later were - for large numbers - nothing like what was expected.

Education unions were inundated with calls from angry members, bemused by a sudden dip in top grades.

Headteachers are accustomed to small discrepancies between predicted grades and actual outcomes, especially following the introduction of new specifications.

But reports of results skewed by as much as 25% were off the scale.

Unless pupils had been sat idle in their classrooms for two years, a discrepancy that great was simply not possible.

So what went wrong and why were so-called A-grade pupils close to failing their English language exam altogether? Problems can be traced back to fallout from the last grading debacle in 2012, when methodology used to predict grade boundaries was switched.

England's exam regulator Ofqual pressured the change and the Welsh Government, which regulates exams in Wales, "reluctantly" complied on the basis there were thousands more pupils sitting WJEC - Wales' premier exam board - English language qualifications across the border.

It was a decision the Welsh Government would live to regret and, when Wales' GCSE scores plummeted, former Education Minister Leighton Andrews ordered a controversial re-grade of more than 2,000 papers.

Following a full investigation into the summer's GCSE scores, Mr Andrews announced in October - six weeks after results were published - that English language specifications would be changed "to ensure that such an injustice does not happen in the future".

Coupled with the Welsh Government's newfound drive for rigour - partly as a result of attacks from Westminster - it meant English language exams would be subject to more stringent external assessment.

The main issue appears one of logistics.

Changes to GCSE specifications weren't unveiled until October 9, a month or so after pupils returned to school after the summer break.

Consider then that qualifications can not be drawn up overnight and the WJEC would have needed time to get heads together.

New qualifications are subject to a rigorous assessment process of their own and specialist focus groups are convened to discuss what content should look like.

In the meantime, schools operate as normal; teachers need something to teach and pupils need something to learn.

In the absence of new specifications - which were still in their development phase - teachers continued delivering English language in the same way as before. …

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Collateral Damage a Certainty When Exam Reform Goes Sour; Unions Demanded Answers This Week after GCSE English Language Results Fell Faster Than They Had Ever Done before. but While Abnormal Marking Is Not Unprecedented, Education Editor Gareth Evans Explains Why a New Grading Fiasco Can Be Avoided
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