Alarm at low exam results in English

First published in News

SCHOOLS across Wales including some in Gwent reported lower-than-expected grades when GCSE English language results were published this week, with one union warning “something is very wrong”.

While many Gwent head teachers and heads of English were still analysing the results of January’s exams, some told the Argus they were concerned for their students and were writing to parents.

This is the first time pupils have taken the exams written specially for Wales, after some papers had to be re-marked in 2012 and former education minister Leighton Andrews called for the GCSE English exam to be organised separately here compared to England and Northern Ireland. The exam board WJEC said yesterday that two of the exam units had changed and what this year’s students were asked to do was not the same as last year.

The weight of the external exam part of the qualification has gone from 40 per cent to 60 per cent, with marks for accuracy now worth 50 per cent, up from 30 per cent.

Denise Richards, head teacher at St Julian’s School in Newport, confirmed their results for this unit were lower than expected and said staff were “very concerned for our students”.

Head teacher at Risca Comprehensive School, John Kendall was so concerned he wrote to parents of GCSE pupils yesterday to say the school will be investigating the matter further.

The letter said: “I felt it important to inform you that concerns have been expressed by a number of head teachers across Wales in connection with the validity of the grades awarded for these units.”

“We are currently unable to discuss individual cases, but we will be investigating further and of course we will keep both you and the students informed.”

Robin Hughes, Welsh secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders: (ASCL), described the grades as “a very significant issue”.

“Everybody is saying the same thing, the results they have received for the last day or two in WJEC English Language are way below expectations,” he said. “The people who are telling me this so far represent the four corners of Wales, schools in relatively affluent areas and areas of deprivation, some new English departments and some established.

“Something is very wrong,” he said. “A number of [reports] are coming through in Gwent and what they expected they have not got, they have got way, way below. Some schools are sharing the results and some are not, because the problem is there’s young people who haven’t finished the course yet and are gearing up for summer exams. This might demotivate them and that’s hugely worrying.”

Mr Hughes said he had alerted the Welsh Government and spoken to the WJEC to give them the earliest possible opportunity to “start the ball rolling to resolve this”.

Gareth Pierce, chief executive of the WJEC, said for the summer exams they expect to discuss “comparable outcomes” with the Welsh Government in light of changes to the English language GCSE.

A Welsh Government spokesman saidthey were aware that GCSE English language unit outcomes from January 2014 are lower than those from last year but said it was “misleading” to make direct comparisons.

Comments (1)

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3:23pm Fri 7 Mar 14

pbhj says...

IMO the whole premise of having commercial exam boards is wrong - there should be a single English Language exam for the UK that is blessed by the DfE (and made available to other countries at localised commercial rates). In part the purpose of the exam is to allow comparison - when Wales chose to opt out of doing the same exams as other areas of the UK they purposefully cut off the possibility of comparison.

The only reason I can see to do that is to manipulate the results.

Now it seems they've failed to even do that - though none of the stories on local news or BBC have any hard figures and it appears these are interim results anyway so it's hard to tell. It also sounds like schools have entered a lot more pupils for these exams, not sure how that works but it might be a factor in the results spread.
IMO the whole premise of having commercial exam boards is wrong - there should be a single English Language exam for the UK that is blessed by the DfE (and made available to other countries at localised commercial rates). In part the purpose of the exam is to allow comparison - when Wales chose to opt out of doing the same exams as other areas of the UK they purposefully cut off the possibility of comparison. The only reason I can see to do that is to manipulate the results. Now it seems they've failed to even do that - though none of the stories on local news or BBC have any hard figures and it appears these are interim results anyway so it's hard to tell. It also sounds like schools have entered a lot more pupils for these exams, not sure how that works but it might be a factor in the results spread. pbhj
  • Score: 6

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