GCSE English: WJEC ordered to regrade exams

Ofqual chair Amanda Spielman claimed Mr Andrews demanded papers be regraded because of the "political difficulty" of students in Wales under-performing their counterparts in England.

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Wales' education minister has ordered an exam board to regrade English GCSEs in a row about students' results.

Leighton Andrews says hundreds of pupils had been the victims of an "injustice" after receiving lower grades than expected.

He issued a formal direction to the WJEC board, forcing it to act.

This means pupils in England who took the disputed GCSE English exam could end up with a lower grade for the same work as their counterparts in Wales.

The percentage of pupils from Wales gaining an A* to C in GCSE English language fell from 61.3% in 2011 to 57.4% this year.

Mr Andrews ordered the WJEC to regrade the exams after a previous request to the exam board was said to put it in a difficult and unexpected position.

The Welsh government now expects "several hundred" candidates to get higher grades.

GCSE GRADING ROW

  • Issues with GCSE English grading emerged as results reached schools last month
  • Heads suggested the exams had been marked over-harshly after Ofqual told exam boards to keep an eye on grade inflation
  • Exam boards told reporters grade boundaries had changed significantly mid-way through the year
  • Alterations were as much as 10 marks
  • Heads complained pupils who sat GCSE English in the winter might have got a lower mark had they sat it in the summer
  • Their unions called for an investigation and some mentioned legal action
  • Ofqual held a short inquiry but refused to order regrading
  • In Wales, an order has been made for the WJEC exam board to regrade English papers

It published a report by Mr Andrews's officials on Monday which said a drop in the number of students getting C grades was "unjustifiable and almost certainly unfair".

But the WJEC had said it had complied with a requirement from exams regulators in England and Wales to make the boundary between grades C and D "more severe".

It said the instruction to regrade papers had implications for students in England and Wales.

In a statement, the WJEC said: "The issuing of a direction today by Welsh government suggests that they do not plan to hold any further regulatory discussions in the short term.

"We shall now progress the actions requested, although we are concerned about a number of issues.

"One concern is that the Welsh government has provided no scope for discussing a reasonable timeline in which to complete the work.

"Another is that we have received no advice on matters such as certification, which are normally undertaken on a joint regulatory basis."

The WJEC sets exams on both sides of the border, with 34,000 taking its English language GCSE exams in Wales this summer and 84,000 in England.

The jagged edges of devolution have rarely felt more pointed. The exam board in Wales, the WJEC, is saying hang on, earlier in the summer both regulators in England and Wales told us to change grade boundaries. Now one of you has changed their mind, the other hasn't. This puts us in an impossible situation. This not the way to do business.

The head of Ofqual has virtually accused Leighton Andrews of hiding Labour's blushes by fiddling the figures. He, in turn, has made a very strong statement tonight calling her a political stooge and accusing her of being dishonest in her evidence to MPs.

All of this has certainly thrown the role of the regulator into sharp relief and the fact that in Wales, the minister is that regulator. Plaid Cymru have made the point that while they might agree with what he's doing now, as the regulator in Wales, he must accept that in fact, he's clearing up his own mess from earlier in the summer. That can't be right.

And now Leighton Andrews is talking in terms of the inevitability of "largely separate exam systems" in Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland. This is a row that has huge repercussions.

Mr Andrews's instruction to regrade papers only applies to those sat in Wales.

The Welsh government is the exam regulator for Wales, while in England exams are regulated by Ofqual.

Ofqual has refused to order exam boards to regrade this summer's English GCSEs and UK Education Secretary Michael Gove has declined to intervene.

Ofqual chair Amanda Spielman claimed Mr Andrews demanded papers be regraded because of the "political difficulty" of students in Wales under-performing their counterparts in England.

She said there was "a clear divergence" in performance between English and Welsh candidates which was difficult for the Welsh to accept politically.

Grade boundaries

Mr Andrews dismissed her comments as "impartial".

"She's clearly a political appointment and making a political statement and it is entirely inappropriate," he added.

Earlier on Tuesday, when asked on BBC Radio 5 Live whether the Welsh government had asked the WJEC to make the grading harder, Mr Andrews said: "Not in that simple way, because that's not the way the process takes."

With separate exams regulators for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, he said there had to be a "negotiated consensus" on setting grade boundaries.

Announcing his direction to the WJEC, he said: "We are fortunate in Wales that we have a regulatory system which allows swift resolution of injustice.

"We have acted to protect the interests of students in Wales, by issuing the direction to the WJEC."

Writing on the New Statesman's website Mr Andrews attacked Mr Gove and said the UK was now heading towards four separate exams systems.

The Conservatives have retaliated by attacking Labour's record of education in Wales.

But Plaid Cymru education spokesman Simon Thomas said: "Although I agree with the decision made by the Welsh education minister, Leighton Andrews is correcting the mistake he himself has made as a regulator."

Meanwhile, Welsh Liberal Democrat education spokesman Aled Roberts called on the education minister, Ofqual and WJEC to end their "institutional warfare".

Teaching unions have welcomed the commitment to regrade papers.

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