Welcoming back 'the repentant sinner'


Did the Education Secretary in England ring the Education Minister in Wales last night to tell him that he is abandoning plans to scrap GCSEs?

You won't, I think, be surprised to be told that no, he didn't. Hardly surprising since the Welsh Minister found out about the original plans via the Daily Mail anyway.

Labour are calling it "a humiliating U-turn" and hoping #Ebacctrack will be trending on twitter before too long. It is, say the coalition, more like a tweak.

For the Westminster politics, turn here. For the impact on Wales, keep reading.

Make no mistake - despite the fact that this is a decision taken in England by a man who has no direct say over what happens in Welsh schools, it is hugely significant for pupils, parents, teachers and unions in Wales and yes, politicians too. Leighton Andrews was straining as he tried not to gloat this morning, offering the Welsh Labour government's welcome to the "repentant sinner" Michael Gove back into the GCSE fold.

So why the impact on Wales?

Take a moment to read this, a blog entry I wrote just a few days ago.

If you don't have that moment then I'll give you the gist of it. It seemed to me that the head teachers, the unions, parents and pupils I'd spoken to that day had been pretty united. They thought Leighton Andrews' decision not to scrap GCSEs, but instead to tighten them, not to scrap a modular way of teaching but accept it's high time to put a new emphasis on standards, on numeracy and literacy was probably the right thing to have done.

But that didn't mean they were happy. They were fundamentally concerned because they feared the Welsh GCSE, and the Welsh Baccalaureate they would bestow on Wales' brightest pupils would be regarded, in England, as second class. The fear was that the English Baccalaureate certificate with its 'more challenging' tag, with its big bang end of year exam would mean universities and employers outside Wales regarded a qualification gained in Wales, in future, as not quite as shiny as the gold standard EBacc.

In other words they thought Wales would lose the political PR battle if the EBacc and WBacc went head to head.

But they won't. They won't because Michael Gove will tell the Commons later today that he's shelving the new qualification, retaining the GCSE brand in England, and changing the league table criteria for English schools to include a capped points score - something Mr Andrews was keen to tell 5Live listeners has been in place in Wales for 18 months.

What's the wider story here then? Well, it's that the headlines of a wildly divergent qualifications systems between England and Wales will now read as a less divergent qualifications system between England and Wales. But there will still be important differences. The emphasis in Wales will be on skills and the needs of employers as much as academic rigour. In England - it's expected that whatever he rows back on, Michael Gove will not retreat from his push for a more knowledge based curriculum. Coursework is still likely to play a bigger part in Welsh qualifications than their English counterparts.

But don't underestimate the significance of the far more consistent branding that will now remain, after all. Whether pupils sit exams in Prestatyn, Presteigne or Preston, they will all gain GCSEs and that will make parents, teachers and unions here in Wales a whole lot happier.

Betsan Powys Article written by Betsan Powys Betsan Powys Former political editor, Wales

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  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Tredwyn, the voice of sanity at last. Right, lets get something clear, just because people don't support this devolution charade, doesnt make them right wing which frankly is a bit rich coming from Nationalists (geddit?). thought not...

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    U.K. Closing Down Sale – Now On! While stocks last

    LabCon appointed administrators for:
    Education industry customers (students) must pay £9000 py
    Post Offices for sale (just in)
    Nuclear power plants for sale
    Hospitals/School building for sale....
    Can you see what it is yet?

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Welsh education standards are indeed very poor. They have been declining relative to England since the 1970s - look it up. Leighton Andrews has been education minister for a couple of years. To say he is primarily responsible is therefore stupid. The Assembly has failed to arrest the decline but didn't cause it. The anti-elitism Boxer refers to (#22) is largely to blame and has deep roots.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    A Nation in ruins and the BBC fires another smokescreen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    It seems to me to be premature to crow about victory over Gove. He has stated that English GCSE's are to made more rigorous with less emphasis on continuous assesment etc. this means that Welsh exam results are still in danger of being seen as inferior to English to the detriment of Welsh students. One good result though Andrews quietly said formerly gold standard Welsh Bac was to be tightened up

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    "I have met Mr. Andrews... each time I had to try extremely hard not to burst out laughing. If you can, look at his hair ! Bobby Charllton's "comb-over" is as nothing compared to our Leighton's piece de resistance, it is unbelievable !" No wonder the far-right BNP, NF, True Wales and UKIP 'No' campaign was destroyed when their members on this board are only able to throw schoolboy insults.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Didn’t expect you to understand it Alfspace but the comparisons are on like for like basis and in most cases English Medium education is superior to WM education in each category as defined by the WG

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Glasnost What has the statistics for those having free School Meals got to do with the overall statistics between Welsh and English Medium schools. Did you think no one would spot it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Never mind mun. Wales 3. Westminster 0. Mother of Parliments?
    They have been so arrogant for so long. Now they are being taught a lesson by their offspring. Who needs them now, we are taking over. Come on Wales 3-0. Eat your words Antis.Gove was wrong. Leighton right. Even with his brush over.He he.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Re 26


    Not even a nod in the direction of logic any more.

    I don't understand. Are you saying that because I (and about half a million others) speak Welsh, that I am not at this very point in time communicating with you in English in a reasonably fluent, clear manner? Is my grammar terribly flawed? Is this your definition of a hermit?!

    Re 27


    Logic wasn't your strong point.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    If anyone needs proof that Leighton Andrews is sponsoring failing Welsh Medium education using lies and deceit see the following: http://wales.gov.uk/publications/accessinfo/disclogs/dr2012/octdec/addysg1/dled205/;jsessionid=89C1F0A646EB619A333A9E12D5BCE127?lang=en

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    (25) FoDavid

    We've heard it all before Dai.

    Truth is that Wales and this pathetic assembly is falling apart.

    The "5p bag triumph" ( stop laughing now ) is their high point ! They have done little and messed up much.

    You are in denial..big style !

    The handout to Wales from England is now £14.5 billion pa. and not the £9 billion pa. stated by the nationalists.

    Pot/kettle/black...Hilarious !

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    ' That English is better than Welsh. '
    The whole point is, that it has nothing to do with being better. No-one ever thought that Bill Gates' Windows and Office programs were better than others. But when a certain critical mass are using it, and corresponding with you in it, then you are forced into having some fluency or becoming a hermit. Welsh was doomed to 2nd rank with USA speaking English

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Re 21

    Your point would be valid if you lot weren't always comparing Wales to England, and were always coming to the conclusion that England is better than Wales. That English is better than Welsh. That Westminster is better than Cardiff Bay. That an Eton mess is better than bara brith.

    You can't get beyond that paranoia.

    Pots, kettles, black and all that jazz

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    (21) + (22)

    Re your comments on Leighton Andrews.

    On a lighter note, I have met Mr. Andrews several times, and each time I had to try extremely hard not to burst out laughing.

    If you can, look at his hair ! Bobby Charllton's "comb-over" is as nothing compared to our Leighton's piece de resistance, it is unbelievable !

    It's true he is a laughing stock

    And not only because of his coiffure (!)

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    I moved my children from a valleys Comprehensive where the head was proud of his community roots and seemed to be concentrating on an art class for local mothers on a Wednesday afternoon. When I asked about exam results, he told me I was an elitist. So I moved house to the catchment of an elitist school.
    Unfortunately, not everyone can vote with their feet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    12 Woodsey I can assure that Andrews did not listen to the broad range of academics. He might have listened to a few poodle like Head Teachers. I am sure that Andrews listened to his paymasters in the unions. Unfortunately for our young people and for welsh Unis - Andrews has destroyed the once high reputation enjoyed by Welsh educationb

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    13 Boxer - I take your point and agree with it. I was trying to get across to Woodsey that his constant need to criticise England, does nothing to address the issues in Wales. Regardless of the u- turn by Gove there is already a perception that Welsh results are inferior to those achieved in England. My daughter a Head Teacher tells me Andrews is a laughing stock

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    or dwelleth not where?

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Glastnost is spot on. The Welsh education system is dreadful. Anyone who says otherwise either 1. has never put their kids through it or 2. are deluded.


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