Leighton Andrews: Gove 'undermining confidence in GCSEs'

Wales' education minister Leighton Andrews has said his UK government counterpart is undermining parents' confidence in GCSEs.

Mr Andrews accused Education Secretary Michael Gove of trying to spark a "political spat".

The two are at loggerheads in a row over whether to regrade GCSE English exams.

Mr Gove branded his Welsh counterpart "irresponsible" for directing the WJEC exam board to regrade Welsh students.

In response, Mr Andrews said: "Clearly it suits him to try and turn the deepening crisis in England into a political spat with Labour in Wales - but we are going to stick to the facts and the core issue at hand.

"The pupils affected by this mess deserve straight answers, not political game playing."

He accused of Mr Gove of making unilateral statements that wreck the consensus around GCSEs and A levels in Wales, England and Northern Ireland. Scotland has its own exams system.

"Michael Gove is the person undermining parental confidence in GCSEs," he said.

The Welsh government is the exam regulator in Wales, while in England the job is done by Ofqual which has said it does not see the need for a regrade.

Earlier, Mr Gove told a committee of MPs that Mr Andrews' decision to order a regrading was "irresponsible and mistaken" and a "regrettable political intervention".

He said the Welsh minister had found himself in a fix and tried to shift the blame for poor performance in Welsh schools.

"He is in the wrong and Welsh children are suffering," he said.

And he warned that in the future English employers could decide that a Welsh exam pass is not the equivalent of a similar pass in England.

He told MPs that raising Welsh pupils' grades would "undermine confidence" in the value of their qualifications.


Mr Andrews - who has the support of teaching unions - told the WJEC to regrade English GCSEs after a report by his officials found the way grade boundaries had been set was "unjustifiable and almost certainly unfair to candidates".

He said he had acted "on the basis of proper evidence and advice, to ensure that the best interests of Welsh pupils are protected".

The report was commissioned after complaints of pupils doing worse than predicted when this summer's GCSE results were published.

The proportion of pupils who got a grade C for English language was down 3.9% on last year.

The Welsh government says it now expects several hundred pupils to receive improved grades.

Meanwhile, the WJEC has 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".

As well as 34,000 pupils in Wales who sat the board's disputed exam, it was also taken by 84,000 pupils in England.

The WJEC wants the Welsh government to reach an agreement with Ofqual, saying it had been put in a "difficult and unexpected position".

It raises the prospect that student in Wales could get better grades than students in England who got the same marks on the same WJEC paper.

Ofqual is seeking talks with the Welsh government about the implications of Mr Andrews' decision.

In a letter to the Welsh government it says: "The standard should be one and the same for all students, regardless of where they live.

"And we do not agree that the qualification should be regraded, because the evidence we have seen does not justify this."

Welsh Conservative education spokesperson Angela Burns called for exams to be regulated at arm's length from the Welsh government and for an independent report into GCSE results.

Plaid Cymru said the assembly's Children and Young People's Committee should be recalled during recess so AMs can scrutinise the Welsh government and WJEC.

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