GCSE English language: Welsh unions criticise changes

Teachers' unions have criticised the Welsh government's decision to introduce changes to the GCSE English language course without notice.

More prominence will now be given to the exam rather than course work and a unit is being withdrawn.

One union said it was a knee jerk reaction to the summer's GCSE English language row, when many Welsh pupils received better results after a review.

The Welsh government said it had acted swiftly to "address an injustice".

The first pupils to be affected would be those in year 10 who are sitting the exam in summer 2014 and who have already started the course.

Teachers said introducing changes to a course they had already started teaching was shocking and showed a lack of experience on behalf of the Welsh government as an exam regulator.

Rebecca Williams, a policy officer with Welsh teachers' union Ucac, said: "We don't mind the specific changes that are being made - I think they will be widely accepted across the profession and seen as being sensible.

"The problem is with the timing because teachers began teaching this course and students started following the course in September.

"It's an extremely unusual step for the regulator to say we're changing the specification once it's already being taught."

She said the "unspoken convention" was for teachers to be given at least a term's notice of any such changes.

"I know of at least one school that has already covered the unit that is now being withdrawn," she added.

NUT Wales has written to Education Minister Leighton Andrews to urge him to slow down on the proposed changes.

"We have received several calls from members across Wales voicing their concern that the proposed changes will have a detrimental effect on current year 10 pupils who have already started the 'old' GCSE course," said NUT Wales secretary David Evans.

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Media captionRebecca Williams, of Welsh teachers' union Ucac, says the issue is the timing

"Resources have already been purchased and asking teachers to teach to a new specification which has yet to be announced is farcical."

The union said delaying the decision until 2013 would allow school staff to be properly prepared.

The NASUWT teaching union called for the decision to be reconsidered as a matter of urgency.

The row follows a decision by exam regulators in England and Wales - Ofqual and the Welsh government respectively - to raise the boundary for a pass grade in GCSE English language in June.

Mr Andrews had accused Westminster Education Secretary Michael Gove of putting undue pressure on exam boards to make exams tougher.

Mr Gove denied the claim and has refused to order a regrading of GCSE English language exam papers for pupils in England, including those who sat the WJEC board paper.

But the Welsh government ordered a review and nearly 2,400 pupils in Wales who took English with the WJEC (the old Welsh Joint Education Committee) exam board received better results.

'Fair and just treatment'

Schools were told by the Welsh government at the start of October that there would be changes to the GCSE English language course.

There would be more emphasis on the exam rather than course work - 60% weighting on the exam rather than the existing 40%.

Other changes included the requirement to study spoken language being withdrawn.

A Welsh government spokesperson said: "This subsequent change to the subject specification is vital to ensure that Welsh students can receive fair and just treatment when they sit their exams in 2014.

"We do not want Welsh students to be subject to grade boundary rules determined in England.

"At the same time, we are conscious that many believe a situation where 60% of a qualification is determined by controlled assessment is unbalanced."

Teachers will be given a draft of the new subject specification by the end of this month and a final version by mid-November.

They are being encouraged to continue teaching as normal in the meantime.

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