GCSEs: Leighton Andrews defends lack of early action

Education Minister Leighton Andrews has defended not intervening earlier to prevent pupils in Wales receiving lower GCSE English grades than expected.

He said he would have been "crucified" by the media and AMs if he interfered before the English language results came out because of a lack of evidence.

Wales, England and Northern Ireland exam boards were told by regulators in summer to raise the C grade threshold.

Mr Andrews ordered exams in Wales to be regraded after results were published.

He became aware of a problem in July but said he could not take action then.

Pupils received lower grades than expected in the English language exam following a shift in grade boundaries.

Following an outcry, Mr Andrews - who regulates exams in Wales - decided to order a regrade of thousands of papers set by the Cardiff-based exam board WJEC.

Nearly 2,400 pupils in Wales received better results after the review.

His decision marked a break with England where ministers refused to intervene.

Mr Andrews was questioned on Thursday by members of the assembly's children and young people committee about his decision to order the regrade.

Plaid Cymru AM Simon Thomas suggested to the minister that he had "let things slip" and allowed the situation to develop "without being proactive enough to nip things in the bud".

But the minister argued that was not the case and explained why he chose not to intervene in July, when he said he first became aware there was a problem.

"If I were to intervene at that stage, it would essentially mean I would say the setting of grade boundaries in Wales will be done on a different basis from the setting of grade boundaries in England," he said.

"Now if I had done that I think I would have been crucified in the media and indeed by members here because I would have had very little evidence to base that judgement."

'Qualification's integrity'

He later explained: "If you're going to make an intervention as a minister, you better have the evidence on which to make that intervention.

"I didn't have the evidence until the officials reported to me following the review I asked them to undertake, once we had the GCSE English results."

He added that he felt it was important a minister, as regulator, only stepped in when there was a "fundamental issue".

It has emerged that Mr Andrews was warned his decision to regrade the GCSEs risked "damaging" the qualification's integrity.

BBC Wales has learnt the chief executive of the board warned Mr Andrews against taking such action.

It came during the intense negotiations in early September over how and whether the grades should be regraded.

The Cardiff-based exam board initially refused to implement the regrading and the minister was eventually forced to use his legal powers to issue a direction ordering them to carry it out.

In Northern Ireland, a review of English GCSE grading has been ordered.

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