No re-mark for disputed GCSE English exams, says report

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Media captionThere was shock at the results of the English GCSEs in March

There is no need to re-mark GCSE English exam papers which received poor grades, a report by the Welsh government has concluded.

Schools were left shocked by poor results for exams taken in January, which will contribute towards pupils' final marks this summer.

Teachers and parents reacted angrily to what they claimed were "unexpectedly low grades" for exams.

The Conservatives said the report was little short of a "whitewash".

The report found no one single aspect contributed to the poor results.

Education Minister Huw Lewis admitted "marking was severe" in his response to the report to AMs on Tuesday and added that the "results will stand but lessons will be learned".

He called on teachers to "exercise increased caution when predicting grades for learners", saying that data in the report showed "only in a minority of cases do teacher estimates match actual outcomes".

Mr Lewis added: "I am resolute that schools and learners will get the support they need. I am determined that our qualifications must be relevant, valued and fit for purpose."

The report stated there would be no justification for re-grading the papers and the existing results would stand.

However a number of points were highlighted including the rise in entries and a late change to the exam specification which came once students had already started their studies.

The new exam from WJEC board demanded greater accuracy from pupils and the report found the "bar has been raised and there are indications of a severe interpretation of the marking scheme".

WJEC previously promised to re-mark a small number of papers handled by one examiner.

Image copyright PA
Image caption WJEC says it will make extra exam resources available to teachers before the summer tests are taken

This potentially affected results for less than 2% of candidates.

The report's authors said: "Generally the examination papers matched teachers' expectations of the new specification and there were few surprises for teachers or pupils.

"There is no evidence to suggest that WJEC did not follow the correct procedures at all times."

The report said more and better support materials would have helped teachers, and the WJEC'S website did not meet their needs.

Communication problems between WJEC and specialist teachers were also highlighted along with the need for greater vigilance by WJEC following the lower results.

The report said the exam body should have picked up on them and reported to the Welsh government earlier.

Conservative shadow education minister Angela Burns AM claimed the report failed to explain why exam results were so much lower than predicted.

"It is little short of a whitewash," she said.

'Eroded confidence'

The unit, or module, was part of the first Wales-only GCSE examinations, ordered after a split between England, Northern Ireland and Wales in 2012.

WJEC said the new GCSE English exam was designed to place a higher emphasis on accuracy in terms of sentence construction, punctuation and spelling.

Responding to the Welsh government report, WJEC said it was already implementing action called for in the report such as providing post-exam review meetings for teachers.

Chief executive Gareth Pierce said WJEC was committed to working with the Welsh government and others to "ensure the provision of training events and a strong set of support resources, including online provision".

"WJEC sympathises with candidates and teachers who have been affected by the unexpected outcomes for these January series units, but hope that this review provides the context for these outcomes and that the steps now being put in place will ensure confidence in arrangements for the summer series and for subsequent years," he said.

Dr Philip Dixon, of the union ATL Cymru, said the "rather rushed" introduction of the new exam meant preparation was "not as thorough as it might have been", while Chris Howard of NAHT Cymru said the report contained sensible proposals "for making sure that this disaster is not repeated as other examinations are rolled out".

About 22,500 pupils sat the paper in January but there was anger on 6 March when many students were given lower grades than they and their schools had expected.

Head teachers wrote to Mr Lewis saying the results had eroded confidence in the examinations system.

WJEC carried out an internal review and said the marking scheme was applied consistently in all but one of the cases reviewed.

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