The General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) is the academic qualification awarded in specified subject, usually taken in number of subjects by students aged 14-16 in secondary education in Wales, England and Northern Ireland. It was initiated in 1986 (with first examinations taking place in 1988) replacing former O Level / CSE qualifications. Also merging two previous examination systems, one of major changes was to permit students to complete Course Work during their two years of study, that was marked by their teachers and contributed to their final examination grade.
The Education Minister Huw Lewis said “critical series of actions” – short of a re-mark – would be taken to make sure learners are not deprived, but consequences would stand. It followed “quick re-examine” of modular GCSE English language exams, which found that “no one single factor” had contributed to lower- than-expected outcomes. Stricter marking system, quantity of time schools were specified to make for new-style English language qualification and the strangely large number of January entries are all supposed to have impacted on grades published last month. Report, carried out by Welsh Government officials, criticised teacher support materials, offered by exam board WJEC, as being of “inadequate quantity and quality” and said direct access to subject specialists was “hard”.
The report said: “overarching termination of review team is that there is no one single facet which has contributed to lower- than-expected outcomes. Indications are that systems of work were altered and forecasted grades were modelled on a new specification. Normally, examination papers matched teachers’ outlook of new specification and there were hardly any surprises for teachers or pupils. There is no proof to recommend that WJEC didn’t follow correct procedures at all times.”
The report listed number of detailed regulatory actions to be undertaken as matter of importance, among concern surrounding present relationship between Welsh Government, that is liable for regulating exams in Wales, and WJEC.
The fact which lower outcomes were communicated to Welsh Government on date of publication is worry and WJEC and Welsh Government must reconsider data exchange processes.
Mr Lewis accepted Welsh Government could have been more proactive in its statement with WJEC previous to publication of January’s results. But he sustained that, while more in-depth discussions would have been helpful, published scores would have been similar in spite of and issues would still have occurred. Mr Lewis said Cardiff-based WJEC had only made Welsh Government officials aware of discrepancy in results evening previous to their publication. Schools were left stunned by poor results for exams taken in January that will contribute towards student’s final marks this summer.
Teachers and parents responded heatedly to what they claimed were unpredictably low grades for exams. The Conservatives said report was little short of whitewash. The report discovered no one single facet contributed to poor results.
He called upon teachers to apply increased carefulness when forecasting grades for learners, saying that data in report illustrated only in minority of cases do teacher evaluates match actual outcomes. Mr Lewis also said that: "I am firm that schools and learners will get support they require. I am resolute that our credentials should be applicable, valued and fit for purpose." The report said there would be no explanation for re-grading papers and existing results would stand. Though a number of points were emphasized including the rise in entries and late change to exam requirement which came once students had already began their studies.
Copies or samples of papers should return to schools when possible so teachers can start to look at how they have marked in relation to marking scheme.
WJEC is to extend registration time limit to permit schools to think in more detail which students must be entered for re-sit in June.
Additional materials must be produced before Easter break to describe how mark schemes will be applied to students' work, to increase transparency.
Free extra sessions run by WJEC before summer exams should make sure that advice given to schools is reliable with that given in examiner's report - and across board.