Archive for WJEC

Remarks on Regrading

Posted in Education, Politics with tags , , , , , , on September 24, 2012 by telescoper

I haven’t had time thus far to comment on the ongoing row about GCSE examinations, but was inspired to do a quick lunchtime postette when I read some of Chief Stooge Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s comments over the weekend.

It seems Mr Clegg objects to Welsh Education Minister Leighton Andrews’ decision to order the examination board WJEC to regrade GCSEs in English, as a response to a report from regulatory officials arguing that the grading process had been unfair and that it had disadvantaged students. As a result of Leighton Andrews’ intervention, over two thousand Welsh students of English have received higher grades than initially awarded.  In England, on the other hand, the regulator Ofqual decided not to regrade examinations, but to offer students the chance to resit.

Here is a statement from a spokesperson for the Welsh Government explaining the different approaches in England and Wales:

Unlike in England where responsibility for qualifications is devolved through legislation to Ofqual, in Wales the Welsh Ministers have regulatory responsibility for the qualifications taken by learners.

In requiring the regrading to take place, the Minister was fulfilling properly these regulatory responsibilities. The decision to carry out the re-grade in Wales led to the swift resolution of an injustice served to well over 2,000 Welsh candidates.

The decision to direct the WJEC to carry out this work was about fairness and ensuring that Welsh students got the grades they deserved for the work they put into their examination. The result of the re-grade was the only acceptable outcome for learners affected by a questionable grading methodology.

Candidates can now rest assured that the process used to determine their final grades was fair and just.

Nick Clegg accuses the Welsh government of “moving the goalposts” – Westminster politicians can always be relied upon to produce  a tired cliché at the drop of a hat – and accused Mr Andrews of political interference.

I think what I’m going to say may prove quite controversial with readers of this blog, but I think Leighton Andrews did the right thing. He has responsibility for regulating the examination system in Wales, and his officials told him the grades were likely to be wrong. He therefore stepped in and ordered the examinations to be  regraded. What’s the problem?

Minister for Education Michael Gove has already admitted that the grading of GCSE examinations this year was indeed unfair, but he decided not to intervene and left it up to Ofqual to decide what to do. I don’t think this because he was worried about political interference in the examination system, as he’s been all over the exam system like a rash in recent months. He decided not to intervene because he wants to kill CGSEs, and the problems this year have probably done just that.

Presumably Nick Clegg’s response to the grading errors would just have involved saying “sorry”….

But whatever the rights and wrongs of Michael Gove and Leighton Andrews, I think this episode just demonstrates what a complete mess the examination system really is.  If anyone previously thought they knew what a grade C in English was supposed to mean then the behaviour of the exam boards this year will have convinced them otherwise. Students and parents must surely now regard the whole process as arbitrary and meaningless.

It’s also a shame that we now seem to think that education is entirely about examinations and qualifications, as if tinkering with the grades that come out of one end of the process somehow means that the students have learned more.  If  more people grasped the fact that there’s much more to education than bits of paper or rankings in league tables then the power of those in authority to depress and demoralize students and teachers would be immediately diminished.

That wouldn’t solve all the problems in our education system, but it would be a start.

School for Scandal

Posted in Education with tags , , , , on December 10, 2011 by telescoper

One of the biggest news stories this week derived from an investigation by the Daily Telegraph into the behaviour of officials connected with the Welsh examination board WJEC who, it appears, have been passing on tips about the content of their examination papers to teachers who have paid to attend their seminars. Of course this reflects very badly on Wales – especially coming so soon after the University of Wales scandals – but it is symptomatic of a much wider malaise;  this  episode  undermines not just the examination process  but  the entire education system in the United Kingdom. The sad thing is that that there’s not really anything new in this story.  It’s been obvious for some time that the whole framework  has become corrupted by the profit motive. There have been previous warnings about how the examination boards compete for customers (and cash) by dumbing down examination papers, but nothing seems to have been done.

The problem is particularly acute for A-level examinations, which universities use to select applicants for admission onto courses. In my own subject, Physics, the A-level course being taught in schools are clearly not fit for this purpose – the syllabuses have been filleted of any challenging material and there’s no correlation that I can discern between high grades at A-level and good performance at undergraduate level. In fact,some of our very best students at Cardiff – who are as good as any I’ve come across anywhere –  came in with very modest A-level grades but have performed brilliantly on the course. Relying only on A-levels might have led to us closing the door on these folks. Actually, I don’t know why we bother making offers based on A-level results at all!

Anyway, it’s clearly time to sort out the examinations system properly. The Exam Boards won’t fix the problem themselves because they are doing very nicely out of the status quo, so what should be done?

I like the suggestion is that the Examination Boards should be scrapped and the business of setting examinations should be carried out by one organization: no competition means no temptation to cheat. I’d also add that, at least for A-levels, the people who set and mark the examinations should be based in universities. I’d envisage a series of national subject panels with representatives from a number of institutions. A single Exam Board with members based in the university sector would also help simplify the process of university admissions, perhaps even streamlining it enough to allow  for post-examination applications without having to have earlier examinations. Above all it would ensure that A-level courses are relevant to university entrance requirements, which they are not at the moment.

Another possibility – which also like but which is probably politically a non-starter – is to scrap our tarnished A-levels altogether and adopt the International Baccalaureate as the UK’s educational gold-standard. The reason this wouldn’t be acceptable to our Lords and Masters in Whitehall is that it would immediately dispel the comforting myth that  standards in British schools are  rising;  I’d bet my bottom dollar that, relative to the rest of the world, they are not and adopting the IB would demonstrate that as it would allow comparisons to be made which can’t be made with A-levels.