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  1. ITV Report

90% of pupils to re-sit GCSE English language units

More than 30,000 exam papers will be re-sat by GCSE English language pupils in Wales this summer. Photo:

ITV News has learned that more than 90 per cent of pupils in Wales who sat controversial English language GCSE exams in January have entered to re-sit them this summer.

More than 20,000 pupils sat at least one unit of the new qualification, available for the first time in January, and the vast majority will be doing so again, in the hope of correcting shock low grades.

Meanwhile, an ITV News investigation has found evidence of divisions between the exam regulator the Welsh Government and the exam board WJEC when the new GCSE was being accredited in autumn 2012, and raised questions over the Education Minister's pledge that this year's pupils will not be disadvantaged when they get their final results in August.

Thousands of pupils got lower grades than they expected in January's exams.

The re-sit figures, from WJEC, come on the deadline day for pupils to enter for re-sits.

The entry period was extended by the exam board due to the shock low grades.

  • 18,425 pupils sat Unit 1 in January
  • 16,590 pupils are re-sitting it this summer
  • 18,920 pupils sat Unit 2 in January
  • 17,215 pupils are re-sitting it this summer

Many pupils sat one of the two units in January, while others sat both.

  • Across both units, 37,345 papers were sat in January
  • 33,805 papers will be re-sat this summer

Teaching unions ASCL, NAHT and NUT called on the Welsh Government and WJEC to waive re-sit fees for these exams, to help pupils try to correct unexpectedly low results.

Both refused to do so.

Today, ASCL Cymru Secretary Robin Hughes said: "The bill for the resits will have to be met out of existing school budgets and this will take away resources from other important areas."

It costs £7.11 per paper to resit - so with more than 33,000 papers being re-sat, the total bill for schools is over £240,000.

Meanwhile, a Freedom of Information request from ITV News has revealed correspondence between the Welsh Government and WJEC, showing divisions over this new GCSE, and questions over whether a system of 'comparable outcomes' can rectify pupils' overall results, as repeatedly promised by the Education Minister.

The new English language GCSE, only for pupils in Wales, was created after papers were regraded in 2012.

The correspondence, from October 2012, shows that the Welsh Government originally wanted to phase it in over two years - but decided to implement it immediately.

It displays the hurried process with which the new qualification was agreed.

A Welsh Government official also raises their concern "that WJEC appears to be distancing itself from the decision that we made together about the specification."

The correspondence shows tensions between the Welsh Government and WJEC.

Further correspondence from last month, after the shock low grades from January were revealed, includes a WJEC official saying: "examiners felt that [lower than usual grades for foundation tier candidates] was due to the increased demand of the new specification which had been requested by the Welsh Government."

Most significantly for pupils, the exam board also questions the system of 'comparable outcomes', which is designed to ensure pupils are given equivalent grades from one year to the next.

The Education Minister has repeatedly pointed to this system as a way of ensuring this year's pupils are not disadvantaged through no fault of their own, when they get their overall GCSE grades, after completing their units this summer.

At the same time, Huw Lewis has acknowledged that this year's exams were more rigorous than previous years.

In an email, sent on 5 March - the day before students were told about their grades - the WJEC official says "WG [Welsh Government] may choose a comparable outcomes approach this summer which may be difficult to achieve."

Robin Hughes, from teaching union ASCL Cymru, today reiterated that question over how 'comparable outcomes' can be implemented - and said that teachers, parents and pupils remain "clueless" about how their grades will end up.

WJEC has responded to this today, by saying the exam board and the Welsh Government "are agreed that comparable outcomes approach will be applied", while the Welsh Government has reiterated that no pupil will be disadvantaged.

In relation to the summer awards, WJEC and Welsh Government are agreed that the comparable outcomes approach will be applied and that this ensures that the overall results for this year's candidates are comparable with those of their predecessors.

– WJEC spokesperson

Following 2012 results and identification of significant weaknesses in the specification, we and WJEC worked together to address those issues as a matter of urgency.

Following the outcomes of the January 2014 GCSE English Language units, we conducted a rapid review. No single factor was the cause of the disappointing outcomes, however the review did not consider the timing of the introduction of the revised spec to be a contributory factor.

The report set out a number of actions for WJEC, Welsh Government, schools and others to address the issues raised, including measures to ensure that no learner is disadvantaged in Summer 2014 through no fault of their own.

– Welsh Government spokesperson