The Welsh Government was warned that regrading GCSE exams in English would 'seriously damage' the integrity of the qualification. The comments were made by the WJEC exam board in emails released by the Welsh Government.
The WJEC chief executive Gareth Pierce said that regrading the exam papers would create 'a split standard' for the exam board's qualification.
The exam regulator for England, Ofqual, says it was 'necessary' to tell the WJEC exam board to set higher grading standards for GCSE English. The new grade boundaries were maintained in England but abandoned in Wales, though Ofqual suggests that the grading should have been even tougher.
– Ofqual Report 'GCSE English 2012'
We review preliminary results from all exam boards. Most qualification awarding in summer 2012 was completed mainly without intervention ... although our exchanges with Edexcel and with WJEC (jointly with the Welsh regulator) led to amendments to their English awards to bring them more in line with other boards. We can now see that although our interventions were necessary they may not have been fully effective, as final results of both these exam boards are still somewhat out of line with those of their competitors – but not as much as they would have been had the regulators not intervened.
The Welsh Government is the regulator for Wales but Ofqual intervened because some students in England sit WJEC exams. Ofqual opposed the Welsh Government ordering a regrade that increased the number of students getting at least a grade C, after fewer students than expected reached that standard.
– Ofqual Report 'GCSE English 2012'
This unilateral decision by the regulator in Wales has resulted in more favourable treatment for the 2,300 Welsh students who were upgraded than for their English counterparts. However, this was entirely outside our control or that of the regulator in Northern Ireland. It signals significant problems for the future, if we are to maintain common standards across borders.
Ofqual suggests that teachers have been overgenerous when marking the part of the exam based on coursework. The regulator blames the pressure on them to get more students at least a grade C in English, seen as a key indicator when assessing a school's performance.
– Ofqual Chair Amanda Spielman and Chief Regulator Glenys Stacey
We have ... found [GCSEs in English] to be especially susceptible to pressures, as teachers strive for the best possible outcomes for their students and school. With GCSE English currently so central to how schools are judged, this is a significant weakness. We have found that the qualifications are easy to bend out of shape: they can buckle under the pressures of accountability, and the evidence we have is that this did happen to some extent.
The Welsh Government has dismissed Plaid Cymru claims that it did a u-turn over GCSE English exam grades. The party's education spokesperson, Simon Thomas, had seized on evidence that the WJEC exam board gave to the Assembly Children's Committee.
The WJEC said that both it and the Welsh Government had reluctantly agreed to proposals from England's exam regulator, Ofqual, to change the grade boundaries before pupils sat this summer's exam.
– Plaid Cymru Education Spokesperson Simon Thomas AM
The evidence given to the committee shows that the Welsh Government agreed to change the GCSE English Language grades in the first place and then changed their minds. The Welsh Education Minister did a U-turn on the re-grading. The Welsh Government as an exam regulator was responsible for the initial decision.
– Spokesperson for Education Minister Leighton Andrews AM
WJEC's evidence to the committee does not contradict the Welsh Government's position. We have made it clear, since 10 September when we published our report on GCSE English Language, that we had previously agreed, reluctantly, to the request that was originally made to WJEC to change grade boundaries. Welsh Government officials repeatedly put their concerns to Ofqual. The decision to carry out the re-grade in Wales, based on evidence from our report into the situation, led to the swift resolution of an injustice to well over 2000 Welsh candidates.
Ofqual's chief regulator, Glenys Stacey, also appeared before AMs. She explained why she thought the Welsh Government was wrong to order a regrade.
– Ofqual Chief Regulator Glenys Stacey
It puts three country regulation into a very difficult position because what we have there is one of the regulators determining after the event to set a different standard. We are not able to say we have a common standard for England and Wales.
The heads of the Welsh exam board the WJEC and the English exam regulator Ofqual will be questioned by Assembly Members this morning. They have been called before the Children and Young People Committee, which is looking into the regrading of GCSE English Language papers this summer.
More than 2,000 Welsh teenagers were given improved grades last month, after Welsh Education Minister Leighton Andrews ordered the WJEC to regrade the papers of pupils here, because of concerns over changes in grade boundaries midway through the year, which meant many got lower grades than expected.
Michael Gove, Education Secretary in Westminster, criticised Mr Andrews' decision as 'irresponsible and mistaken'. GCSE pupils in England have not had their exams regraded.
The Welsh Government has told schools there will be changes to the GCSE English exam taken by students who have just begun their two year course. In 2014, all pupils in Wales will have to take a revised exam set by the Welsh board, the WJEC, which was ordered to regrade its results this year.
The main change is to increase form 40% to 60% the marks based on externally assessed exam papers, rather than testing by the schools themselves. One effect of the changes is that the exams set by boards in England will no longer meet the Welsh Government's requirements.
That means that all schools in Wales will have to enter their students for the WJEC's English exam. This year Welsh pupils who had been entered for other boards' exams missed out on the regrading that improved the results of many WJEC entrants.
Education Minister Leighton Andrews has told AMs that Welsh officials were opposed to the controversial decision by exam regulator Ofqual to force GCSE grades downwards, a move since overturned in Wales. Mr Andrews said that because time was running out, officials reluctantly agreed to the change.
Education Minister Leighton Andrews has defended his decision to order the Welsh exam board WJEC to regrade 2,386 English Language GCSEs in Wales. Mr Andrews told AMs that the original move to lower grades was 'unjustified and unfair' and said the regraded results are now 'fairer and truer.'