The Welsh Liberal Democrats say the Welsh Government must provide more information about why some schools had unexpectedly poor results in the new GCSE exam. They say more should have been done to prepare schools for a greater emphasis on basic English skills when the exam was marked.
The WJEC have said some schools might have struggled to cope with the changes to the exam and have not prepared well enough. Yet the First Minister seemed unwilling to accept this to be the case. Whilst poor GCSE results might only be a political hiccup and yet another bad headline for the Welsh Labour government, for the pupils these are results that will stay with them for life.
The Welsh Conservatives have called for a delay in the introduction of Wales-only GCSEs after some schools reported unexpectedly poor results from the January English GCSE exams.
The Leader of the Opposition, Andrew RT Davies, accused the First Minister of ignoring educational expertise and failing to trust teachers. He said the Welsh Government has ignored calls from the WJEC exam board to delay the introduction of new GCSE courses, currently scheduled for September.
Labour is ploughing on with plans for new Wales-only qualifications in the face of opposition from educational experts and organisations playing a critical role in the implementation of the new GCSEs. The massive decline in GCSE performance in the January 2014 results raises many concerns about new Wales-only qualifications and whether the Welsh Government needs to separate the roles of regulator and awarding body. A child only has one shot at their education and the grades achieved in exams will remain on someone’s CV for life.
Earlier the Education Minister, Huw Lewis, said that of the 102 schools that entered more than 20 pupils in January, only 36 had reported an unexpectedly poor performance. But his Conservative shadow rejected his claim that she was opposing the policy of introducing more rigour into exams.
It is critical that qualifications are robust and internationally-recognised as high calibre. Rushing in new GCSEs without sufficient forethought risks dumbing down our education system. The Welsh Government should not be so arrogant as to ignore the advice of educational experts and plough on with such a major departure from previous qualifications. It’s disappointing that Labour Ministers have been so reluctant to make information about the GCSE English Language qualification publicly available, which has increased uncertainty further.
Education Minister Huw Lewis has told AMs that the "rapid review" he announced last week of first results from the new GCSE exam had already shown that only a minority of schools saw a serious drop in pupils' performance.
This is not an all-Wales issue. The WJEC have compared 102 schools that had more than 20 entries. There is an identifiable issue for 36 schools.
Mr Lewis said he intended to get to the bottom of what had happened at those specific schools. He added that at another 29 schools there had been an improvement in pupils' performance. But Plaid Cymru's spokesperson called for more drastic action.
It's been an absolute shambles. Teachers, parents and pupils don't know the grade boundaries for this exam. You can only rectify this by re-marking, re-grading or by having everyone re-sit.
Mr Lewis stressed that more rigour had been introduced into the exam and that "everyone had to raise their game", echoing the First Minister's earlier call for English teachers "to teach grammar and spelling and punctuation".
First Minister Carwyn Jones has defended the introduction of a GCSE English exam that is marked with greater emphasis on grammar, spelling and punctuation. The first results last week left many schools complaining that their pupils performed less well than expected.
The Welsh Government has launched an inquiry but today Carwyn Jones said not all schools had seen a drop in results. As a parent himself, he expected teachers to correctly educate children.
I expect English teachers to teach English. I expect them to teach grammar and spelling and punctuation.
The Welsh Government has pledged to find out urgently why thousand of pupils across Wales have performed poorly in recent exams.
It comes after a big fall in grades for a pioneering English Language GCSE.
37,000 pupils sat the exams in January, and have been getting their results this week.
Schools across the country say youngsters got much poorer grades than expected in the first such GCSE especially designed for schools in Wales - but there are worries tonight that the results may actually reflect poor levels of literacy in our schools.
The Welsh Government says it is investigating unexpectedly low GCSE English language exam results "as a matter of urgency."
Education Minister Huw Lewis announced this afternoon that he has ordered a "rapid fact-finding exercise... to establish what are the key issues underlying the results" and look at how to support schools for future entries.
He said the investigation will initially report back by the end of this month.
However, Huw Lewis said planned changes to GCSEs will still go ahead: "we are committed to our reform programme to increase rigour in the qualifications system in Wales."
The Welsh Government insists it is "on track" to deliver planned reforms to GCSE qualifications next year, after a call from the WJEC exam board that new courses should be delayed.
It plans to introduce new GCSE courses in English, Welsh, maths and the Welsh baccalaureate, in September 2015.
Gareth Pierce, Chief Executive of the WJEC, warned schools may not be ready for changes, after concerns were raised about unexpectedly low grades for GCSE language exams sat by pupils in January, following changes to that subject.
We will be working with WJEC and schools over the next few weeks to establish the issues that may have affected the results achieved by students in the units sat this January.
Following the independent review of qualifications we have established an extensive reform programme to transform qualifications in Wales – to improve rigour and raise standards – we remain on track to deliver our reforms.
Teachers unions are calling for an investigation into the low results achieved by youngsters in a pioneering exam in core English Language skills.
The GCSE was designed specifically for schools in Wales after a previous row over exam results. But it's seen the number of candidates getting grade C in one section fall dramatically.
Our members are concerned that the results released yesterday have not
matched the expectations of experienced teachers. In many, though not all
cases, grades are lower than expected and this may indicate that there are
information issues surrounding the roll-out of the new award.
One of the traditional strengths of the Welsh system is that the WJEC
has in the past worked closely with schools to ensure that teachers know
what is expected of their pupils. It is therefore doubly disappointing when
communication goes wrong. We urge the WJEC to release the mark scheme
as soon as possible so that teachers can get to the bottom of what has
happened and put things right in time for the summer examinations. If it
cannot be put right, these results should not stand.
These results are not yet set in stone. Good communication between the
board and schools might rescue the situation and help restore trust in the
system. If teachers can’t explain what has happened, how can we expect
pupils and parents to feel confident about the new Welsh examination
The exam board for Wales, WJEC, says the results of a new exam for GCSE English has led to a sharp drop in pupils achieving a Grade C - from 23% to just 5%.
In January pupils sat for the first time units developed in response to Welsh Government's requirements.
Greater emphasis is placed on accuracy of sentence structure, punctuation and spelling in the writing sections and accuracy for 50% of available marks whereas previously it was 30%.
The exam body says examiners have noted that while there were fewer examples of candidates not completing the papers, it was clear that some candidates were not producing fully developed responses to the written questions.
Examiners also expressed their concerns that candidates had found the new accuracy and comparison requirements on the paper particularly challenging says the WJEC.