Welsh Exam Board 'still out of line' after raising grade standards

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.

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.

– Ofqual Report 'GCSE English 2012'

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.

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 Report 'GCSE English 2012'

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.

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.

– Ofqual Chair Amanda Spielman and Chief Regulator Glenys Stacey

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GCSE regrade row

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.