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Written Statement - Statement on the publication of: GCSE English Language 2012 – an investigation into the outcomes for candidates in Wales

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Leighton Andrews, Minister for Education and Skills

On 23 August 2012, GCSE results for candidates in England, Wales and Northern Ireland were published and I was pleased to be able to congratulate our young people and their teachers on their achievements. It was a privilege to be able to join some of our learners and their teachers to celebrate their success.

However, as has been reported, the results for new GCSE English Language specification in Wales were significantly down at A* to C compared to those achieved in recent years. My officials informed me that several factors may have contributed to this fall and I ordered an immediate investigation into what had happened and why.

Ofqual undertook their own investigation into GCSE English awards in 2012 in England and published their preliminary findings on Friday 31 August. Ofqual expressed the view that ‘grades awarded for the June modules were right, but it is hard to square them with the January results’.  As a consequence of this conclusion, Ofqual did not recommend that the qualifications should be re-graded but rather that candidates should be offered a one-off and exceptional re-sit opportunity in November 2012.

Today I am publishing the outcomes of our own investigation into what happened this year with the awarding of the GCSE English language qualification in Wales. The report agrees with Ofqual’s findings that there were issues related to grade boundary changes made to some units between January and June.

More significantly for Welsh learners, the report also finds that candidates from Wales, as a cohort, were awarded lower grades than would normally have been expected under agreed regulatory principles of working to maintain comparable outcomes when new specifications are introduced. They have identified significant problems with the methodology adopted and its application to Wales. The report states “it seems probable that a serious distortion to the outcomes of the candidates in Wales has been caused”, and that a 3.9 percentage point fall in outcomes for all grades C and above in 2012, when compared to 2011, “is unjustifiable and almost certainly unfair to candidates”.   The report highlights several reasons why this was the case.

After careful consideration, the report leads me to believe that the apparent injustice which has been served to hundreds of Welsh learners needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.  Whilst recognising that the WJEC made its initial awards in compliance with regulatory requirements, I have today asked the WJEC to re-award its GCSE English Language in line with the report’s recommendations and in order to achieve outcomes that are as similar as possible to the outcomes achieved by candidates in 2011. Until we have discussed the position with WJEC it is difficult to be precise as to how long this process will take but I understand that the regrading exercise itself should be achievable within a few days.

My officials have suggested to Ofqual that the results of WJEC English Language candidates in England should be similarly re-awarded and those discussions will continue. This is a matter for Ofqual.    

My responsibility is to ensure fairness to the GCSE candidates in Wales. Regulatory officials have identified the problems, and recommended actions. I have implemented their recommendations.

I have agreed that the November re-sit opportunities already announced by Ofqual should also be available to candidates from Wales. Only a minority of candidates will see their grades improve as a result of the action I am taking today and I do not wish to deny the majority the opportunity to improve on the grades they have already achieved; an opportunity which is to be afforded to their peers in England.

Clearly this whole episode raises serious questions about the regulation of qualifications in Wales and I have asked officials for further advice on this and will be making a statement in due course, building on the report on the structure of the examinations market in Wales published earlier this year.  I will also be asking Huw Evans and his Project Board to consider the remainder of the report’s recommendations as part of the ongoing Review of 14 to 19 Qualifications in Wales which will be submitting its report in November.