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Written Statement - WJEC GCSE English Language unit outcomes from January 2014

Huw Lewis, Minister for Education and Skills

Following widespread concerns about GCSE English Language outcomes in summer 2012, Welsh Government carried out an immediate investigation and the then Minister for Education and Skills ordered a re-grading of the WJEC qualification. Almost 2,400 learners in Wales received revised grades as a consequence of the re-grading.  

The investigation also revealed significant problems with the GCSE English Language specification. Welsh Government developed revised subject criteria for this qualification in Wales and officials worked with WJEC to ensure a revised specification and sample assessment materials were made available to schools as soon as possible. 
The revised GCSE English Language specification for learners in Wales, introduced in autumn 2012, is offered by WJEC only. 

January 2014 was the first assessment opportunity for this specification. There are four units in the qualification and two were available in January. All four units will be available in the summer 2014 examination series and that will be the first opportunity for learners to cash-in their unit results and receive a GCSE qualification grade. 
The issues that have arisen with WJEC GCSE English Language outcomes from January 2014 are at unit level. Unit outcomes are lower than for the legacy specification in January 2013, but comparison is not straightforward because the structure of the qualification has changed.

Welsh Government adopts the principle of “comparable outcomes” in its regulatory oversight of GCSEs, AS and A levels. Unless awarding organisations provide a compelling rationale in support of change, we expect qualification outcomes for large-entry subjects such as GCSE English Language to be stable from one year to the next. This principle applies whether there is a change of specification or not, unless we have identified particular issues that require a re-calibration of standards. Welsh Government has not committed to a re-calibration of standards in GCSE English Language. .
A number of factors may have contributed to the decline between January 2013 and January 2014 unit outcomes. Welsh Government officials will investigate these as a matter of urgency.  

There is a trend towards early entry for GCSE qualifications and the January assessment opportunity is, for Year 10 and Year 11 learners, an ‘early’ entry. This is not new – schools have entered their most able learners early in the past. What has changed is the number of learners being entered early – whole cohorts in some schools. This trend was evident in GCSE English Language in January 2014, where the number of unit entries has increased from under 30,000 in January 2013 to over 37,000 in January 2014.  I have previously raised concerns about the trend towards early entry and I am concerned that this practice, on the part of schools appears to be increasing.    
I have also ordered a rapid fact finding exercise to:-

  • assess the January 2014 GCSE English Language results to establish what are the key issues underlying the results
  • identify centres where there has been significant variance from expected outcomes
  • Identify what action needs to be put in place to support practitioners for future entries.

The fact finding exercise is to be carried out over the next few weeks; initial outcomes will be reviewed by late March and further actions will be determined thereafter.

Our reform programme, based on the recommendations of the independent Review of Qualifications led by Huw Evans OBE is the right package of reforms for Wales.  I want to make it clear that we are committed to our reform programme to increase rigour in the qualifications system in Wales. We know that our reform programme is right as it has been welcomed by employers and has cross-party support.

Change is always difficult but learners remain our priority and we will ensure that any reforms do not adversely affect them.