Columnists & Opinion exam-schools-desk

Have Wrexham students’ GCSE English Language exams been devalued through no fault of their own?

That’s what Education Secretary Michael Gove, who said yesterday that Leighton Andrews’s instruction to the WJEC exam board to remark English Language GCSE exams was a “terrible mistake”, wants us to believe. Gove’s comments that English employers may react by saying to Welsh pupils “I can’t see your exam pass as the equivalent to other exam passes” seems to have heaped fuel to the (already rather brightly burning) flames of the GCSE fiasco.

Is there any truth in it? It’s hard to tell, partly because you could justifiably argue that the entire debacle may have damaged employers’ faith in GCSE as a whole so badly that any further loss of confidence would hardly matter. Thinking about this logically, though, it seems like yet more scare-mongering by Gove. In order to know that a student who gained a C was one of the ones who did so this academic year it would presumably be necessary for the employer to work out how old he or she was. Could an enterprising lawyer try and refer to the Age Discrimination act here? On a more serious note, since Ofqual have already stated that the January GCSE exams were “graded generously”, surely the employers Gove is referring to would make the same comment to people who’d taken them? There doesn’t seem to be a chorus of voices exclaiming that pupils who took that exam have had it ‘devalued’.

Having said that, it’s hard to see Leighton Andrews as being much better than Gove. The remark he’s demanded isn’t going to happen overnight, and the results debacle has already had real consequences for many learners in Wales, especially in the event they’re moving on to further education or apprenticeships. Pupils who’ve already started in further education will in some cases have been forced to drop an AS-level in order to resit English, and elsewhere will have missed out on starting as a student or an apprentice due to the grade. In view of this, Leighton Andrews’s intervention looks at best as if it’s taken too long, and at worst as a shabby bit of political posturing,

What do you think? If you’re an employer, would you be more cautious about hiring someone who has a C from a WJEC exam than someone who has the same grade from an English exam board? If you’re a student, have you been affected by this debacle? We’d love to hear your story.

(Image copyright David Hawgood – CC BY-SA 2.0)