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Thursday, March 13, 2014

A matter of poor judgement

Today's Western Mail reports on the continuing saga of Wales' poor English Language GCSE results. The paper presents a dossier of evidence compiled by headteachers at more than 100 schools evidencing the impact of the new marking system on pupils and teachers..

They say that headteachers’ union ASCL Cymru have reported that schools across Wales are “at a loss” as to what to do after a sudden and unexplained dip in January’s GCSE English language grades, which had left experienced staff questioning their ability to teach.

The union says that results published last week put at risk confidence in Wales’ exams system and warned that parents’ “faith in teachers’ professionalism” was being eroded after wild variations in pupil performance:
It said pupils and teachers had been left in tears by their GCSE English language results - and some schools had employed tactics normally associated with pupil bereavement to soften the blow.

The union has taken representation from more than 100 secondary schools, which includes four independent schools and others deemed by education watchdog Estyn to be “sector-leading”.

One headteacher said they were “deeply concerned” after their school’s A*-C pass rate fell woefully short of expectations, from a predicted 56% to just 31%.

They said recent developments had made forward-planning “impossible” and called for a swift resolution to a problem that threatens to spiral out of control.

They added: “As someone with long experience examining with the WJEC (exam board), I am greatly concerned that the system is now becoming increasingly unreliable. I have already been asked for predictions about the summer and this is an impossible task.

What is most bizarre however is the aggressive and ill-judged response of the education minister to theses concerns, in particular a letter sent to him and endorsed by all Rhondda Cynon Taf’s 19 secondary schools, which suggested parents and pupils are “gradually losing faith in a once-reliable examination system”. The letter calls on the Welsh Government to allow pupils to re-sit the English language exam in the summer free of charge.

The Minister has responded by accusing the contributors of “reckless scare-mongering” and claimed the impact of adverse grades was “not severe across all schools”. He added: “I refuse to jump to conclusions. What I am focussing on is hard evidence, not hearsay and rumour.”

In contrast it seems that the person jumping to conclusions here is the Minister. These are professionals expressing genuine and evidenced concerns. To dismiss their letter so strongly and in such terms shows poor political judgement and a crass disregard for the review process he has set in place, which he appears to have pre-empted.

If the education minister is incapable of listening to teachers in a respectful manner then he is clearly in the wrong job.
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