SCHOOLS across Wales have been accused of ‘gaming’ the examination and qualification system at GCSE level and failing pupils in the process.
The issue has arisen following a report from Qualifications Wales, the regulator of non-degree qualifications and the qualification system in Wales, which has alerted the Welsh Government to the high risk that overall GCSE results will decline in Wales due to the widespread practice of entering children a year early into GCSE examinations in order to ‘bank’ results, with able pupils denied the chance to improve their grade at a later examination.
Almost two thirds of Year 10 pupils were entered for the English GCSE in the last exam cycle.
The same practice in England led to the UK Government intervening and making adjustments to school league tables, so that only the first attempt at examinations counted towards schools’ performance.
And Kirsty Williams, the Cabinet Secretary for Education in the Welsh Government, has said she may now intervene to prevent or curtail Welsh schools from putting Welsh pupils forward to sit GCSEs a year early.
In an interview on BBC Wales’ Sunday Politics, Kirsty Williams said: “What I’m concerned about is that children that, perhaps had the potential to get an A* and A or a B at the end of a two year course end up having to settle for a C because they do it early and they’re not re-entered again.
“I want children to fulfil their potential in school. I want early entry to be only for the children who will benefit from it.
“When I see such large numbers as are being reported as being entered, that’s something I am concerned about.”
Qualifications Wales said the problem is particularly acute this year due to a more rigorous curriculum and examination programme.
The body is scheduled to complete a review and report to the Welsh Government in September this year on the issue.
Welsh Government advice is that decisions about early entry into GCSE’s must be made ‘in the interests of the individual child’. In May, however, the Welsh Government’s Director of Education, Steven Davies, claimed in evidence to an Assembly Committee that schools have conducted early entry ‘to test the system’.
Mr Davies continued: ‘There are also those out there who are gaming.’
Mrs Williams’ stance on the subject has been welcomed by Adam Price AM.
Adam Price has been making representations regarding early exam entry to the Welsh Government since the start of the year having been contacted by a local maths tutor who had seen a dramatic rise in demand for private tutoring.
The Plaid Cymru AM also met with the Education Secretary in May to express concern that pupils may not be reaching their full potential.
Mr Price says he welcomes the willingness of the Education Secretary to intervene but said options for early entry should not be closed off to everyone.
Adam Price said: “I first made representations to the Education Secretary back in January having been contacted by a local maths tutor who had seen a dramatic rise in demand for private tutoring. His concern was that pupils were being entered for early examination but did not have time to actually finish the course before sitting the exams.
“Whilst it seems attractive for pupils to ‘bank’ a good grade early and take some pressure off a year later, many pupils will miss out on a better grade if they were to be given the opportunity to complete the course over the longer and traditional two year timescale.
“Early entry for exams is not a new phenomenon – this has always been a feature of GCSEs at the discretion of teachers and it should not be closed off entirely. But there does seem to be widespread change this year with almost two-thirds of all pupils in Wales being entered a year early.
“I welcome the Minister’s comments that she is prepared to intervene depending on the findings of her review, but the pressure on schools and teachers must be considered as part of this investigation.
“We all want what is best for our school pupils. The education system should support pupils who need the full two years of study, and allow teachers to make decisions on how pupils can best reach their individual potential.”
Globalisation with a difference at Lampeter
AN INTERNATIONAL multidisciplinary conference that aims to explore approaches to the theme of ‘globalisation’ across the ancient world will be held at UWTSD’s Lampeter conference next month.
Entitled “Re-Thinking Globalisation in the Ancient World” up to 30 academic experts from Asia, Europe, South and North America will visit Ceredigion to present papers and take part in discussions at the three-day event. Keynote speakers at the conference include Professor Mark Horton from the University of Bristol and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Germany and Professor Michael Sommer from Universität Oldenburg.
Conference organiser and Senior Lecturer in Roman History and Archaeology at UWTSD Associate Professor Ralph Häussler said: “We’re very much looking forward to hosting this conference and welcoming so many distinguished experts in the field to Lampeter – it truly is a ‘global’ conference. The purpose of the conference is to provide new insights into cross-cultural interactions and responses in inter-connected and entangled regions of the ancient world.
Methodological issues relating to the theme of ‘globalisation’ will be analysed in different contexts, notably the application of this concept in different regions and different periods of the ancient world. In the 21st century ‘Globalisation’ is a buzzword for our interconnected and fast-moving modern times. But globalisation is not new. Already 2,000 – 3,000 years ago, we can identify comparable developments, like an ever increasing inter-dependency between distant regions of the ancient world. Nowadays, the concept of ‘globalisation’ and of a cosmopolitan society has come under increasing scrutiny for contemporary society. Therefore the study of globalisation with regards to the ancient world will enable us to place this modern debate within a wider historical framework. Everybody is welcome to come along and take part in what promises to be a fascinating discussion.”
The Conference will start at 8:30am on the 8th May and come to a close at midday on the 10th May 2018. More information can be found here
Creative coding challenge for schools
ABERYSTWYTH UNIVERSITY’S Computer Science Department is calling on primary school pupils across Wales to take part in a unique coding competition combining poetry, Welsh mythology and creative computing.
The challenge to children aged 7-11 years old includes animating a poem by Eurig Salisbury, a lecturer at Aberystwyth University’s Department of Welsh & Celtic Studes as well as an award-winning writer and former Children’s Welsh Poet Laureate.
Alternatively, contestants can also choose to animate a Welsh myth or legend – from the Mabinogion, for example.
There will be prizes for the winning teams as well as a visit to the winning entry’s school by a team of computer scientists from Aberystwyth University who will hold a day of educational coding activities.
The aim of the competition is to encourage children to give coding a go and to learn new skills for the workplace of the future.
Organiser Dr Hannah Dee, Senior Lecturer at Aberystwyth University’s Computer Science Department, said: “Coding is a digital skill which will only increase in importance. People often think that coding is just spreadsheets or numbers. This contest aims to show that it’s much than that – you can code pictures, animations, and even poetry. Creative coding is something everyone can have a go at, particularly using Scratch, a kids’ programming language.
“We have four top prizes this year with winners awarded either a Pi-top Laptop or Kano Computer Kit or and we are grateful to both companies for their sponsorship and support.”
Fellow organiser and lecturer Martin Nelmes said: “As a Department, we visit schools the length and breadth of Wales with our coding activities and find that creative coding like this really fires students’ imagination. We held our first coding competition last year and the entries were inspirational. I can’t wait to see what pupils come up with this year.”
First prize in last year’s competition went to Johnstown School in Carmarthenshire, with second place going to Ysgol Gynradd Pentrefoelas in Betws y Coed in Gwynedd, and third to Brynnau School, Pontyclun, Rhondda Cynon Taff.
Eurig Salisbury, a lecturer in Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University’s Department of Welsh and Celtic Studies, said: “It was a privilege to be part of this coding competition last year and to see young children take up the challenge of creative computing to illustrate one of my poems. It’s a fun activity but it’s also educational with coding becoming an increasingly fundamental skill to those growing up in the early part of the 21st century.”
Further details about the competition and how to enter can be found on the website of the Department of Computer Science.
Pupil Deprivation Grant boosted
SCHOOLS across Wales are to share in over £90m in 2018-19 to help their most disadvantaged learners, Education Secretary Kirsty Williams has announced.
The Cabinet Secretary has written to schools across Wales to confirm how much they will directly receive in 2018-19.
In addition to over £90m committed this year, £187m has been guaranteed for the remainder of the Assembly term, so that schools have the stability to plan ahead.
The Pupil Development Grant (PDG) helps schools tackle the effects of poverty and disadvantage on attainment and is targeted at learners who are eligible for Free School Meals or are Looked After Children.
Schools use the PDG in a number of different ways, including nurture groups for children who may be socially and emotionally vulnerable, out-of-hours school learning, on-site multi-agency support and better tracking of pupils as they progress through school.
This year, the PDG for the youngest learners (pupils aged 3-4 years old) has increased from £600 to £700 per pupil. This builds on last year’s doubling of financial support from £300 to £600 per learner in the early years.
Primary and secondary schools will continue to receive a rate of £1,150 per learner, and this rate also continues to apply to learners in education other than at school (EOTAS).
From this year, schools will also have greater flexibility to support learners who have been eligible for Free School Meals in the previous two years.
Advisers and coordinators from education consortia are also on-hand to provide extra support and guidance for schools on using the funding.
Kirsty Williams said: “Reducing the attainment gap between pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers is at the heart of our national mission to raise standards. This is one of the most effective ways in which we can break the cycle of deprivation and poverty.
“Time and again, teachers have told me how much of a difference PDG funding has made in raising aspirations, building confidence, improving behaviour and attendance and in involving families with their children’s education.
“Teachers have also called for greater certainty around future PDG funding and that’s why I’m pleased to be able to guarantee allocation levels for the next two financial years and reaffirm our commitment to the grant for the lifetime of this Assembly.
“We have always said that the PDG is there to support all pupils who are eligible for Free School Meals, not just those that are struggling academically. That’s why I want schools to ensure they are supporting more able pupils as well.
“I would also encourage all schools to make full use of the PDG advisers and coordinators from the education consortia – they’re there to help when it comes to making the best use of the funding and ensuring that we raise attainment across the board.”
An independent evaluation of the PDG last year found that many schools consider the funding to be ‘invaluable’, with further evidence from Estyn and the Welsh Government’s raising attainment advocate, Sir Alasdair MacDonald, showing the majority of schools are making well thought out decisions on how to spend the funding.
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