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.”
Becoming a teacher
TO TEACH in a Welsh state school, you must have a degree, and gain Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) by following a programme of Initial Teacher Training (ITT).
All teachers in Wales are also required to register with the Education Workforce Council (EWC).
In Wales, most training programmes are university or college-based, and you have a choice of programmes delivered in English or Welsh. QTS awarded by the Education Workforce Council in Wales is automatically recognised in England.
UCAS Teacher Training is the scheme to use to apply for the main postgraduate routes leading to QTS. If you don’t already hold a degree, you can apply via UCAS Undergraduate for teacher training programmes, to graduate with QTS.
Some more specialised teaching routes – including the Welsh Graduate Teacher Programme and Teach First – are not managed by UCAS and have a different application process. These training options offer different routes to gain QTS, depending on your professional or academic background.
University-led PGCE or PGDE
Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) and Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) training programmes are available for prospective primary and secondary school teachers. You’ll get classroom experience by spending time teaching and being trained in at least two schools, as well as time at the university or college you’ve chosen, working with a group of other students and being taught by university staff.
Typically a one year programme, students must complete a minimum of 120 days in a school, among blocks of study at their chosen training provider. Spaces on popular teacher training programmes fill up quickly. Places are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis, so apply early.
Graduate Teacher Programme
For prospective primary and secondary teachers wishing to study for their Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) in Wales, the Graduate Teacher Programme (GTP) is an employment-based route into teaching which offers a way to qualify as a teacher while you work. Programmes typically last for one year and require students to pass a newly qualified teaching year.
The GTP is very similar to School Direct (salaried) programmes in England, but is managed and delivered by the three regional teacher training centres in Wales:
- North and Mid Wales Centre for Teacher Education
- South West Wales Centre of Teacher Education
- South East Wales Centre for Teacher Education
There are a limited number of primary and secondary places available on the GTP in Wales each year. Applications are made directly to the regional teacher training centres. For more information, see Discover Teaching in Wales.
Teach First: Leadership Development Programme
This option combines leadership development and teacher training, giving applicants the chance to become an inspirational leader in classrooms that need it the most. It is a two year salaried programme leading to a Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) qualification. Following five weeks of intensive training, you’ll continue to learn on the job while you work towards QTS.
Bachelor of Education (BEd) degrees
Bachelor of Education (BEd) teacher training programmes are an undergraduate route for those who would like to follow a career in teaching, and graduate with Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). BEd programmes typically last three years, and are a popular route for prospective primary school teachers. Some providers do offer secondary-level BEd programmes for specific specialisms.
Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Bachelor of Science (BSc) with QTS
Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BSc) degrees with Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) are popular with prospective secondary school teachers, and focus on developing specialist subject knowledge required to teach. Not a common route for those wanting to study for primary teacher training programmes, most providers only offer BA and BSc with QTS for secondary teaching.
Certificate of Higher Education (CertHE): Introduction to Secondary Teaching
This Wales-only training route is for prospective secondary teachers who may not have any formal academic qualifications, but do have a passion for maths, science, or design technology. This route gives you the chance to earn the credits needed to meet the entry requirements for BSc (Hons) degree programmes, enabling you to work towards QTS in three years.
Full-time undergraduate and postgraduate Initial ITE courses attract funding in the same way as other undergraduate degree programmes.
This means full-time students will be able to apply for student finance for fees and living costs in the same way as undergraduates on any other higher-education course.
In addition, the Welsh Government offers incentives for top graduates to train to teach in designated subjects, particularly sciences, modern languages, Welsh, and ICT.
Eligible students who are ordinarily resident in Wales and started full-time postgraduate ITE courses in the current academic year could also get a Fee Grant of up to £4,954.
Grants are also available, depending on the subject studied, for eligible ITE students undertaking full-time, pre-service PGCE PCET/FE courses.
Student teachers starting postgraduate secondary ITE courses and training through the medium of Welsh may be able to get the Welsh Medium Improvement Scheme grant. This is aimed at student teachers who need extra support to raise confidence in their ability to teach effectively in Welsh.
Student teachers on some employment-based teacher education courses will be paid a salary by their school. This will be at least equal to the minimum point on the unqualified teacher pay scale, but their school may choose to pay more.
Information on employment-based routes in Wales can be found under the ‘Employment-based routes’ section of the Teacher Education and Training in Wales website at http://bit.ly/1fFu5Ap
Students can also attend School-centred Initial Teacher Training courses in England if they have been designated to receive funding by the Welsh Government.
Education attainment gap widens
THESE days a huge amount depends on how well a young person does at school in year 11.
Whether they can go on to study A levels or even do an apprenticeship often depends on getting the golden ticket of 5 A*-C GCSEs. Yet the latest 2016/17 GCSE Examination results show that a huge proportion of our young people are not getting to this level, with those who are eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) doing much worse.
The cohort sitting their GCSE exams last year were the first to take the new versions of GCSE Maths and English. The overall proportions of year 11’s achieving 5 A*-C GCSEs including maths and English/Welsh first language have dropped from 60.3% in 2015/16 to 54.6% in 2016/17. There is also a dramatic drop in students achieving any 5 GCSEs A*-C, from 84% to 67%.
Free School Meals
Many more young people who are eligible for FSM are leaving school without the qualifications they need. The proportion of year 11’s that were eligible for FSM who achieved 5 A*-C GCSEs including maths and English/Welsh language dropped by 7 percentage points since 2015/16, and more worryingly have dropped by 30.3 percentage points for any 5 A*-C GCSEs, compared to 5.8 and 15.4 percentage points for those who were not eligible.
The attainment gap between students eligible for FSM and those not eligible for FSM is nothing new in Wales. There have been numerous statements and educational strategies centred around closing this gap and increasing the achievements of students eligible for FSM. However, as the data shows – the gap between those eligible for FSM and those who are not has increased.
Last year the gap between the two was 32.4 percentage points for 5 A*-C GCSEs including maths and English/Welsh language, compared to 31.2 in 2015/16, and 32.3 percentage points for any 5 A*-C GCSEs, compared to 17.4 the year before.
Reasons for the changes
Maybe students had not adjusted well to the changes to GCSE exams last year; early entry into exams might also have played a role. The Welsh Government advises that comparisons to previous years should not be made due to several changes to performance measures data. However, do these changes explain why the drop in achievement between last year and the year before is larger for those eligible for FSM and why the attainment gap is still not shrinking?
Effect it could have on young people
Many opportunities for young people are reliant on them achieving 5 A*-C GCSEs. Taking A-levels and most further education courses and even some apprenticeships require young people to have those crucial GCSEs. So, what about young people who leave school without those qualifications, which this year has increased?
We are working on a project looking at this, asking that exact question. We know that opportunities are limited and that the lack of them can seriously impact a young person’s life. The lack of good opportunities can increase their chances of earning low wages and in turn, increasing their chances of living in poverty.
The Bevan Foundation’s project is currently ongoing with findings due out early next Spring. To find out more on the better opportunities for young people project, please go to http://bit.ly/2CerDNH
Awards evening celebrates success
JUST before Christmas, the educational achievements of Coleg Sir Gâr’s A-level and access students were celebrated with an awards evening.
The Principal’s Award for Academic Excellence was this year awarded to Stephen Hughes who is studying geography at Churchill College, Cambridge.
Stephen studied four A-levels and was part of ACE, the college’s more able and talented programme.
Whilst at college, Stephen also won one of three environmental awards by the Morgan Parry Foundation.
Vanessa Cashmore, head of A-levels said: “Stephen is an exceptional student with high aspirations and a committed approach to his studies.
“We are all incredibly proud of his achievements and never doubted his ability to succeed. It has been a privilege to support Stephen throughout his academic journey at Coleg Sir Gâr and we wish him all the best for his future.”
25 year-old Freya Hutton-Lightfoot won the Principal’s Award for Lifelong Learning.
Specialising in healthcare, Freya is studying an access to higher education course, which is a university entry qualification and preparation programme for university study.
Freya achieved straight distinction grades and achieved 45 full-mark distinction credits as well as achieving 100 per cent in two chemistry exams.
Bethan Norman, lecturer in access at Coleg Sir Gâr said: “Freya was a pleasure to have in class, she was always engaged and completed all tasks to a high standard with enthusiasm.
“I was immediately impressed by the high academic level that Freya came into the course with, particularly due to fact that she was home schooled and did not have any GCSEs.
“This demonstrates just how much work she has put in for her to develop into the outstanding academic that she is today and I am sure that she will be successful at university where she is currently studying adult nursing.”
Vanessa Cashmore, head of A-levels and Access at Coleg Sir Gâr, said: “Our annual awards evening is a lovely end to the year where we recognise students for their outstanding effort, academic excellence and lifelong learning.”
Popular This Week
News17 hours ago
Four arrested as man remains in ‘critical condition’
News5 days ago
Bodlondeb closes doors for last time
News2 days ago
Over 25 million views for takeaway’s viral video
News17 hours ago
£750,000 funding for highway improvements
News1 week ago
Taxi driver jailed for seven years over child sexual assault
News2 weeks ago
Police concerned for missing 17-year-old
News7 days ago
Father and son protest RNLI ‘taking vital equipment away’
Sport2 weeks ago
Jones’ stunner earns win for Street