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'Ignorant' Gove earns lashing from Andrews in hearing with MPs; REGRADES JUSTIFIED TO EDUCATION COMMITTEE.

Byline: GARETH EVANS Education Correspondent gareth.evans@walesonline.co.uk

EDUCATION Minister Leighton Andrews yesterday rebuffed suggestions he ordered a regrade of GCSE English language papers because Welsh pupils were "falling behind" those across the border.

Mr Andrews stood by his decision to intervene and ensure improved grades were awarded to more than 2,000 pupils in Wales after last summer's grading fiasco. And he attacked UK Education Secretary Michael Gove for his comments about the regrade.

He told the Commons Education Select Committee a "sober and serious" report put forward by Welsh officials in September had made clear outcomes for students in Wales were "unsafe".

He said a change in methodology used to award grades led to candidates from Wales being awarded lower marks than would normally be expected and action was taken to "deal with that unfairness".

Overall, 2,386 Welsh pupils were given improved GCSE English language scores by Cardiff-based exam board WJEC - with 1,202 students seeing their scores rise from a D to a C. Mr Andrews, who ordered the direction, said Ofqual's insistence on using Key Stage 2 (KS2) data - specific to pupils in England - as the defining factor to set grade boundaries, had acted as a "deflator" and impacted directly on Welsh scores. "We took the decision that we did in terms of regrading explicitly on the basis of the regulatory report," he said.

"There are clearly not comparable outcomes in Wales compared to the previous year. We analysed the data on the cohort for 2012 against the data... for 2011 and there is no reason to make a judgement that cohort should have performed worse than the previous cohort."

When asked whether his intervention was politicallymotivated, Mr Andrews, who is head of exam regulation in Wales, said the issue was "not a partisan matter" and the action taken had been endorsed by three of the parties in the Assembly.

"I think everybody must accept that 2012 was unhappy all round," he said.

"We took action that we felt was appropriate... people I think will ask what is the difference between a Welsh C and an English C, but then in England they will ask what is the difference between a January C and a June C."

In the current exams system, regulators in Wales, England and Northern Ireland are responsible for maintaining standards across all three nations.

But England's regulator Ofqual and Michael Gove attracted criticism from teachers for refusing to follow the Welsh Government's lead.

The Tory MP has attacked the Welsh Government's direction to regrade tainted papers as "irresponsible" and described the move as a "regrettable political intervention in what should be a process free from political meddling".

In a stinging riposte, Mr Andrews yesterday said moves by Mr Gove to "denigrate" action taken by the Welsh Government were "inconsistent, inflammatory and uncharacteristically ignorant".

He said he regretted a lack of dialogue with Mr Gove - despite his best efforts to arrange a meeting - and backed calls made by the committee for a "ministerial conference" on GCSEs and A-levels.

Mr Andrews said the qualifications are "jointly owned" by the Welsh Government, Ofqual and Northern Ireland's exams regulator CCEA - meaning Mr Gove has no over-riding authority over their current structure.

"It's rather strange for us, therefore, to read announcements about GCSEs and A-levels by someone who doesn't actually own the qualification," said Mr Andrews. "He [Mr Gove] is certainly not dictating to us. We have the policy autonomy to follow our own course of action and we are doing that."

Mr Andrews last month announced changes to the way GCSE English language will be delivered in Wales, with Welsh pupils sitting a separate paper to that being sat elsewhere in the UK. But critics fear the Wales-specific qualification could be considered inferior to its English equivalent.

Mr Andrews said: "I think what we are seeking to do is to ensure that in future, learners in Wales are not subject to a KS2 indicator that has clearly failed to provide comparable outcomes in 2012 for learners in Wales."

When asked about changes to the way GCSEs in English language are awarded in Wales, he said it was "entirely possible" that changes made this side of the border could result in "tougher standards" for Welsh students.

Earlier, Gareth Pierce, chief executive of WJEC, told members both the Welsh and Westminster Governments were "moving in the right direction" after last summer's exams fall-out. But he said retaining a "single set of standards" across England and Wales would be crucial while GCSEs and A-levels remain "shared brands".

CAPTION(S):

Leighton Andrews before the Commons Education Select Committee yesterday
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 13, 2013
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