GCSEs u-turn: Wales welcomes “foolish and unhelpful” Gove as the “repentant sinner”

Welsh education minister Leighton Andrews has welcomed Michael Gove’s humiliating u-turn on GCSEs, declaring the education secretary a “repentant sinner”.

Welsh education minister Leighton Andrews has welcomed Michael Gove’s u-turn on GCSEs, declaring the education secretary to be the “repentant sinner”.

Just over a week after the Welsh government opted to retain the GCSE following a series of high profile spats between Cardiff Bay and Westminster, Leighton Andrews yesterday told BBC Radio Five Live:

“I don’t think it was helpful for the Secretary of State in England to be critical of GCSEs as he was in the early summer when people were sitting exams. That was in my view foolish and it was unhelpful.

“We have always said that GCSEs are a strong brand and we’re in agreement on that with the government in Northern Ireland of course. We have always believed that the brand was good and it should not be undermined.

“GCSEs remain a very strong and valued qualification and that was the evidence that was taken by our review team.”

Although the decision taken by Michael Gove will have no real practical effect in Wales, it has bolstered Leighton Andrews’s plans. Having announced GCSEs were here to stay, many Welsh parents were worried about whether the exam would remain a gold standard in education as England chartered a different path.

Yesterday’s u-turn not only allays those fears, but has shown the Welsh government to have had a much better sense of what is right for Welsh pupils.

Writing in her blog, the BBC’s Political Editor for Wales, Betsan Powys, explained:

“What’s the wider story here then? Well, it’s that the headlines of a wildly divergent qualifications systems between England and Wales will now read as a less divergent qualifications system between England and Wales. But there will still be important differences.

“The emphasis in Wales will be on skills and the needs of employers as much as academic rigour. In England, it’s expected that whatever he rows back on, Michael Gove will not retreat from his push for a more knowledge-based curriculum. Coursework is still likely to play a bigger part in Welsh qualifications than their English counterparts.

“But don’t underestimate the significance of the far more consistent branding that will now remain, after all. Whether pupils sit exams in Prestatyn, Presteigne or Preston, they will all gain GCSEs and that will make parents, teachers and unions here in Wales a whole lot happier.”

In welcoming the decision taken, the teaching union, ATL Cymru has argued that it emphasises the need for Wales to have a separate system of exams regulation.

Giving his reaction, the union’s director, Dr Philip Dixon, explained:

“While the proposal to scrap GCSEs would not have affected youngsters in Wales we are pleased to see that they are now to be retained in England too.

“The proposed scrapping of GCSEs was ill-thought through, and succeeded in uniting the whole of the education community – universities and schools, exam boards and Ofqal, maintained and independent sector, employers and unions – against the Secretary of State.

“In Wales, by contrast, the Qualifications Review revealed the almost universal agreement that GCSEs should be retained and improved. However, today’s U turn means that three country regulation will now stay in place.

“The need for a regulator in Wales, completely independent of government, is now more imperative than ever if we are to maintain the value and portability of Welsh qualifications.

We’ve more on Gove’s GCSE u-turn here.

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