A private maths tutor in Carmarthenshire claims that children in Wales are being set up to fail in maths GCSE examinations and has expressed his concerns regarding the possible impact on the health and well being of children as a result. He has also claimed that the WJEC is in receipt of hundreds of thousands of pounds of money for pointless examinations, which he believes is wasted when it could be put into providing additional support for the most deprived pupils in Wales.
During a two hour interview the tutor who wished to remain anonymous began by telling us about his own first hand experience with pupils in Carmarthenshire.
He said: “In September 2015 the new GCSE course started. There are now two examinations. One is GCSE Mathematics and the other is Numeracy and GCSE Mathematics. It is a a two year linear course. You would expect someone starting September 2015 to be sitting the papers this coming May – June. What became apparent last summer was that parents were asking for a maths tutor. They were calling up saying they needed a tutor for the summer holidays. They said their children were sitting the GCSE Maths exam early. In my experience pupils sitting exams early are as a result of students being identified as having exceptional ability.”
The Tutor went on to explain that the high proportion of calls was significant. He said: “These were entire classes and in some schools the entire year. Some parents had not realised until the children went back in September that their children were going to be sitting GCSE Maths. Within two months. I was inundated with calls asking for help. Schools are trying to cram two years worth of academic work into a year and a half. I then got calls to say that teachers had been telling parents that they needed a tutor because they were unable to teach the full course work in time. What you have now is a clear case of putting those who can afford a tutor at an advantage to those who cannot. It is unfair, full stop. If you look at what Estyn say is best practice this should not be happening.”
Speaking about the fall out following that year’s cohort’s results the tutor said: “On the day of the results my phone was going non stop. Parents were disappointed with the results of the GCSE. These were new parents. I realised there was a major issue. I went out to see the first parents and the child was in tears. The parents wanted to punish the child. I told the parents that chunks of the course had not been taught and that it was not the child’s fault. I could clearly see that there were missing elements. I am not the only person to pick up on this. In my view the course has not been completed.”Qualifications Wales have also picked up on this in their report Results: GCSE Mathematics – Numeracy and Mathematics (Jan 2017). In the report they state:
All assessment must take place at the end of the course. Most learners sitting exams this November (2016) will have started their studies in September 2015, which means the assessments are being taken within two months of the start of Year 11. It is therefore reasonable to expect that many learners have not achieved the best grades of which they were capable.
The report also suggests that learners had not attempted certain questions. The report states:
It is important that early entry opportunities are appropriately used for learners. There was some evidence in the data observed at the awards that learners did not attempt certain questions, which suggests that they had not yet fully covered the course at the time of the examination.
As a result Qualifications Wales has launched a one year research programme to gain a deeper understanding of early and multiple entry practices in GCSE examinations.
When asked the tutor if he could pinpoint the questions, which had not been attempted. He said: “If they have skipped any it is bad. If we look at Estyn’s ‘Good Practice in Mathematics Key Stage 4’ Recommendation 4 is ‘Departments should minimise early entry for GCSE mathematics and ensure that pupils follow courses of study that allow them to achieve at the highest grades.’ In my view this is the direct opposite of what we are seeing in Welsh schools.”
Speaking about the number of pupils he was dealing with he said: “I am dealing with at least three schools. I am convinced that if the pupils I have had had been taught properly over the two years they would have had A*. They have been entered 6 months early where the best they can get is a B. They sat down and they turned over the exam paper and said there were bits that they had not been taught. Not only those pupils who may or may not have achieved A* suffered but those who got low grades have suffered as a result of this rush to get children to sit a GCSE.”
The tutor criticised the the decision to spend one year researching, what he says is blatantly obvious. He said: “What is bothering me is that say they are now going to investigate. They are going to take a year and that is not going to help those children this year. They must have found a pattern where children had not attempted certain questions. The next sittings will be May and June this year.”
Speaking about plans he claims to have seen seen to reduce the two year course of study to one year the tutor said: “How on Earth can a school teach a two year linear course in a year. I have seen a time table drawn up for a school. The proposals now are to provide nine two hour additional teaching sessions at the end of the school day to cram the coursework into an even shorter period of time. Again, it is those who will push their children and can afford to give the time who will benefit. Completing two hours additional maths at the end of a school day is not the best way to get results.”
In total there were 51,439 entries for the two new qualifications in 2015.
28,753 for GCSE Mathematics – Numeracy (around 85% of the national cohort).
22,686 for GCSE Mathematics (around 65% of the national cohort).
In GCSE Mathematics – Numeracy
Proportion achieving A* 5.6%
Proportion achieving A8 and A 12.3%
Proportion achieving A* to C 46.1%
Proportion achieving A* to G 88.5%
In GCSE Mathematics
Proportion achieving A* is 5.8%
Proportion achieving A* and A 9.9%
Proportion achieving A* to C 46.1%
Proportion achieving A* to G 91.2%
source: Qualifications Wales, Jan 2017
In effect over 50% of those siting the examinations in both GCSE’s have achieved D or less
The tutor makes the point that these figures are shocking and the volume of children who now see themselves as failures is enormous. He claims that it could be avoided if the whole two year course had been taught properly and if the pupils were entered at the correct time. Only a small percentage achieved A* or A and these would have been the top achievers anyway. There would have been more. Again, only if the full two year course had been followed as recommended by Estyn themselves.
When asked about the effect of the pressure this might put on the children he tutors he said: “The worse case scenario is that I will not be speaking to the press, an AM or MP but a coroner giving evidence. I have contacted Adam Price and I was told they were looking into it. The stress being placed on these pupils is ridiculous. I am not against children being entered early if they have been identified as capable. I would like that to form part of a statement and record for Estyn to keep. This is driving a bigger wedge between rich and poor. Those who can afford a tutor are now at an even greater advantage.”
It appears that the Strategic Director of Estyn Claire Morgan is in agreement in her answer to a question from Welsh Conservative Darren Millar at the Young People and Education Committee meeting on Thursday (Feb 16) when he asked;
In terms of the resources that are allocated to children, obviously with the pupil premium, which has been increased recently, focused very much on children from deprived backgrounds, do you think that other children may have been losing out as a result of less of a focus of resources on those children that perhaps could really be unleashed to their full potential if there was a little bit of resource allocated to them.
Ms Morgan replied:
I think we would agree that more needs to be done to ensure that more able pupils, including the more able from disadvantaged backgrounds, are actually stretched to reach their full potential. There’s been too much focus on that C/D border line that Meilyr mentioned earlier, and some gaming, early entry, that hasn’t helped then to stretch the more able. I think this has stifled the progress of more able learners. So there’s more work that needs to be done.
At the end of our interview the tutor raised concerns about the financial benefits for the WEJC and the failings of the Welsh education system in general. He said: “If you have a child who is good enough to get an A* who has been pushed to sit early and gets a B. What happens two years down the line when they apply for a university place where they have to have an A? We are falling behind in Pisa and this is completely contradictory and detrimental to the what Welsh Education needs to compete. The WEJC has received hundreds of thousands of pounds for this early sitting, where children have been set up to fail. If that were not bad enough, they get more money for the resits. If half of that money were put into teaching the full course properly it would speak for itself. The parents I deal with are aware and have contacted the schools. I am told they have said that their child will boycott the exam.”
Llanelli Online contacted Nia Griffith MP for her comments on the claims. She said:
“If I have understood the problem correctly, call me old-fashioned but it could be resolved by the exam board only offering the exam at the end of two years, and schools using their own ‘mock’ exams earlier on to measure pupils’ progress. The advantage of school-based mocks is that they can be tailored to test the parts of the course that the pupils have covered.”
We also contacted Lee Waters AM for his comments. He said:
“I am very concerned by the suggestion that some schools may not be properly teaching the maths curriculum and I’ll be writing to the Welsh Cabinet Secretary for Education, Kirsty Williams, to ask her to look into this”
We also asked Carmarthenshire County Council for a response to the claims. Carmarthenshire County Council executive board member for education Cllr Gareth Jones said:
“Schools across Wales currently have the opportunity to enter learners early for the Mathematics/Numeracy GCSE.
“Carmarthenshire schools have different policies with some entering the whole Year 11 cohort whilst others enter specific classes. This enables pupils to have more than one chance at getting the grades they need.
“Schools use the intelligence from these examinations to target specific learners and identify areas of the curriculum where pupils require further support.