It is hard to know which is the more disturbing – a politician ordering an exam board to raise candidates' GCSE grades, or the board meekly saying "Yes sir, of course, sir. Very happy to oblige." The latter, probably. Both have happened in Wales over the last week, and so far there have been no resignations.
1020 students who took the WJEC's English GCSE exam last summer in school exam centres in Wales have had their D grades converted to C; and 598 others have seen their C grade changed to a B. According to the BBC, a total of 2386 grades were changed (all upwards, of course), so maybe there were even B grades shifted to A. Predictably, most teacher unions have applauded. Meanwhile around 84,000 students who took the same exam in school exam centres in England will not have their grades uplifted, and that will include some students who live in Wales. How a supposedly reputable exam board has gone along with this beggars belief. Rationality suggests that there will be a flood of English schools withdrawing from the Board's jurisdiction. Let's hope so.
All this becomes easier to understand (if not condone) when you realise that the exam regulator in Wales is the Welsh government, and that WJEC is owned by the 22 (sic) Welsh local authorities. All very cosy, cosy.
Not all teacher unions have been pleased. The Welsh teacher union (UCAC) said it was "regrettable" the qualifications system had become a political football. Oddly, though, the BBC reported (at around 0800 today) much stronger condemnation from UCAC policy officer Rebecca Williams (something about the need to re-examine exam regulation in Wales, but I did not take notes), but by 0900 this had been withdrawn from the BBC site. And when you look to the UCAC site for a comment – nothing at all. Looks as if the union has withdrawn inside the tent – pulled inside, more like.
No one gains by this, though maybe those deluded few who think that grade inflation equals a raising of standards will cheer. And those who think that educational standards can be raised by changing exam systems (as Nick Clegg seems to) will secretly be pleased. Sadly, none of it will help Welsh students do better in international tests, or fare better in the World.