Education ministers from Wales and Northern Ireland have united in rebuking education secretary, Michael Gove, for failing to consult properly on changes to the examination system.
Whilst Scotland has its own exam board, announcements made by Gove – such as proposals to scrap GCSEs in favour of O-Levels – would have a direct impact on Wales and Northern Ireland.
Having previously dubbed the O-Levels plan as “bonkers”, Welsh education minister, Leighton Andrews, has joined forces with his Northern Ireland counterpart, John O’Dowd, in writing to Gove, calling for a meeting to consider the “importance of continuous communication”.
The letter states:
“The importance of prior notice on imminent qualifications policy announcements in England is of critical concern to us and should be to all three administrations.
“Whilst we understand your wish to ensure that there are high quality qualifications in England, your announcements on proposed changes to what are jointly owned qualifications highlight the interdependencies between our respective jurisdictions and the importance of continuous communication.
“Earlier involvement with us, or our officials, in the policy development process would reduce the risk of misunderstanding. It would also reduce the potential for mixed messages and confusion for learners, teachers and other stakeholders.”
“We believe it would serve our learners and other stakeholders far better if we were to be aware of and sufficiently prepared for announcements which may impact on learners across the three administrations.
“We would, therefore, welcome the opportunity to meet you to discuss how we can put in place the necessary protocols to ensure that we are all aware of each other’s intentions and that there is appropriate liaison prior to any future announcements.”
Backing the calls, Dr Philip Dixon, director of education union ATL Cymru, called on the Department for Education in London to better respect and understand the nature of devolution.
Dixon is today quoted in the Western Mail as saying:
“Under the present set up changes to qualifications affect Wales and Northern Ireland as well as England. Any announcements need to take account of that basic fact.
“The A-level and GCSE brand do not belong to the Westminster government any more than they do to the Welsh or Northern Irish Governments. Common courtesy demands that this fact is acknowledged.
“This letter is very welcome as it reminds Mr Gove that he is not lord of all he surveys and will hopefully put a stop to his cavalier behaviour. I doubt he will rethink some of his bizarre utterances but at least he can learn some manners.”
Responding, a spokesperson for the Department for Education said:
“It’s down to the Welsh and Northern Irish administrations to decide how to run their education systems – and down to us to do what is best for English students.
“All the evidence – from parents, the best schools and our leading universities – is that we need reform of GCSEs and A levels so that they are rigorous and match the best in the world.
“We must raise standards and make our qualifications world-class.”