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Panic grips exam training

Teachers rush to sign up for WJEC's courses before A-level criteria changes next year

PANIC MAY have sparked a huge increase in demand for training courses by teachers in Wales covering new A-level exams criteria, it was claimed this week.

Bookings for Inset courses offered by Welsh exam board the WJEC shot up by 500 per cent between May and July this year, compared with last year, after it published new draft specifications for its AAS-level courses.

A press release issued by the WJEC following the announcement said its professional development department had received its largest ever volume of bookings for autumn events, with 802 website applications from teachers in June 2007. This compares with just 121 applications for courses in the same period last year.

The NASUWT teaching union fears an element of panic may have prompted the response among teachers, who need to be trained to teach the new specifications by September 2008.

Welsh-language union UCAC said the 500 per cent increase was "an indicator in itself" of teachers' concerns.

Geraint Davies, Welsh secretary of the NASUWT, said: "The government was late in making a final decision and it's having a knock-on effect on the teaching profession.

"There has been a marked increase in response to the courses but there is almost a panic among teachers because they need to be properly trained."

The WJEC is offering free training to introduce the new specifications and says it has now increased capacity to meet demand. But it put a lot of the increase down to its record in supporting teachers.

A spokeswoman for the exam board said: "We believe teachers recognise the clear structure of WJEC specifications and appreciate the accessibility of subject officers during term time.

"This may explain why there has been a huge interest in our new specifications this summer."

These are in response to government curriculum changes affecting all awarding bodies in England and Wales. The revisions are designed to ensure that A-levels are more challenging and that the highest levels of achievement are recognised. Their design includes the introduction of the new A* grade, fewer units of study, fewer structured questions, and more open ended questions which require extended essay responses.

But there has been widespread criticism about the tight timescale. Just last Friday, the England-based Qualifications and Curriculum Authority announced the accreditation of new A-levels, giving centres just 13 months to select awarding bodies and plan how to teach the new specifications.

The QCA said it was confident that this would give centres enough time to prepare for the changes, but they will "work closely with awarding bodies and teachers to ensure a smooth transition".

Gruff Hughes, of UCAC, said headteachers had already met to express concerns.

"We have voiced our worries that the information was not published in time. Funding is also a problem when you have to find cover for teachers to attend the courses in such a tight timetable," he said.

Heledd Hayes, of the NUT Cymru, said the timetable in preparing for the specifications had been "unfortunate" but she believed teachers were getting good support from the WJEC.

She said: "It's not the exam board's fault but we regret that the short timescale has not given teachers much time to prepare."

Gareth Pierce, the WJEC's chief executive, said: "The board recognises the need to support teachers as they prepare to teach the revised GCE specifications which meet the government's new requirements. It is for this reason that we have arranged 115 free training seminars for teachers across England and Wales covering our 30 GCE subjects.

"These seminars, led by experienced subject specialists, will take teachers through the new specifications and provide helpful written guidance on all the new subjects. They will give teachers the information they need to deliver the new courses in the classroom with confidence."

* Details of professional development training are available from the WJEC website,

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