Bring back Welsh politics

5th October 2007 at 01:00

Exam board urged to revive Wales-only A-level so students can learn about devolution

PRESSURE ON Wales's only exam board to reintroduce A-level politics intensified this week as it emerged that English exam providers do not make it compulsory to study devolution.

The WJEC dropped politics in 2000, one year before the National Assembly was officially opened, because of low entries.

However, there is now widespread condemnation of the decision because the main English provider, the AQA, places much greater importance on studying Westminster and the White House.

One teacher, from a Welsh-medium school, also claimed this week that a shortage of Welsh-language markers drafted in from over the border means students' exam papers can become "lost in translation". Dr Huw Griffiths, head of sociology and politics at Ysgol Bro Myrddin in Carmarthen says he spends hours on top of his normal working day translating teaching resources into Welsh because they are not available, and photocopying them to pass on to other schools.

He also said his students saw "no point in visiting the Senedd because it did not contribute to their A-level".

"With the current developments in Welsh politics and extra powers for the Assembly under the 2006 Government of Wales Act, I think it is one of the most important subjects that pupils can study." said Dr Griffiths. "I don't think many Welsh schools would be able to offer politics at all if I did not translate resources."

Lord Dafydd Ellis Thomas, presiding officer of the National Assembly, added his support to the campaign this week after hearing that some of Wales's brightest young political minds are not learning more about the new law-making powers.

He said: "I am disappointed there is no opportunity for Welsh sixth-formers to study for a qualification which takes into account the development of Welsh devolution.

"Studying Westminster and the USA is of limited relevance when you consider how politics in Wales is moving closer to the model found in mainland Europe and in Commonwealth countries like Canada and New Zealand.

"The Assembly is committed to raising awareness and voter participation. Reaching young people is a vital part of this work."

A-level students in Wales can only take one option in the syllabus, provided by the AQA, touching on devolution in Scotland and Wales. However, its lack of compulsion means that students gravitate towards the areas that generate more marks in the final exam.

In Scotland, students are actively encouraged to learn more about their political system and devolution in the syllabus, offered by their exam board SQA.

The WJEC agreed with the AQA in 2001 that it would take over the provision of GCE politics through the medium of Welsh.

The AQA hotly disputed Dr Griffiths's claims this week, saying specifications within the syllabus are translated into Welsh and specimen assessment materials are also translated on request. It says it works closely with the WJEC to recruit Welsh-speaking markers, although it was not always possible. The WJEC has introduced new A-levels recently, such as film studies and world development.

A spokeswoman for the WJEC said that "due to recent changes in the political landscape of Wales" it was now considering a new Welsh politics unit as an option for Welsh students within the specification provided by the AQA.

But campaigners say it does not go far enough to address problems of Welsh language resources and exam papers.

"When another person is translating from Welsh to English the meanings can change," said Dr Griffiths. "It is very unfair."

Dr Richard Wyn Jones, director of the Institute of Welsh Politics in Aberystwyth, said bringing back politics should be a real priority for the WJEC.

In support of the campaign, he said: "This is a matter of basic civic education. Students in Wales should be taught about the level of government that is increasingly influential in terms of their lives and future prospects.

"There is also a strong argument to say that all pupils studying politics in the UK should be learning about the different ways in which devolved government is organised in the various home nations."

Leader, page 28

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