Hard Welsh exam turns pupils off

15th April 2005 at 01:00
Second-language GCSE students 'doomed to failure'. Nicola Porter reports

The Welsh GCSE has become so hard it is now a real "turn-off" for pupils taking it as a second language, a former president of the Welsh-medium teachers' union UCAC claimed this week.

Julia Burns, who is also head of the Welsh department at St Illtyd's Roman Catholic high school in Cardiff, said she is dreading marking her students'

mock exam papers because they were "doomed to failure".

And she said Welsh needed to become a core subject. with easier exams, to make it an attractive option for teenage pupils.

UCAC plans to make second-language Welsh one of its main campaigns over the coming year. At its annual conference today and tomorrow, members will discuss a motion about the suitability of courses currently on offer in secondary schools.

It says these courses "put an unacceptable level of stress on teachers", and calls on ACCAC, the Welsh qualifications, curriculum and assessment authority, to review second-language teaching in secondary schools.

At present Welsh is compulsory for secondary pupils up to the age of 16.

But the standards achieved by those studying the subject as a second language, though improving, are far below those of other national curriculum subjects.

Derec Stockley, director of examinations at the Welsh Joint Education Committee, said the new-look Welsh GCSE syllabus for second-language students had changed to include more continuous assessment, oral, aural and reading tests.

He said: "Some teachers may see it as more difficult, but the final exam now reflects the fact that pupils start learning Welsh as young as five, which is not the case with other modern languages.

"I acknowledge there are problems with manageability, and the amount of time Welsh teachers will have to spend taking tests, as part of the new syllabus. This is the first year for pupils sitting the exam and it is still open to debate."

Linda Badham, assistant chief executive of ACCAC, acknowledged that having three rather than two oral tests may have added to teacher workload. But she said the changes to how marks were split across the GCSE had been made for the benefit of pupils, and that grade descriptions remain unchanged.

"There has been no change to the overall standard," she said.

But Ms Burns said: "I studied Welsh as a second language after I was 30 and enjoyed it. But Welsh, which was always an unpopular subject, is fast becoming hated.

"The GCSE exam has just been made harder again and I know many of my pupils have not got a chance of passing it. I have complained to ACCAC, but it just tells me it is trying to raise standards.

"What it doesn't seem to understand is that if pupils fail at the first hurdle they will not take it at A-level - and there will be fewer Welsh speakers in Wales."

The motion calling on ACCAC to overhaul secondary courses is one of three on the language which are due to be discussed at today's UCAC conference in Aberystwyth.

Members also want a review of funding for peripatetic Welsh teachers, warning that variations in their conditions of employment leave their jobs - and provision of Welsh-language teaching - "in a very fragile position".

Moelwen Gwyndaf, UCAC's general secretary, said: "Such is the importance of second-language Welsh, UCAC has decided it will be one of the union's main campaigns over the coming year.

"The role of peripatetic teachers to promote the Welsh language is priceless, and consistent and sufficient finance must be provided to sustain this vital service."

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