WJEC honours whizz kids

Wales's whizz kids joined by refugee from Afghanistan in WJEC honours

Darren Evans

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Obaidullah Kousha was born in Afghanistan and grew up in refugee camps in Pakistan. He moved to Swansea in 2004, and realised "his dream" of studying medicine at St John's College, Oxford, after gaining straight As in his A-levels last summer.

The former Gorseinon College student was just one of the 45 high-achieving WJEC candidates honoured at the exam board's pre-Christmas 60th birthday celebrations in Cardiff Bay.

WJEC has candidates in countries as far-flung as Dubai and across the Caribbean, as well as in England, but many high achievers at St David's Hotel were home-grown from Welsh schools.

The UWIC-sponsored student of the year award went to Elliot Crowley, formerly of Bassaleg School, Newport, who had the highest marks worldwide in chemistry, physics and maths.

Elliot said his studies gave him a good grounding. He found the exams "appropriately challenging". He is now studying engineering science at Jesus College, Oxford, and wants to pursue a career in engineering management.

There were awards for the country's most talented young musicians in the National Youth Orchestra of Wales, which is managed by WJEC.

When the Welsh Joint Education Committee - as it was previously known - was established in 1948, around 10,500 candidates from schools in Wales sat its exams. This year its GCSE and A-level papers were taken by more than 330,000 candidates.

Education minister Jane Hutt told an audience of teachers and pupils that "year on year officials praise the work of WJEC". She also took the chance to praise advances in Welsh educational achievement. In 1968, 44 per cent of pupils left school with no qualifications, but today the percentage is 1.5.

Another of the students recognised at the event was Sophie Bowler, who clinched the TES Cymru communication award. The former Haberdashers' Monmouth School for Girls student gained A grades at A-level French and Spanish, and now studies both languages at Cambridge.

Chief executive Gareth Pierce said it was a "rare privilege" to meet students who had benefited from the work of WJEC. He and his officials were given extra cause to celebrate when Ms Hutt unexpectedly announced an extra two years of official funding for the exam board's centre support team, giving valuable advice to school exams officers.

The event was hosted by Huw Stephens, at 18, the youngest DJ to present live shows on BBC Radio 1.

Exams go global

Who would have thought 60 years ago that WJEC papers would be sat by students across the globe, and in countries as far-flung as Hong Kong, Dubai and the Caribbean?

The exam board has around 20 overseas centres, but Ceri Thomas, its communications officer, says it doesn't actively promote itself outside the UK.

"What tends to happen is that when a teacher who has used WJEC in Britain, and has been pleased with the specification, moves to an overseas school they talk us up," she said.

Dubai College is one of four schools and colleges in the Persian Gulf that uses WJEC syllabuses for design and technology. This year, Emilene Parry, one of its students, picked up the WJEC Damp;T subject award for excellence. She did not attend the Cardiff Bay event.

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Darren Evans

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