WELSH parents are likely to have “no idea” children cannot achieve the same highest GCSE grade as their English counterparts, a councillor has claimed. 

Conservative Rachel Buckler was speaking as councillors considered the performance of 15 and 16-year-olds taking GCSE exams in Monmouthshire in summer 2023. 

She said: “I would be interested to know why Wales has diverged so much from England. I bet 99 per cent of parents have no idea pupils can’t achieve the same highest grade they can in England, why is that?” 

The county council scrutiny committee had earlier been told comparisons with results from England are becoming increasingly difficult due to differences in exams between it and Wales. 

That is also complicated by differences in how grades were awarded during the Covid period when exams were either replaced by teacher assessed grades or a mixture of both. 

Changes introduced by the Conservative government in England have included replacing lettered grades, such as A/B/C, with grades from one to the highest, grade nine. 

I would be interested to know why Wales has diverged so much from England. I bet 99 per cent of parents have no idea pupils can’t achieve the same highest grade they can in England, why is that?

Cllr Rachel Buckler

Will McLean, the chief officer for children and young people, said that made comparisons with England difficult and gave the example that while an A* remains the highest available grade in Wales it is equivalent to a grade eight in England. 

“Welsh pupils can’t access the grade nine due to the way grade boundaries work,” said Mr McLean, who added there also difference in the bottom of the grading structure between the two systems. 

He said divergence is due to be education being devolved and added: “If you were to ask certain members of the Welsh policy making they might say the curriculum has been too narrow and focused on grades in England.” 

According to Ofqual, the qualifications regulator in England, grades from seven and above are “comparable to the bottom of the old grade A”. 

Cllr Buckler, who represents Devauden, and other committee members criticised the exam performance report, produced by Edward Pryce of the Gwent Education Achievement Service that supports the area’s five councils and their schools, of being too complex and technical. 

Committee chairman, Alistair Neill, said it would be difficult for parents, pupils and teachers to understand and hard for them to compare results other than against the “families of similar schools” across Wales the four Monmouthshire comprehensives have been grouped with by Welsh Government statisticians. 

The families are based on factors such as the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals and who live in the most deprived areas. Monmouthshire secondaries are in the second, third and fifth least disadvantaged groupings. 

Abergavenny’s King Henry School is in the fifth least disadvantaged group, with Chepstow and Monmouth comprehensives in the second least disadvantaged.   

While pupils still receive GCSE grades marked from U (which is unclassified) to A*, schools are judged on six points awarded for every GCSE grade achieved in a pupil’s nine best subjects. 

Known as the Capped Nine, grades must include those in English, mathematics and science, and a B grade is worth six more points than a C for example. The intention is schools are measured on a wider basis than simply how many pupils achieved at least a grade C or the number of A and A* grades. 

On that basis Chepstow Comprehensive scored 412.3 points, which is a difference of 28.8 points more than the 383.4 average across its family of schools. 

The committee was told that meant Chepstow school pupils on average perform approximately half a grade better in every subject compared with their peers in the family. 

Monmouth Comprehensive was 4.1 points below the average of the same family as Chepstow, King Henry was 5.1 points above its family average and Caldicot 1.1 points below the average. 

Mr Pryce said Chepstow scored well as pupils in the lower third of achievement also scored grades above their expected marks.

All Monmouthshire schools, other than Caldicot, scored above the family average for literacy, numeracy and science and the percentage of grades at the top A and A*. However Caldicot’s 22.3 per cent of passes at the top grades matched the Welsh average.

All schools, other than Monmouth Comprehensive, saw all pupils leave with at least one qualification. At Monmouth 1.2 per cent of pupils left empty handed which was three times its family average. 

The council intends closing the attainment gap between pupils entitled to free school meals and those who aren’t who across Monmouthshire achieved GCSE grades equal, on average, to 391.7 on the Capped Nine against 304.7 for the poorest pupils. 

Both figures were above the Welsh average of 296.7 for those entitled to free school meals and 383.8 for those who aren’t.