Dr Wendy Dossett
After 20 years as Subject Officer for Religious Studies at WJEC, Tudor Thomas is hanging up the phone.
A quiet sigh of relief will be breathed by the families of his enormous team of principal and assistant examiners. The phone requests for ‘just another batch of papers’, or ‘would you have a look at this and tell me what you think’ will dry up. Obviously they’ll eventually realise that the work will still need to be done even if Tudor isn’t at the helm, but shouts of ‘it’s Tudor on the phone!’ will no longer echo ominously in the homes of those committed to GCSE and A level Religious Studies in Wales and other parts of the British Isles.
I’ve worked with Tudor for 19 of his 20 years at the WJEC, and I’ll miss his phone-calls. They were the kind of phone-calls in which you had to come to terms with the reality that whatever you were doing would have to wait, you might as well kick your shoes off, tip your chair back, stick your feet up on the desk, and enjoy. Tudor is a people-person, and he brought this characteristic to everything he did at WJEC. He knew everybody, and he knew something about everybody. Whilst I’m convinced that WJEC courses are popular in England as well as Wales primarily because of their quality and rigour, I’m also convinced that Tudor’s personable style has contributed enormously to that popularity. Teachers were often astonished that the Subject Officer not only actually had the inclination to talk with them personally, but that he made the time to do so. He did so, not just because he’s an extrovert, but because he was a teacher himself (at King Henry VIIIth in Abergavenny and also in Daventry). He had an empathetic grasp of the challenges faced by teachers beset by constant systemic change. He also had a grasp of the difficulties faced by pupils, and the phrase ‘give the benefit of the doubt to the candidate’ was a mantra. So often in paper-setting discussions he would advocate on behalf of candidates likely to score at the lower end, for papers to be as accessible as possible. Public Examination Boards are rightly seen as the guardians of the highest standards of achievement in secondary education, but, with a view of education as emancipatory in the tradition of Paulo Freire, Tudor was of the opinion that the achievement of the most able must not come at the expense of those who are less academic. This natural commitment to those who struggle was doubtless what put him in charge of Entry Level at WJEC and made him Principal Manager for Access and Special Consideration, and it garnered him the grateful friendship of those of us who worked with him who’ve also hit the inevitable personal issues along the way.
On Tudor’s watch the profile of Religious Studies at GCSE and A level rose considerably. He oversaw the seismic changes of the development of the GCSE Short Course and the advent of Curriculum 2000. In 1995 when Tudor joined the Board, there were about 5,000 candidates for GCSE, and about 500 for A level. This year 102,367 sat the GCSE Short Course, and 6,273 sat the full A level. More than 11,000 candidates took the AS. Not only did numbers rise but respect for the subject increased exponentially, and a great deal was achieved in improving resources for Welsh-medium candidates. The WJEC Short Course was an enormous success story in its own right, but it also had a positive knock-on to A level. The success of all of these courses is of course also due to the examining team responsible for the specifications, and Tudor put together the best people he could find to do that work. Some of the UK’s most well-known educationalists, teachers and academics have contributed their expertise, and Tudor provided both the glue and the lubrication to make the machine function. Driving this development was Tudor’s own commitment to the subject of Religious Studies. In case anyone hadn’t noticed, Tudor is a Welshman. Give him more than a couple of minutes, and he’ll start waxing lyrical about Welsh Non-conformity, the role of chapel (and church) in Welsh communities, in education, and the uplift of the poor. Those are his roots, yet he’s also committed to values I associate with the global horizons of our subject; critical thinking, curiosity, the development of tolerance and empathy, challenging stereotypes, speaking truth to power. We are lucky to have had him advocating for our subject for the last 20 years. Like hundreds of teachers in Wales and beyond, I’ll miss the familiar Tudor Thomas CPD ‘patter’ – but those days are gone anyway. The new environment, for all its advantages (I’m hopeful there are some!), is not so conducive to Tudor’s way of working, always in face to face partnership with teachers, seeing the Board as the servant of the candidates and of education. New and exciting ways of living that out that spirit will be, and already are being, developed by Tudor’s able successors, Andrew Pearce (A level) and Lynda Maddock (GCSE), but in so many ways it’s the end of an era.
I know candidates, teachers, examiners, teacher-trainers, readers of RE News and anyone who cares about RE/RS will join me in thanking Tudor for all that he’s done for our subject in Wales and beyond, and in wishing him (and Janet, who is also retiring) a very happy and well-deserved retirement.