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16 Oct 2002 : Column 350—continued

John Mann (Bassetlaw): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Heald: In a minute. Knights Templar was promised the papers, yet they never came. It filled in the forms, which stated that it could have the scripts if it wanted them. In a letter to me, Knights Templar said:

7 October—

the head of the sixth form who deals with these matters

However, they have not arrived.

The question remains as to how A-grade students who were awarded U grades in these psychology papers were awarded A grades for other papers in the same subject. That seems extraordinary. The grade boundaries in psychology were not reviewed, although it was said that they would be. Why not? Why is OCR so reluctant to return the psychology coursework and scripts?

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Andrew Wheen, father of Laura and a constituent of mine, says that the way to address the issue is

in other words, the candidates who got As and Us—

in close detail. That need not be a massive exercise; it need only be a sample.

The Minister has a duty to get to the bottom of what went on. It is not right to leave students failing to understand why they ended up with the marks that they did.

John Mann: The hon. Gentleman's thoughtful contribution is in contrast to others from those on the Opposition Benches. We owe a debt of gratitude to Peter Chapman, the head teacher of Knights Templar school, for being the first to raise this issue. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with Peter Chapman, who said during the Radio 4 interview in which he first raised this issue publicly that he regarded the Secretary of State as a woman of great integrity, and as an exemplary Secretary of State? Does he also agree with Peter Chapman's comments at a parents' evening at Knights Templar school—my wife was a governor at the time—in 2001? He said that, before casting their vote at the general election, parents should remember the difference in funding under a Labour Government and a Labour Secretary of State between 1997 and 2001, and funding before 1997—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. The hon. Gentleman's intervention is rather long.

Mr. Heald: I enjoyed the hon. Gentleman's speech, and I was almost tempted to ask him to give way. He and I know Peter Chapman, and he may remember that I was giving the prizes at that prize day. In my speech, I said that life was not a dress rehearsal. If a student has a question mark over an exam result and does not understand why a particular result was obtained, that can be really devastating. Laura Wheen wanted to go to one university but is having to go to another, and that is devastating. For two months Louis Gearing thought that he was not going to Oxford, which was his life's ambition. He is going to Oxford now, but he thought that he would lose the opportunity. It is important that students be given proper respect.

I have never challenged the Secretary of State's integrity. Peter Chapman was grateful for some school buildings put up that very year, thanks to a combination of the Government and the Hertfordshire county council, which is an excellent, and Conservative-controlled, education authority.

Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire): And thanks to a good MP.

Mr. Heald: I lobbied for the building, yet the important question is not about whether any Secretary of State is pleasant or a person of integrity but about whether pupils and students have been affected. For the

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individuals whom I have mentioned, these are desperate stories, and we have not yet got to the bottom of what happened.

Another case that I want to outline is not one of the OCR cases. It involves Edward Browning, another Knights Templar student who was doing Edexcel A-level music. He gave a live performance for his grade 8, which he gained with a distinction, and he gave the same performance for his A-level two weeks later. The guidance for A-level unit 4 states that a pupil who achieves grade 6 would attain a top mark in that unit.

The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) probably also knows Simon Marlowe, the accompanist on that occasion and a professional pianist. He has told me that Edward Browning's second performance for A-level was even better than the first performance, for grade 8, for which he was awarded a distinction. However, he was awarded only 10 out of 90 for that second performance.

It is extraordinary to note that, when Edward appealed, the mark was raised to 59 out of 90. How can it happen that an original mark of 10 out of 90 can be raised on appeal to 59 out of 90? The curious thing is that he was awarded almost 100 per cent. at his grade 8 exam.

Ministers should not think that the problem with what is happening with A-levels is over. They need to audit what is happening much more carefully.

Laura Wheen and her family are unhappy about the letter that the Minister for School Standards wrote to me in response to these matters. They did not object only to the fact that the letter was the classic civil service response, that it said that the Tomlinson report would take effect and that the matter was nothing to do with the Government. They are unhappy that the letter spoke about what would happen were Laura still unhappy with Xhis" grade after the revision process. That is not good enough.

The Government often say that the problem is all to do with schools and hospitals. They did so again at the Labour party conference, but that is not the case. The problem is to do with pupils in education, and patients in health. The Government have many plans, grand schemes, projects and initiatives, but they must remember that someone like Laura Wheen is entitled to know why she was not given the grade in the OCR psychology A-level that everyone expected her to obtain.

5.39 pm

Liz Blackman (Erewash): I came into politics after spending most of my previous life in teaching. I took that road because I was so frustrated by the lack of policies and resources at the front line for the education of pupils. I looked with great interest to the Labour Government to bring in the right policies and the resources to implement them. By all accepted measures, educational achievement has been raised since 1997. I note the miserly acknowledgement of that from the Opposition education spokesman, the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green). We have made dramatic improvements in achievement in all key stages since 1997. I shall return to key stage 2 later.

We also ensured that inclusion was at the forefront of early years provision and that access for adult learners was a success story. That calls for celebration. Indeed, I

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have joined in the celebration of those achievements in many secondary schools in my constituency. It is lamentable that the motion tabled by the official Opposition and the Liberal Democrat amendment made no mention of those achievements. Of course, if they had done so they would have had to recognise the Government's success and input.

Whenever politicians try to analyse and assess the impact of policies they should look to their own backyard—the constituencies that they represent. In Erewash, the improvements both in pupil performance and tangible resources have been extremely visible. We have a sure start programme for the early years. We have new teachers and teaching assistants and new classrooms. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned, Ofsted said that the current generation of teachers was the best ever. I pay tribute to teachers in my constituency and beyond.

The improvement in the quality of head teachers has also been much more evident in my constituency. The quality of newly appointed heads is undeniable and it filters down into the performance of their school.

We have seen new classrooms, new roofs and refurbishment although, lamentably, with small security fences. There are two new schools on the block, one funded by the private finance initiative and the other via the public funding route. I welcome that.

Managing improvement is always challenging, however; there is always a job to be done. It is an evolving process. Those who are managing policy constantly need to innovate or supplement to solve the challenges. Key stage 2 is an example of that. My right hon. Friend mentioned the need constantly to re-evaluate. That is not to deny, however, that in the round key stage 2 has not been a success when we compare performance between 1997 and the present.

Since 1997, there has been a 10 per cent. improvement in English and a 14 per cent. improvement in maths. The literacy and numeracy strategies have played an enormous part in ensuring higher performances from pupils. However, that is not to say that we have not reached a plateau, as my right hon. Friend acknowledged.

The Tories ask why we have targets if we do not meet them. I argue that it is right to have targets and, when we do not quite reach them, to acknowledge it, as long as we are travelling in the right direction. We need targets to raise expectations; to set policies; to target resources; and to analyse what is happening. After that analysis, the professional course is to further the policies by setting new targets and refocusing existing policies to ensure that the missing aspects are put in place.

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