Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-90)|
WEDNESDAY 15 MAY 2002
80. Would that be considered for vocational
GCSEs as well?
(Mr Weller) It would allow the possibility of a single
GCSE, encompassing more than one route, so you would not have
to call it a vocational GCSE; it would be a GCSE that had different
flavours to it. It will not just be science.
81. Going back to the AS-levels, in June last
year there was a lot of debate in and out of Parliament about
the problems of the first year of AS-levels. Estelle Morris did
a review . What feedback are you getting, almost 12 months later,
about whether that worked in solving the problems?
(Sir William Stubbs) Estelle Morris called for the
review, and that was produced in two parts. Some of the recommendations
referred to the length of time of examination and the time in
which it was put in place. The information coming back to us now
from the awarding bodies is that it is much quieter. There is
more calmness around the system. I would hope for a season that
is not nearly so spectacular in terms of thunder and lightning.
There will still be imperfections because we are trying to anticipate
the choice of young people in terms of their subjects. We have
not yet enough experience of how they want to move out beyond
arts and into sciences and so forth, and we have got to be on
the alert for that.
(Mr Weller) Teachers are much more confident about
the level to which they are teaching. What might have seemed to
them rather daunting content last year does not seem so bad.
82. Some of the initial problems, like textbooks
not being available until half-way through a course, and the examining
board guidance not being available until half-way through the
coursebecause I was doing all this last year and suffering
itwe are obviously past those problems in the first year.
My eldest daughter is studying for AS-levels this year, and have
a lot of former colleagues who teach post-16 who have been bending
my ear this last weekand I am on a panel for post-16 in
two weeks' time, and they have still got an awful lot of problems
with the system, with overload and too many exam clashes. I was
interested in what you said about switching AS and A2 around because
at the moment you are sitting half of you're A-level when you
have done two terms' work, which is ludicrous.
(Mr Weller) The jury is out. The teachers' associations
were completely divided on that the first time around. Some views
have shifted, but there is no clear consensus.
(Ms Evans) We would be very interested in QCA to hear
feedback about the way those systems are working out now. As part
of the review that the Chairman mentioned, the Secretary of State
has asked us to go back in 2003in case there are things
we do not think will work. We will go back in 2003 and any evidence
that was around that we could use to illustrate what is happening
in the system would be appreciated.
83. I first of declare an interest that I am
married to a Scot and very fond of the country, but without wishing
to become Rob Roy, can you answer the question I put to David
Bell of Ofsted: there is a general perception, certainly amongst
the Scots who are south of the Border, that the Scottish education
system is in some way better than the English one. What comments
do you have to make about that perception? Have we any lessons
to learn south of the Border?
(Sir William Stubbs) We looked in a variety of places
to draw on their experience and see if we could improve it, and
we looked at Scotland as well. In some respects the Scottish system
is significantly different. The basis of their higher education
is a four-year degree, whereas it is a three-year degree in England.
Therefore, young people have to be taken at a level of attainment
that is higher than their Scottish counterparts. That invokes,
as a consequence, a specialisation. Culturally it is significantly
different. I do not think the kind of answer that you might be
looking for in a straight "yes" or "no" is
possible. It is rooted in a number of aspects. Can I say from
where I am now responsible, that there is also in some aspects
complacency in the Scottish system. In England there is a constant
exposure to criticism, which we found irritating and annoying,
but nonetheless invigorating. That causes us to look very carefully
at what we do to see how we can improve it. I think you have much
to be proud of here in England.
84. I am sorry that this session has been so
absorbing for the Committee that we have kept you longer than
normal, but the guidance that you were due to put out to primary
schoolsthe BBC highlighted the official guidance on how
much time primary schools should devote to teaching different
subjectsis a year overdue. Is that accurate, that report;
and have you done it now?
(Sir William Stubbs) As a preamble, Chairman, you
have kept me a long time. I do hope that you will give me one
chance on one topic that you have not raised, before you close.
(Mr Jones) The report is accurate, Chairman. For some
time ministers were looking at a whole range of issues to do with,
for example, the length of the school day, and to issue guidance
whilst ministers were still considering those issues would have
been silly in so far as one could have had a situation where changes
were being made in terms of the arrangements for issues such as
the school day, at the same time as documents were being issued
which were written against the background of a particular set
of requirements. We have re-vamped that, because time has gone
on. We have done considerable work with a whole range of schools
helping us to do what I was talking about earlierspread
good practice. That is at the point where we are now seeking ministerial
approval for that to go out and to be part of the advice we give
to primary schools. Hopefully, we should see that going into the
system quite shortly.
85. Sir William, the only little disturbance
towards the end of this interrogation is that on the one hand
you offered advice to the Secretary of State on how much part
Shakespeare should play in the curriculum, and you suggested a
reduction from an hour to three-quarters of an hour, which was
speedily rejected by the Secretary of State, as I understand it.
On the other hand, you do not seem to have been involved in the
decision in the Green Paper about making foreign language non-compulsory
at secondary level. When in passing I asked if you had evaluated
the international baccalaureate and stormed into the Secretary
of State's office and suggested there was a wonderful model that
she had not tried, you said you had not done that.
(Sir William Stubbs) I had not stormed into the office.
86. In a different way you had not really evaluated
the international baccalaureate and said, "this is an option
you should look at, Secretary of State". Those three points
reinforce the image a bit that on the one hand there was a bit
of a transparency issue, which I was pushing earlier on, and the
other was this harder profile of showing you had an independent
mind and were going to tell the Secretary of State there was some
very stuff out there that she was not aware of.
(Sir William Stubbs) It certainly would not be the
international baccalaureate, Chairman. Why should I go and tell
the Secretary of State it is a wonderful qualification? I do not
happen to believe it is a wonderful qualification. I think it
has got strengths, and it is appropriate in its context, but I
do not believe it would be appropriate for that to replace the
AS and A-level system in England, not at all. There is an element
of compulsion about it that is quite alien to the choice that
young people have in their learning in this country, and I think
that you should give that up with a considerable struggle. It
would not encourage an inclusive education for 16 to 19 to put
up these boundaries. There may be a place for it, and some schools
have adopted itlargely those with pupils from overseas
who use it for a variety of purposes. I would not storm in because
it is not an issue on which I convinced myself it was worth storming
87. Sir William, I happen to agree with you
on that, but the three items I was trying to draw you out onI
did not know that that was your view, and I did not know what
role you played in the decision to put in the Green Paper the
non-compulsory nature of foreign languages. Is there not a role
for your organisation to be slightly more independent in profile,
and to be seen to be saying to the Secretary of State, "there
are concerns out here that you should know about", and be
a little bit more profiled for the public, rather than being more
of a secret organisation? It is healthy to know that you do not
think that the international baccalaureate is any panacea.
(Sir William Stubbs) I have not been asked the question.
As soon as I am asked the question, I give an answer. If the Secretary
of State asks a question on that, I will give her a view on it.
I was with you all the way there, when you were saying perhaps
we should be more open and transparent, and then you just slipped
into "rather than a secret". We are not a secret organisation,
and I think that takes it too far. I have come as close metaphorically
to banging the table with the Secretary of State about the speed
with which they introduced changes in the examination system.
It has been too fast. It has been too rich a diet and should have
been slowed down. We have said that in the past. But looked at
overall, the Secretary of State's judgmentand her bailiwick
runs much wider than mineconcluded that there were benefits
from introducing it in a certain timetable. Whether that could
have been carried out on the front pages of the Evening Standard
more effectively, is a matter of judgment. I think she was in
no doubt about the views, and her predecessor, and in some matters
I know we influenced her. It is a matter of judgment, but we are
not a secret organisation, Chairman, no.
88. Sometimes I use that sort of language just
to tease you, and in this session I have been reasonably successful.
There was something else you wanted to add.
(Sir William Stubbs) Yes, in relation to vocational
qualifications. We have spent a long time this morning, and very
little has been mentioned about them, and that is undoubtedly
an issue, Chairman. I leave you with the thought of how you might
help us. I mentioned NVQs, and that not enough attention is paid
to them. It should be a matter of spirit and pride that your plane
is at the end of runway 2, taking off, and the pilot says, "rest
assured, folks, I have got my NVQ level 3". Actually, that
is probably the case.
89. If the pilot said that, that is the last
thing to be reassured about.
(Sir William Stubbs) That is because of your underlying
suspicion about vocational qualifications. There is no-one in
our system at present charged with the responsibility of promoting
vocational qualifications. I use that as an example, but there
are other vocational qualifications. The uptake of NVQs has levelled
off and it is now about stable. Given that industry needs to have
the high skills it has, I think that is a matter for increasing
concern. It is not our responsibility, but it is not anyone else's
either, and that is a lacuna in our national arrangements, Chairman,
that I think someone should address.
90. It is a point that is very well made, Sir
William. Although we have had a very good run this morning and
probably have done a little disservice to vocational education,
that will be a very god reason for having you back sooner rather
than later. Thank you for your time.
(Sir William Stubbs) Thank you, Chairman.