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14 Oct 2008 : Column 684

I will share with the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) the emerging evidence from the evaluations of the single-level tests. As I said, the evaluation at key stage 3 shows that the single-level test approach does not work. It seems that it is not possible to have an effective test that crosses the primary-secondary school divide and the divide between key stage 2 and key stage 3. That is why, on advice, we are ending the pilot. However, at key stage 2 the early results are encouraging. If we can have a testing regime in primary schools consistent with external marking and proper objectivity, which allows testing to be set more to meet the level of individual children on the basis of teacher judgment, that would be a good thing, but we will not do so until there has been proper scrutiny of those pilots. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will not rush to hasty judgments.

Sampling is an important issue. As I said when I set out the principles, the testing, assessment and accountability regime plays different roles. We want to ensure that every parent has an objective view on the progress of their child and the performance of their school. Sampling clearly cannot deliver either of those, but it can allow us to check the progress of the whole school system. Because GCSEs give us that external check on the performance of the school, and because individual progress is assessed by teachers in years 7, 8 and 9, at key stage 3 we can use a sample to assess the system as a whole, but to use a sample at key stage 2 would take away from parents that objective evidence on the performance of an individual school. Sampling is a good thing where it works to meet an objective, and that is why we will ask the expert group to advise us on how to do that effectively at age 14 in our schools.

I made no announcements today about AS-levels or qualifications after 16. That will need to be for another day and another discussion. But to give an update on progress over the summer, schools now have 99.9 per cent. of results and scripts. The appeals process is moving ahead.

Mr. Laws: Going up.

Ed Balls: Of course appeals are up, and understandably so, because schools were inevitably going to appeal more this year. It is important that through that appeals process we give assurance to schools and governing bodies that standards have been maintained. The statements made by Ofqual support the view that standards have been maintained, but it will need to look at the appeals process. We will have the opportunity this year in the Bill that we introduced in the Queen’s Speech to ensure that Ofqual has the independence and powers that it needs. I look forward to those debates, but Ofqual represents a substantial step forward.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s comments and support. We have not given him everything that he wanted, but I think that we can agree that this is a substantial step forward for schools in the 21st century, and it will allow pupils and parents to have the information that they need while reducing bureaucracy in secondary schools.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome most aspects of the Secretary of State’s announcement today, particularly the school report card, and I hope that that information will be transmitted to parents electronically as well as in a paper version. As
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a governor of Ibstock community college, which is an 11 to 14 school, as high schools and community colleges are in Leicestershire, ending at year 9, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he feels that Ofsted, school improvement partners and others will have sufficient objective information for those middle schools in counties such as Leicestershire to provide the type of accountability and report-back to parents and others that they have had so far?

Ed Balls: We will need to pay particular attention to two categories of schools. One is middle schools, where pupils leave at 14, and the second is those that have opened as new schools, in which, for the next five years, pupils, as they move through the years, will not have done a year 11 externally marked test. We particularly asked the expert group to consider that issue and advise us on it. We need to ensure, consistent with the right decisions that we have made about key stage 3, that we can provide parents with enough information and certainty about the performance of those schools. This is a particular issue that we will now consider on the basis of the expert group’s advice, and I will ensure that my hon. Friend is closely in touch with that work.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Out of 10, what mark would the Secretary of State give the QCA for its oversight of this year’s testing regime, and will he reassure the House that no senior member of the QCA will receive a bonus for their performance this year?

Ed Balls: I am relieved to say that that is not an exam that I set, mark or moderate. Lord Sutherland is taking evidence as part of his inquiry. He will set out his conclusions in due course and we will ensure that every lesson is learnt from what happened during the past two years in the management of that contract.

Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase) (Lab): May I join in the welcome for my right hon. Friend’s statement, particularly for the clarity of principle and intellectual rigour behind it? I extend a particular welcome to the school report card proposal, but if it is good enough for secondary schools, will it also apply to primary schools, and what does it mean for the nature and future of league tables?

Ed Balls: Our intention is for the school report card to be for every secondary and primary school, and to take forward both cards at the same time. We will consult in the next few weeks and produce a detailed plan in November, at the time of the one-year-on update on our children’s plan. We will have a formal consultation in advance of the White Paper in the spring. We will need to sort out a number of details, and I hope that there will be an opportunity for discussion and to hear the views of the Children, Schools and Families Committee and experts in the House.

On the issue that my hon. Friend has raised, I should say that the school report card will be important to parents as a simple and comprehensive view of a school’s performance, alongside Ofsted reports and the raw data on the school. We publish clearly information that is compiled by others in school league tables. That information, of course, will continue to be published in
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a simple and accessible form, so school league tables will continue to be compiled and parents will continue to look at them.

However, we hope that alongside the Ofsted report and those tables, the school report card will give parents a more comprehensive view of the school’s performance which takes into account not only standards for the average child at the school, but how every child is supported to learn—value added in respect of the school—and some of the broader issues that matter to the well-being of children in a school. The aim is to capture the idea of the 21st-century school in one report card, and I hope that we will be able to discuss it in more detail in due course.

Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): The Secretary of State spoke about raising standards, yet in the past seven years we have dropped from fourth to 14th when it comes to science results and from eighth to 24th when it comes to maths results. Why is that, and how do the measures that have been announced help to raise those standards?

Ed Balls: In my statement, I cited the results of national tests. I am pleased to say that they are supported by Conservative Members, at least in respect of primary schools. In 1997, 69 per cent. of pupils reached level 4 in science; today, the figure is 88 per cent. In key stage 3, the number has risen from 60 per cent. to 71 per cent. in the past 10 years. Standards have been rising year on year. I have always said that there is further to go to get to the world-class standards to which we aspire. Like most experts, I am sure, I am dubious about some of the measures that the hon. Gentleman peddles. Look at the raw figures at key stage 2: standards are rising and have done consistently for 10 years, having been stagnant for the previous 20 years. Nobody wants to return to those days.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): As probably the only member of the Children, Schools and Families Committee in the country, I warmly welcome the report; my colleagues are in Canada on a study visit. The report has taken a lot of notice of our work on testing and assessment.

In his earlier response, the Secretary of State suggested that cohort testing would be reserved for key stage 3 only. Cohort testing is a mechanism through which we can hold accountable children’s progress nationally, rather than through individual schools. Will he ask his expert group to consider whether cohort testing at other ages might be appropriate, and how the whole system has progressed over time?

Ed Balls: I should put on the record that the expert group that we are establishing, with its terms of reference, includes one primary school and one secondary school head teacher—Gill Mills and Yasmin Bevan, from the Cross-in-Hand Church of England primary school and Denbigh high school respectively. The group also includes Jim Rose, a leading expert in curricular matters who is doing our primary curriculum review, Maurice Smith, a former chief inspector, and Tim Brighouse, who ran the London challenge. The five members will make sure that they consult widely, including with the Children, Schools and Families Committee.

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I was disappointed that the Committee Chairman and other members could not be here today; I discovered only yesterday that they were in Canada. However, I have suggested to the Chairman that he and his colleagues might want to go to Alberta to look at the report card system there, and that they might want to change planes in New York city on the way back to start investigations into how the report card can work. The Committee’s report in July was careful, measured and forward thinking. My hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) and others played an important role in ensuring that the report was good, and it has influenced our thinking.

On the issue of sample testing, I made the point that such testing cannot deliver for every parent their child’s progress, and it cannot deliver their child’s school’s progress either. Sample testing has a role to play, however, and it will do so at key stage 3, for children at the age of 14, on the basis of the expert group’s advice. As part of its work, I am happy to ask the expert group to look at the wider issues that my hon. Friend has raised.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker: Order. I gently say to the Secretary of State that I appreciate his full replies, but perhaps they could be shorter. We have a limit in the main debate, and those replies will take time out of that limit.

Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): When the Secretary of State looks at the curriculum for the politics and government GCSE, he might want to consider the 1954 Crichel Down precedent, which established ministerial responsibility, because that is clearly anathema to him given that we have still not had a proper apology from him for the debacle of last summer. How much faith can we put in any future testing regime when that is the case? Would he like to apologise to my constituents and to the head of Werrington primary school, Ben Wilding? The data on four children at that school have not been accounted for, and are still missing after four and a half months. Maths papers have gone back a second time for marking. That is lamentable. Even though they might be in that 0.1 per cent. it is not—

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Ed Balls: I apologise to you, Mr. Speaker, for the length of my answers. I very much regret what has happened in the school in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. Two thirds of the ETS first-year payments have been returned—some £24 million. I was careful in my language when I made a statement in July on the basis of legal advice. If we had followed the advice of Opposition Members, the taxpayer would be substantially in deficit. That is the difference between responsible government and irresponsible, posturing opposition.

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): I welcome this statement. My right hon. Friend will be conscious, however, that how a school is described publicly can have a huge effect on morale in the school, for good or bad. How will he take action to ensure that this new form of accountability to parents—the school report card—takes account of the context in which the school
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is operating, such as its intake, so that parents can get a sense of whether that school is doing well, and whether it would benefit their child?

Ed Balls: As my hon. Friend has said before, there are many schools with low average results, but with high value added. There are also many schools with seemingly higher average results, where low value is added, which are coasting along and not doing their best for children. The school report card will allow us to put the raw data on standards in that wider context and I hope that it will enable her constituents to make the sort of judgment about schools’ performance that she has been urging through the national challenge.

Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): I, too, welcome the statement, particularly as it affects key stage 3. Could I ask the Secretary of State why he rejected teacher-marked and externally moderated methods of testing for key stage 2? That would save a lot of money and give schools a lot more freedom with regard to how they organise their time.

Ed Balls: I answered that question a moment ago. We have looked carefully at these matters, and our view is that it is important to have externally marked, rather than moderated tests, once during a child’s time in school in order to give parents a degree of certainty about the results. There is an important role for teacher moderation, but the fact that we have externally marked exams at the ages of 11 and 16 is important and it would be a backward step to drop them.

Liz Blackman (Erewash) (Lab): Educational success is totally dependent on a child’s ability to access the curriculum, so I welcome the emphasis on catch-up in the early stages of key stage 3 with one-to-one support. Can my right hon. Friend assure parents that a similar emphasis will be placed on high-quality, stretching education for all pupils?

Ed Balls: I can definitely give that assurance. We will ensure that that focus on pupils who are at risk of falling behind starts in the earliest years of primary school and continues through key stage 1 and into secondary school. I know that the Opposition want to reintroduce a new external test for six-year-olds, but that would not be the right way to proceed. It is much better at that age to have effective teacher assessment and one-to-one catch-up tuition. That is the approach that we will take.

Mr. Rob Wilson (Reading, East) (Con): Does the Secretary of State agree that we now need much more rigorous examinations? If he does, why does his Department prevent state schools from entering rigorous qualifications, such as the international general certificate of secondary education?

Ed Balls: As our qualifications advisory group recommended earlier in the year, entering the IGCSE would be the wrong thing to do for schools in the state system in England. I am happy to send out the details about that. The IGCSE is a qualification drawn up for particular circumstances and is not one that is relevant or which should be funded in our state schools. As for the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that we should have
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more rigorous examinations, I thought that the Opposition were calling for fewer exams a moment ago. I am totally confused as to what the Conservative party is talking about today. It seems to have a range of different shadow Schools Ministers, who all contradict each other week by week and almost hour by hour. It is a shambles.

Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth) (Lab): I warmly welcome this afternoon’s statement, but what would the Secretary of State say to Mrs. Alison Adams, from Kent avenue, Fazely, who, along with parents from Millfield primary school, is still awaiting the results of the English key stage 2 SATs? They do not want to know about the history; they want to know when they can expect to receive the results. What can we tell them to increase their confidence that this afternoon’s statement will strengthen the system?

Ed Balls: As I have said, 99.9 per cent. of primary schools have received their key stage 2 results. I obviously do not know what has happened in the case of Millfield primary school, but I hugely regret the stress that Mrs. Adams and her school have gone through. I am happy to ask the National Assessment Agency, which is now leading the testing process, to see what has happened in that case and will write to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): We have touched on this issue already, but I seek further clarification. A number of schools in the country have requested a remarking of some of the 2008 key stage test papers. Can the Secretary of State tell the House how many papers we are talking about and what the cost implications are?

Ed Balls: Every year, there are tens of thousands of appeals in national tests at key stages 2 and 3. We extended the deadline this year and we changed the arrangements for the management of the appeals process. I said in an earlier answer that the number of appeals this year would be up, and they will all be done rigorously and properly. We will ensure that the results are returned to schools as soon as possible, as happens every year, including this year. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a figure for the number of appeals, because the process is not yet complete, but it is being done rigorously and properly, as it always is.

Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): I warmly welcome the Secretary of State’s statement this afternoon, but I have serious concerns. It is important that simpler ways of reporting to parents be seen as valuable. I also see getting rid of key stage 3 as totally appropriate. However, I still have serious concerns that we are relying on private companies to deliver a structure, a system and a process. In my day, we relied on the teaching profession. I marked for London university. We should see the teaching profession as central to the delivery of the process and the marking. Then and only then will we have a system that is trusted and respected by parents, governors and teachers.

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