AGENCY FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF CURRICULUM,
ASSESSMENT AND QUALIFICATIONS
241. Under the Government's proposals, the QCA will
develop into a new agency, responsible to Ministers, whose main
objectives will be:
- to advise Ministers on the
monitoring and development of curriculum and related qualifications;
on learning and development in early years; and on meeting Government
objectives for education and skills; and
- to develop and deliver National Curriculum tests
and other forms of assessment; to ensure delivery of public qualifications;
and to measure and recognise the achievements of learners and
the performance of schools and colleges.
242. It is further proposed that the development
agency, rather than the regulator, will develop the criteria for
public qualifications, such as GCSE and A-levels, whereas the
role of the regulator will be to scrutinise the agency's criteria.
The Government intends that the agency will "support the
communication of government aims for curriculum and qualifications".
243. The work of the QCA to date has been praised
by some witnesses.
The NAHT, for example, said:
The integrity and skill of QCA officials is generally
appreciated and respected by the education professionals.
Others, particularly the Awarding Bodies, have been
more critical, stating that regulation has been inconsistent,
sometimes overly interventionist and prescriptive.
Referring to frequent changes to qualifications, Greg Watson
of OCR said:
I think that QCA, because of the position it
has occupied very close to Government, has tended to find that
its role in being a sponsor of change has far outweighed, over
time, its responsibility for stability.
244. Whilst the Government gives the QCA a clear
remit for its work, the NAHT states that frustration can arise
from the fact that, in its view, the QCA does not have "sufficient
freedom in aspects of its work". The NAHT gives the example
of the QCA offering "sound professional advice" which
the Government has chosen not to follow. At other times, the Government
has asked for further investigation to be undertaken when the
QCA has recommended caution, for example in relation to the withdrawal
of coursework from the GCSE curriculum.
The NAHT concludes:
QCA is generally effective but there are potential
dangers in that it is so strictly controlled by the DfES that
all it is empowered to do is offer advice.
245. Whether the independence of the new regulator
will have an impact on the Government's propensity to take advice
on regulatory matters remains to be seen. The Government is clear
that, in its view, the regulatory functions of the QCA have always
been carried out at arm's length from government and the QCA has
Clearly, the new development agency will stand in the shoes of
the current QCA in terms of its relationship with Government,
so that advice on the development side will be given on the same
basis as before. There is, therefore, no obvious reason why Government
should change its attitude towards advice on development and related
matters. However, the new arrangements have broadly been welcomed
by witnesses to this inquiry.
246. A major rationale for the introduction of an
independent regulator is the monitoring and maintenance of assessment
standards over time.
Professor Peter Tymms told us that an independent body was essential
for this task, a proposition with which Sir Michael Barber agreed.
Professor Tymms said that standards could not be monitored through
the current national testing system due to frequent changes in
the curriculum and that an independent body would need to use
international standards, as well as the National Curriculum, to
We asked Dr Boston whether there was likely to be anything different
about the new regulator which would bring to a halt the drift
in assessment standards which he seemed to accept had been a feature
of the testing system. Dr Boston replied:
No. The new bodythe regulatory authoritywill
use codes of practice similar to those we have used in the past.
247. OCR have expressed frustration at the annual
debate on "standards" which takes place, in their view,
at the low level of this year's papers, the marking of a given
paper or the percentage of children awarded a given grade. OCR
considers that the debate is taking place at the wrong level and
that the focus should really be on the way in which assessment
standards are affected by systemic change.
The potential for standards to move and for public
confidence to be shaken is greatest when there is wholesale, system-wide
change or major structural changes to long-established qualifications.
The acid test for looking at the move to an independent regulator
is whether we will have a body that is sufficiently able to look
at the macro-level changes and the effect that they may have on
standards and public confidence and worry much less about the
detail of which individual qualification is which.
248. Although there is greater logical consistency
in the separation of test development and regulation, this alone
is unlikely to address the annual outcry about grade inflation
in GCSEs and A-levels. We discussed this with Dr Boston, who thought
the new arrangements might help, but admitted that they were unlikely
to resolve the issue:
] if we consider one of the causes of
the August debate to be that the separation of the regulator from
Government is not perfectly clear, then that August debate might
be diminished if the separation were made more apparent. Of course,
there may be other issues in the August debate that are not resolved
by that situation.
] while the basis for [the August debate]
might be diminished I am not sure that it is going to go away.
249. We welcome the creation of a development
agency and separate, independent regulator on the logical grounds
that it is right that development and regulation should be the
responsibility of two separate organisations. That assessment
standards will now be overseen by a regulator demonstrably free
from government control and responsible to Parliament through
the Children, Schools and Families Committee is a positive step.
250. However, the Government has failed to address
the issue of the standards themselves. In the context of the current
testing system, with its ever-changing curriculum and endless
test reforms, no regulator, however independent, can assure assessment
standards as they are not capable of accurate measurement using
the data available. Until the Government allows for standardised
sample testing for monitoring purposes, the regulator will be
left without the tools required to fulfil its primary function.