Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20 - 39)



  Q20  Mr Chaytor: Looking at tables and accountability, may I ask you a question, Michael? In response to a remark from Peter, you said that it is important not to rely on a single data set, but is not that exactly the flaw of our system of league tables? Whatever the level, whether in primary or secondary school, the headline is the single data set. Is there any other public institution or system of accountability for public services in Britain that relies on a single data set, other than that which we have in schools? Do we use a single data set for hospitals, police authorities or primary care trusts?

  Sir Michael Barber: My remark about not relying on a single data set was in reference to measuring progress over time. That is why I referred to several sets when we debated what had happened to literacy in the past decade or more. That is what I meant. You would triangulate the data sets. I think that league tables based on national tests are perfectly respectable and fit for that purpose. As I said in answer to Lynda Waltho, it is not the case that you cannot improve them; you can have a debate about how to improve them. In the schools system, we do not rely purely on tests and league tables to assess the quality of schools. We also have Ofsted inspection, which considers the leadership and management of schools, the ethos within them and the quality of teaching as well as the standards that are achieved. That is important because it creates a more rounded picture of what schools are for.

  Q21  Mr Chaytor: But in terms of accountability to parents, which is the most significant—the 5 A to Cs score, the percentage at Level 4 score or the Ofsted report? The report is a broader document, but it is also dominated by results—perhaps increasingly?

  Sir Michael Barber: It takes account of results, but it does not add anything new to them. However, it looks at what is going on inside the school that delivers those results. Some of the things that I mentioned, such as quality of leadership and management are lead indicators of what will happen to results. With stronger leadership and better-quality teaching, in time the results will improve. I strongly support Ofsted inspection for that reason. There are things that you can do to improve it all the time. That is part of the task of the new chief inspector, whom I understand you will interview soon. You can debate that with her. As I understand it—and you will know from your constituents—parents consider performance in published test results, but they also examine Ofsted reports and take great interest in them when they come round. Of course, they appear only once every three years as opposed to every year.

  Q22  Mr Chaytor: May I ask both of you, but perhaps Peter first, what is the relationship between the single data set of test results and pupil intake? We can all agree that the quality of teaching is essential to improvement, but is there received wisdom that such-and-such a percentage of the outcome is determined by the input?

  Professor Tymms: A league table position is largely determined by the intake of pupils to that school. It might vary depending on how you analyse it, but if you had measures of pupils on intake, that would certainly explain more than 50% of the variants in the results, and maybe up to 70% The amount that is due to the quality of teaching is typically quoted as being about 10 to 15% of the variants in secondary schools, after intake is taken into account, which means that we are down to about 5 to 7% of the variation in the league tables being due to the quality of the school—maybe less, once everything is taken into account. In primary schools it is slightly more, but it is still dominated by the intake.

  What we see in the league table is dominated by the intake, so we talk about a school at the bottom end of the league, but if we put all the schools in the table, a lot of schools at the bottom would be special schools, as they have children with severe learning problems. We need to know what the intake is and the progress made, and therefore the value added, in order to make sense of the figures. A lot of mistakes were made through judgments that schools at the bottom of league tables were bad, because that was not taken into account. It is quite difficult to take that into account, but we are moving forward. That is why the earlier measures are so important. Of course, once there is teacher judgment, you can no longer rely on outcome measures, as they are not objective tests and teachers might do things to boost their positions. The data become suspect.

  Q23  Mr Chaytor: Would you accept that figure of 50 to 70%?

  Sir Michael Barber: It varies from one system to another, but home background is clearly a major influence on outcomes. Nobody is debating that. We recently published a report having examined some of the best-performing systems in the world, which get much higher consistency in the quality of teaching and therefore the quality of outcomes than ours. They seem to be better at overcoming the disadvantage that children bring into a school. It is important stuff—what do those systems do? I am summarising a substantial report, but first, they select great people into teaching. Even in the 21st century, when young people have many options, they are still getting great people into teaching. We have done reasonably well on that in the past decade, but nobody can be complacent. Secondly, they train them really well, focusing on the quality of classroom teaching. Thirdly, they do the sort of things that Peter and I have been talking about—they ensure that the processes in the schools, assessment for learning and others, mean that each teacher constantly improves their skills and their ability to deliver great lessons for their students. Fourthly, they have systems that do not write off any student, as we were talking about earlier. They care, they spot early when children are falling behind and they pick them up and catch them up.

  We could do all that. If we did—some schools do it brilliantly—we would reduce the impact of home background on the outcomes that students achieve. That is what we must do, and publishing the data puts that issue on the agenda in a way that nothing else would.

  Q24  Mr Chaytor: If there is a general consensus that the relationship between home background and pupil intake is the dominant explanation of a score in the league table, is there not a dynamic built into the system that there will always be failing schools? From day one of the league tables, a certain number of schools were at the bottom of the pile. The existence of the league table reinforces the sense of failure in those schools and there is almost a spiral of decline. Is that not an inevitable consequence of a league table system based on a single data set?

  Professor Tymms: Yes, I think that you are quite right. For example, you will find that fewer people apply for headships in schools at the bottom of the league table. Such schools have great difficulty appointing heads—they might have to appoint ordinary teachers—whereas there are enormous numbers of applications to schools at the top of the league table. Those schools have the pick of the bunch which provides a positive reinforcement, while others get worse and worse. It is the Matthew effect in operation—"For whosoever hath, to him shall be given". That is a real concern. On the international differences between schools, it is right to say that some countries have enormous variations between schools and that others have very little variation. In our country, there is a large variation—we have private schools and some very tough schools. However, if you go to the United States or to China—bizarrely—you will find much greater variations, largely because their schools are funded by local taxes, which means that if you live in a poor area, you have a poor school and poorly-paid teachers. We have that a bit in this country owing to the private system. A nice league table came out in the Educational Researcher looking at qualifications of teachers in schools according to affluence and deprivation. In this country, you will typically find that the more affluent the school, the higher the qualifications and greater the experience of the teachers. That trend is much more dramatic in some countries, but in others it is actually reversed—they put their apparently better teachers into tougher schools in order to reverse that situation. We do not do that kind of thing here; we do not even think that that is possible. We have a serious discrepancy, however, between those at the top and those at the bottom. We know about that on an individual pupil basis, but it is on a school basis as well, which is reflected in the league tables.

  Sir Michael Barber: I agree with what Peter said about the US. You might suppose that schools would enter a spiral of decline, but that is not what happens or what the data show. The number of schools achieving less than 30% five As to Cs has dropped dramatically from more than 600 to about 50—I cannot remember the data exactly, but they are available. By putting the data in the open, resources have been targeted to those schools, so programmes such as the Excellence in Cities programme, have helped struggling schools to improve. We have seen bigger improvements in some of those areas than in other parts of the country. You could reinforce that further. I am interested in what they have done in New York city recently with their new accountabilities system, under which a school gets double value for moving forward a student in the bottom third of the performance distribution. You could provide greater incentives to moving forward students in the bottom third. Programmes such as the Teach First initiative and the Excellence in Cities programme have got good teachers and head teachers into disadvantaged schools. One of the reasons for that has been the fact that the data are out in the open.

  Professor Tymms: I cannot let that go. The advice that we are hearing on payment by results is so misguided. If teachers can get more money for their schools according to the number of pupils, we have a problem. We have a system in which teachers have been paid according to their pupils' progress. That is an unhealthy system to advocate. That system advocates schools and gives them more money because they push more pupils forward, but they are the ones producing those results. Again, you strain professionality by going down that route.

  Sir Michael Barber: May I correct that? With the allocation of resources, you need to do that in order to bring equity. I am not advocating anything other than that. The Excellence in Cities programme gives money to schools and areas because they suffer from disadvantages compared with the average. The resources are to bring greater equity. I am not sure what Peter was commenting on, but I was not making the point that he disagreed with.

  Q25  Chairman: Peter, would you not want to reward specialist teachers, even if they are charged and do better with the most difficult students?

  Professor Tymms: It is a very difficult problem. It would be attractive to say that people doing better should be paid more and promoted. However, schools have promotion systems already that reward those teachers. We should not pay them according to their year's results or tell them, "If your pupils get Level 4s we will give you more money." They are the very teachers invigilating those pupils. They are the ones opening those papers and giving out the results. Making that direct link would strain professionality too much. Furthermore, we are talking about one or two pupils getting an extra result in one year compared with the previous year. That is too close to the bone. It is not the way to go. We need to distance ourselves from that direct link with pupils' marks on papers and from rewarding head teachers for moving up the league tables. Let us consider the percentage of five As to Cs in secondary schools. Of course, many more students have achieved that and many more schools do that, but students are just entered for a few more tests. That is largely what happened, and largely what caused the improvement. The underlying quality of the improvement is not there to be shown. Many students who would not previously have been entered for GCSEs now are, but that does not mean that standards have changed. We must be careful how we define schools that are doing badly and those that are doing well.

  Q26  Ms Butler: On that point, do you think that the contextual value added data play a role in how we weight pupils who have done better after coming in at the lower end of the spectrum?

  Sir Michael Barber: I think that contextual value added data is important, because it helps us to understand the system in a way that cannot be done without it, so I am strongly in favour of it. The quality of the data in our system is now better than it has ever been, and compares very well internationally. The ability to do value added analysis on individual pupil level data, which we now have in the national system, is a huge benefit.

  We need contextual value added data as well as raw data, because when students reach the age of 16, they may go into the labour market with everyone else, so it is not enough to take account just of value added. People need to reach a basic standard that gives them access, hopefully, to higher education or to work. I am in favour of the raw results being used and thought about to drive action, but I am also in favour of contextual value added data being available so that we can understand what impact policies and schools are having on the system. It is helpful to understand the system, but it is not enough on its own to drive equity in outcomes.

  Professor Tymms: Yes, value added is vital and helps us to understand, but the way in which it is calculated is important. Contextual value added is one way of calculating it, but we must be careful. For example, when looking at the progress made by children in maths and reading at Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 2, and value added, we ask what children normally get given those Level 1 results, and what did they get at Level 2? If they did better than most children with the same starting point, that is essentially the value added, but in a broader value added system, we might take account of children's home background, ethnicity, age and so on. There we must be careful. For example, in the system children from a poor background do not do well, so if such children fall by the wayside and do less well on average when progressing from Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 2, our value added system, which takes that into account, assumes that that is all right. In fact, it may be the system that is making them fall by the wayside, because we are excusing bad performance. Contextual value added, which tries to take everything into account, brushes that under the carpet, and we must expose it and see what is happening. There are different ways of looking at value added, and in Durham we always give schools different ways of looking at that, so that they can see it is one way or another. That is important. In the United States, a couple of great researchers, Doug Willms and Steve Raudenbush, talk about two types of value added: type A and type B. Parents want to know how their child will progress at a school. They want to know pupils' scores at the beginning and later, so that they know what is likely to happen in that school. That is type A value added. An administrator might ask how well the school is doing, given its circumstances. We know that pupils progress less well in schools in tough areas, so various schools should be looked at to see how well they are doing. Those are different types of value added. A system that says there is one type of value added—core contextual value added—is misleading, because we need much more information. We can get that information, and it can improve the system. Good information for parents, for administrators and for the country is vital.

  Sir Michael Barber: For the record, I agree totally. That is one reason why national curriculum assessment for all students is an important part of being able to generate such data.

  Q27  Mr Chaytor: May I pursue one more issue? On the choice and setting of targets at Key Stage 2, Level 4 is seen as the point below which children have failed. However, am I not right in thinking that when the key stage system was established in 1988, Level 4 was chosen as the average level of performance? My question is twofold. First, will there come a point at which the failure threshold will have to move up to Level 5? Secondly, what does the research suggest about the impact on children's enjoyment of learning and on their motivation when they start their secondary school career knowing that they have failed and that they have been labelled by the local newspaper as having failed? What is the link between targets and enjoyment and motivation?

  Professor Tymms: They are really good questions, so I shall do my best to answer them.  First, on the targets, of course we have had a shift in standards so that Level 4 is not the Level 4 with which we started. That does not make too much sense. Further, we should think about targets in terms of the value-added approach: you see where the children were and where they are likely to go and not in terms that Level 4 is good and below Level 4 is bad. For some pupils, Level 3 is a great result and a real success; for others, Level 4 is a dreadful fallback from where they were. So, when thinking about where we expect to go, we must think in those terms—about progress, rather than about absolute levels. A teacher or a school should be held to account only for the progress that their children make, not for the level that they attain. We must keep that in mind. The targets that are imposed are not the best ones; we should use targets that come from within. In the research into targets and whether if I set myself a target I do better, it is clear that targets really work on relatively simple tasks—such as chopping down trees and washing dishes. On complex targets, such as teaching and running a school, targets do not work, and that is where ownership comes in. We have got ourselves in a bit of a tizz over the targets.

  The research into fear of failure and so on is a complicated area. It is clear that young children, as they go through life, are predestined to fail in some things and succeed in others. In a sense, they expect that to happen and then to "Try harder and I'll do better." They are resilient in terms of a little failure and a little success. However, we do not want to slap down children who have done remarkably well to get to a Level 3 from where they started. It is an error to label them as failures, and it is also problematic to label their school as a failure, because they feel that in themselves. I have not seen research into the exact issue that you described, but I reviewed research into the feelings of children towards reading over the years. In our data, we saw that they stayed fairly constant over time, but other data suggest that children are less positive towards books than they used to be. We know that when they get older, they get less positive, which is a feature of education in general, and we know that boys more than girls become less positive as they get older, so by the time primary school finishes, there is a set of disaffected boys moving on to secondary school. They do not like school. If asked "Do you like school?", they say no. "Do you look forward to school?" "No." "Do you like your teachers?" "No". They then go on to a secondary school that has to start with the kids from where they are, and that is a pretty tough job. We must worry about these things, and any national monitoring system should examine attitudes, self-esteem, welfare and physical growth—all the issues coming out of Every Child Matters. We do not have that yet.

  Q28  Chairman: May I take you back to the first part of David's question and to the question before that? We pushed you on why you are so resistant to payments by results—for getting good achievement out of young people who are less easy to teach. We have had a system for years whereby, as I understand it, if you were the high mistress of St. Paul's in the City or of King Edward's boys or girls school, you had a wonderful group of highly motivated kids who had passed all sorts of examinations to get in. If you did not get wonderful results out of them, serious questions would be asked. The people teaching such groups have always received the best pay, but you are making anti-Freud—I mean David Freud—points. You would not incentivise somebody who did a really good job of taking the most difficult youngsters and bringing them up further than you would expect. Why are you so resistant to that?

  Professor Tymms: I am resistant to the direct link between the marks of those kids and the pay of their teachers. I am not against reward, and I am not against paying teachers for good results and I am not against getting good teachers in and rewarding them or paying teachers more if they are working in tough circumstances and doing a good job. But a broader decision needs to be made by the head, or perhaps by others, to say, "This teacher is doing well and is worthy of good pay." It is the direct link to the marks that I worry about. That is where the devil lies.

  Sir Michael Barber: I shall come to David's question. However, I think that, within the framework set for national pay and conditions, head teachers should make the decisions about who to reward. I think that for the system to do that from outside for individual teachers is complicated and likely to be damaging. However—I think I am agreeing with Peter here—whole-school rewards for making real progress, particularly in disadvantaged areas, would be wholly positive. Obviously, you have to get the detail right of how that works. On David's question, I agree with Peter that the system should get into measuring some of these wider outcomes, including enjoyment, motivation, and so on. I think that that is something that Ofsted inspection could do better in future. Ofsted inspection has been beneficial, but you could do more of that and use it to get into some of those issues, as indeed some systems are now thinking about—for example, in Victoria, Australia. I have written a book about Government targets called, Instruction to Deliver. You could look at the arguments for and against and the mistakes that were made, but you could also look at the benefits from really good targets that focus on the essence of the business. So I will not go into that. A good target can inject real ambition into a system. However, I should really like to address the Level 4 question. When I look at the 21st century, I see a labour market that is going to demand very high skills, not just in terms of reading, writing and mathematics, but in respect of rounded human beings able to work in teams and so on. I see a very demanding labour market for the young people coming through. The rest of their lives, too, will be very demanding: there are a lot of challenges in the 21st century. It is absolutely right that we are demanding more of our system than when the levels in the national curriculum were founded in 1988.  Level 4 was chosen for the end of primary school because it is for reading and writing well, not just for basic reading and writing. A child who gets Level 3 can read perfectly well if you put a book in front of them, but reading and writing well is what gives you access to the secondary curriculum and that is what we have got to keep focused on. Sometimes I have the feeling that people believe—I know that some teachers and heads feel like this, because we have had this debate—that the Government imposed all these targets. However, the truth is that the targets, in effect, are the demands placed by the 21st century: the Government are a mediator of those and sometimes they get it right and sometimes they get it wrong. But we would be betraying our young people if we did not set out for them the demands of the future that they are going into. Therefore, we should be trying to get a school system that can match up to and meet those standards.

  Q29  Mr Chaytor: Looking at Key Stage 4, is Warwick Mansell, in his book on testing and assessment, right to be scandalised by the extent of teacher intervention in the production of GCSE coursework?

  Professor Tymms: I do not know enough about this.

  Sir Michael Barber: I have not read Warwick Mansell's book.

  Chairman: We always like it when witnesses say, "I don't know." It is the people who give us an opinion on everything, even if they do not know it, that we do not like. We are grateful for that.  Stephen wants to do a postscript on this section and move on to the next section.

  Q30  Stephen Williams: Perhaps our witnesses could never be politicians. Just a quick supplementary to David's line of questions, particularly to Sir Michael, who seems to be the main enthusiast for league tables. Just to be clear, is it Sir Michael's preference that, if league tables are going to exist, it would be better if the Government designed them, included all the variables on the tables, and published them like that? Is that basically what you would recommend?

  Sir Michael Barber: If I have understood the question correctly—

  Stephen Williams: At the moment, newspapers create league tables. The Evening Standard printed a league table, which I read on Thursday morning in London, and the Bristol Evening Post, which I saw when I got home in the afternoon, had a completely different league table, which was much better because it included free school meals, special educational needs students, the number of people entered and was measuring Level 4 rather than Level 5, which is what the Evening Standard seemed to be concerned about. So we had two completely different league tables at either end of the railway line. Would it better if the Government said that they were the league tables and that is what should be published?

  Sir Michael Barber: I apologise for my misunderstanding. The Government should put the data out in formats that vary over time, and that is what has been happening. When the data is out there, individual newspapers can vary it. I was warning against the Government saying that they would not publish league tables at all, but the data getting out there and newspapers making up a set of league tables as happens in some countries and, indeed, in relation to higher education now. The fact that the Government are debating what should be in the league tables, which is after all public information that sets the standard for the system and gives parents information along with the various stakeholders, is right. Once the information is out there, newspapers can do what they choose.

  Q31  Stephen Williams: I went to school in South Wales and, even though I do not like league tables, my natural curiosity leads me to want to know how Mountain Ash comprehensive school does in the league tables but I cannot find out. There are no league tables in Wales, so even though pupils sit the same public examinations as in England, there are no league tables. Does it necessarily follow that newspapers will create them if the data are not published?

  Sir Michael Barber: Obviously, we shall see over time, but that is what has been happening around the world. One of the things that the Programme for International Student Assessment report says is that there is trend towards published public information about school performance. Indeed, that is associated with positive things in the PISA results.

  Chairman: Let us look at grade inflation.

  Q32  Stephen Williams: Every August, we go through the season of the three sets of SATs. Key stage results are published, as are A-levels and GCSEs. Different sections of the national media and commentators bemoan the declining standards compared with the time when they sat their examinations and so on. Is it the opinion of either of you that there really has been grade inflation at GCSE and A-level?

  Professor Tymms: I shall respond by quoting the analysis of Dr Robert Coe of the data, which I can provide for the Committee, if necessary. We used our data in the Curriculum, Management and Evaluation Centre to examine matters. The way in which we analysed matters was to take data based on general developed ability, say, two years before GCSE and then look at the grades that the student gained at GCSE.

  Q33  Stephen Williams: Key Stage 3 through to GCSE.

  Professor Tymms: It was two years before. There is an assessment at he beginning of year 10 and then we look at the grades that were achieved. We can do that over many years. We take pupils with a particular level of ability and see what grades they get. Generally, we find pretty flat lines at GCSE. Standards appear to have been maintained at GCSE over several years. There is a little fluctuation according to some subjects, some of which apparently get easier while some apparently get a bit harder. However, the headline is pretty well standard. A2-level tells us quite a different story. If we use the same ability test, at the beginning of A2-level, and look at the grades, we find that pupils of a particular ability are getting higher and higher grades and have been for many years. In fact, if we went back some years, a D in mathematics might be the equivalent of getting a B now. That is quite a big jump. The biggest change is in mathematics, but it is less in others and there is a big difference in different subjects. It is complicated subject, but we were talking about fit for purpose. If we consider the purpose of A-level and selection for university, we see that Durham University's law department is inundated by students with straight As. The position is similar at Oxford and Cambridge, so to distinguish between them we create a market for producing tests for the selection of more students. The A-levels should have been doing that. We have a problem with the levels at A-level. So many students are getting As that we now need to distinguish between them.

  Q34  Chairman: But only 20,000 students get three straight As out of all the people who take A-level. That must put matters into perspective.

  Professor Tymms: Yes, but if you went back you would find that 30% used to fail A-level and get below an E. Now the number is down to just a few per cent. with straight failed A-levels. There has been a dramatic shift.

  Stephen Williams: The 20,000 straight As would be enough to fill up all the departments at the top universities in the country.

  Chairman: I am sorry, but it depends on what you call top universities.

  Q35  Stephen Williams: Professor Tymms is saying that he accepts that there is grade inflation at A-level. How many people got a 2.1 at Durham 20 years ago compared with how many people get a 2.1 now?

  Professor Tymms: There has been grade inflation there, but I do not know specifically about Durham University. I know about Harvard University.

  Q36  Stephen Williams: Universities moan about the entry standards at A-level, but when I looked at it, lo and behold, I saw that the number of people getting 2.1 and firsts has gone up, because no one wants a 2.2 any more.

  Professor Tymms: I am not going to defend that.

  Sir Michael Barber: Peter probably knows better than me the data on A-levels. I just want to make one general point at the beginning. I believe that the kids coming out of our schools now are the best educated generation in history, and that owes a lot to the reforms and investment of the past 10 to 20 years. The kids do not get the credit that they deserve for that. They get run down a lot in the media, and that is a big problem. I very strongly believe that today's kids are the best educated generation in history. However, that is not to say that that is good or equitable enough; I would like it to be better. I talked about the challenges of the 21st century, but I am very pleased that this generation is the best educated in history because of the problems facing not just this country but the planet generally over the next 10 to 20 years. That requires a well educated generation. My second point goes back to what we were saying before. Having a new independent exams regulator, as proposed by Ed Balls, will really help in this area. I hope that that will come to pass. Thirdly, the arrangements for doing A-level exams—retaking modules and so on—enable more young people to succeed. That may be one of the factors why Peter—and he may want to comment on this—sees what he is seeing. On GCSEs, I am glad to hear what Peter has to say. I believe—and I got into trouble for this in my first few months in the Department in 1997—that in the very early years of GCSEs, between 1988 and 1990, there was an element of grade inflation. There is an account of this debate in my book. The progressive changes in the QCA since then have tightened it up and held the standard rather well.

  Q37  Stephen Williams: I was going to ask about the variables. I am sure that the National Union of Teachers and other teaching unions would say that we have the best qualified teaching profession that we have ever had, and that the quality of teaching is very high. However, is it also because the structure of the exams has changed? The modular system has been mentioned and the fact that you can retake modules. Therefore, can we really compare results now with those 10, 15 or 20 years ago, which the newspapers tend to do?

  Professor Tymms: I recommend that the Committee talks to Dr Robert Coe, who has specifically studied the subject. I can just talk in general about it. There are several factors why that might have happened. Lots of things have changed here, so a direct comparison is not straightforward. However, modular has happened and there are more students. If you have more students, you want to aim your grades at the students in front of you; that is a natural thing to do. Yes, we wanted more people to go to university, so we have had to lower A-level standards in order to get them there. So there is a natural logic to this. I worry about the standards of mathematics and physics for students at the top end. I would look at the quality of syllabuses that are being covered and talk to mathematicians, physicists and chemists about what is actually happening. We need more scientists, and more scientists at a very high level. We need more people motivated to study science. There is a tendency to think that if we make those exams and give more grades, we will get more people studying it. Actually, some of the bright kids are challenged by really hard subjects and to make them easier is not helpful. It is a complicated situation, and attracting more people to science is perhaps outside our scope here.

  Q38  Stephen Williams: Given that grades have gone up, and that is a given fact, does that mean that the standards themselves have been debased?

  Professor Tymms: No, it does not automatically mean that. You need to look at this in more detail in order to check that. I am telling you that students with the same ability are getting higher grades, so you could argue that there has been better teaching between now and then, and that might indeed be the case, but we need to look at the standard setting and see what we mean by equivalent standards. This is a complicated area which evolves. No doubt the Committee will have heard of the Flynn effect. If you take non-verbal ability measures across the western world for the past 25 to 50 years, you will see that they have been rising steadily. People appear to be getting taller and cleverer. They are more able to do things that they have never done before. The same is not true for verbal skills. We also have the anti-Flynn effect. You will see a decrease in Piagetian levels of children just finishing primary school—Michael Shayer's work on that is very important. Why has that happened? Is it because we are taking away the Piagetian work in the early parts of primary schools that are now not focusing on that early development through play and so on? It is difficult to know that, but these are general patterns that we are seeing across the western world.

  Sir Michael Barber: I can definitely say that my memory is not improving over time, but I just want to raise three general points. One is that I think that the quality of teaching and the quality of the teachers that we are recruiting have improved significantly. I think that young people are more motivated than they were 20 or 30 years ago. A lot of people in those days expected to get jobs in unskilled and semi-skilled work forces and did not need to try hard in school. This is the challenge for the future—we need to think about how we as a culture prepare ourselves for the 21st century as I described. There is an element in our culture that assumes that, if more children are passing exams, standards must have got worse. We must guard against that. We need a culture from business, universities, parents and the school system saying that more and more children can achieve high standards. That is what we need, and that is what we want to see in the 21st century.

  Q39  Stephen Williams: One final question. Is it the Flynn or the Finn effect?

  Professor Tymms: Flynn.

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