Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20
MONDAY 10 DECEMBER 2007
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 significantthe 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 resultsperhaps
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 itand you
will know from your constituentsparents 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 schoolmaybe 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 stuffwhat 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 aboutthey 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 didsome schools
do it brilliantlywe 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 headsthey
might have to appoint ordinary teacherswhereas 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 variationwe
have private schools and some very tough schools. However, if
you go to the United States or to Chinabizarrelyyou
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 reversedthey
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
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
50I 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
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 addedcore contextual value addedis
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
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
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 termsabout 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 taskssuch
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 growthall
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
resultsfor 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-FreudI mean David Freudpoints. 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. HoweverI think I am agreeing
with Peter herewhole-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
aboutfor 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 believeI know that some teachers
and heads feel like this, because we have had this debatethat
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 examsretaking
modules and so onenable more young people to succeed. That
may be one of the factors why Peterand he may want to comment
on thissees what he is seeing. On GCSEs, I am glad to hear
what Peter has to say. I believeand I got into trouble
for this in my first few months in the Department in 1997that
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 schoolMichael
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
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 futurewe 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.