Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120
MONDAY 17 DECEMBER 2007
Q120 Fiona Mactaggart: Does the fact
that schools are held accountable through tests that are really
designed to be summative tests of children's achievement mean
that teachers teach a less-rounded curriculum?
Dr Boston: My only reaction to
that is absolutely anecdotal. We have a network of 1,000 schools
to which we relate intensively, and I have been told by people
at the QCA who work closely with schools, and from what I hear
from professional bodies, head teachers and so on, that their
answer to that question is frequently yes. I do not run a school,
and I do not have first-hand evidence of that, but all the evidence
that I hear in my position is about the narrowing of the curriculum
that results from these tests. Presumably, there may be some better
approach to that with the single-level tests. I have also spoken
to many head teachers who are probably the exception to the rule
and say, basically, the objective is good educational nutrition
for these youngsters, and if they have got that they will pass
the tests. That is a better way than simply narrowly training
them to take the assessment.
Q121 Fiona Mactaggart: I am sure
that they are right. However, because of lack of self-confidence
and other things among many teachers, such teachers are not in
the majority, I suspect. Would it be possible for you to devise
a test? I have listened to you speak about testing. Your commitment
is to using testing to improve the quality of education for children,
yet here seems to be some evidence that in one respect testing
in Britain is narrowing the quality of education for our children.
Could you devise a separate way of holding schools accountable,
which could avoid that difficulty so that that function is dealt
with differently from the way in which we were assessing children's
Dr Boston: Holding them accountable
Q122 Fiona Mactaggart: For the quality
of teaching. At the moment, they are held accountable by the attainments
of the children through examinations.
Dr Boston: I see the desirability
of the aim, but at the moment I cannot neatly and glibly say,
"Yes, we could do this, this and this." I see the point
of the question.
Q123 Fiona Mactaggart: In the meantime,
is there anything you can do to reduce the burden of testing in
terms of the rest of the curriculum?
Dr Boston: Apart from providing
advice to Government on assessment reform, I cannot see a way
in which, within the ambit of the QCA itself, we could be catalytic
in producing that change.
Q124 Stephen Williams: Perhaps I
can go back to the subject of what was called the historic dayI
assume that that reference was to the announcement on Confidence
in Standards that was made earlier today. In my earlier question
to Ken, I asked him when he was consulted about the split, and
about the setting up of the new organisation. Have you been consulted
on the structure? I have been reading chapter 2 during our sitting,
which does not make it clear whether there will be a sort of Ofsted,
with a chief inspector and a board. I think that I heard you refer
to a boardis that right?
Dr Boston: We have certainly been
consulted, and our advice has been sought on where we might go
from here now that the Government have made the decision to go
ahead and now that consultation has happened. The intention, as
I understand itI thought that it was set out in the documentwas
that there should be a non-departmental body with its own board
and its own chief executive. I have no detail beyond that at this
stage. We have been consulted and have been asked for quite detailed
advice on how we might set up shadow arrangementsI described
our proposals on that earlier. They have still to be accepted
by Government, but they seem to be an intelligent way forward.
Q125 Stephen Williams: If we assume
that there will be a boardI cannot see that in the document,
but I have only skim read it so farwhat sort of people
should be on it? In relation to A-levels, do you agree that it
would be sensible for universities to be represented on the board,
given that roughly 90% of children who achieve A-level standards
now continue to higher education?
Dr Boston: The regulator will
of course be responsible for all qualificationsnot just
the general ones but vocational and adult ones, too. The regulator
will clearly have a role in devising new approaches to the recognition
of awarding bodies, including the post-Leitch recognition of employers
as both awarding bodies and training providers. The board of the
new body would, I think, need to consist of higher education representatives,
business representatives and teaching profession representatives.
It would probably be pretty similar in composition to the current
Q126 Chairman: We shall have to finish
now, but is it right that you have a choice as to which way you
jump? Can you choose which organisation you opt for?
Dr Boston: No, I will continue
as Chief Executive of the QCA.
Q127 Chairman: I have one last question.
When we pushed you today, you tended to say, "But I'm a regulator."
In a sense, therefore, some of your answers have persuaded me
that the reforms are right. When I asked you why you did not push
for the reforms or take a certain course in advising the Government,
you showed a certain unhappiness. The indication was that there
was a functional stress between the two roles. Is that right?
Dr Boston: There is a stress,
yes. I am not an independent commentator on education. I certainly
have a responsibility under the current legislation to be absolutely
separate from the Government and from everyone on maintenance
and regulation of standards. My position has always been that
the minute any Government attempted to interfere with that, I
would be the first to declare it publicly. On issues such as the
curriculum and provision of qualifications, the current role is
to advise the Government. We do not have the capacity to go out
and say that we are simply going to introduce a new form of testing
in two years' time. Those decisions are for the Governmentthey
always have been, and they always will be. There has been tension,
and you have exposed it cleverly in our discussion.
Chairman: Ken Boston, it has been a pleasure
to have you here. I am sorry that we were disrupted and that there
is unfinished business that perhaps, when you return from Australia,
we can revisit with you. Thank you to all those who have attended.
I wish a happy Christmas to everyone.