Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 127)



  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 attainment?

  Dr Boston: Holding them accountable for what?

  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 day—I 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 board—is 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 it—I thought that it was set out in the document—was 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 arrangements—I 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 board—I cannot see that in the document, but I have only skim read it so far—what 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 qualifications—not 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 QCA board.

  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 Government—they 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.

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