Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240
MONDAY 21 JANUARY 2008
Q240 Mr. Stuart: Just to go back
to Edexcel ResultsPlus, will you look at common fields and common
analysis? Referring to the earlier question about the unintended
consequences, could it be that every teacher in the future will
be able to have marks for their entire career? Would you be able
to categorise them as a four-plus teacher, a three-and-a-half
plus teacher and a three-plus teacher? Now that the Prime Minister
has said that he will not put up with schools that are below a
certain level and they will have to be closed, will we move to
a stage in which politicians in here will say that any teacher
below a certain level will be fired within two years or brought
up to scratch?
Jerry Jarvis: Right now, those
teachers are liable to be sacked anyway for their performance
as defined by the league tables. Teachers, management teams and
students can avoid that if they use ResultsPlus to continuously
assess their performance and improve itso it would have
the opposite effect.
Mr. Stuart: And to continuously avoid
Q241 Fiona Mactaggart: Do exams have
to be in the summer when hay fever and hot weather cause problems
to some candidates?
Jerry Jarvis: That is a much broader
question because of university entrance and the competition for
places. As someone said to me when I joined Edexcel, the reason
why we have university entrance at that time of the year is so
that children can bring in the harvest. We seriously should look
at the overlap that exists between the teaching curriculum and
the examination process that leads to higher education. Right
now, I do not think that any of us can see a viable methodology
for moving that examination time.
Q242 Chairman: Even trying to get
Oxford and Cambridge to have the same application process as other
universities has been very difficult. You looked rather uncomfortableGreg
particularly, and also you Jerrywhen I said that perhaps
the opinion is that you are getting out of touch with what universities
and teachers are saying. You seemed more hurt at that than at
any other question. May I take you back to Kevin Stannard, the
director of international curriculum development at Cambridge
University? He said: "Through the late 1980s and the 1990s,
the gap between academics and schools got wider and wider in terms
of academics disengaging from exam boards. I think what we are
living with now are the implications of that". Why would
he say that, Greg, if it was all nonsense?
Greg Watson: My discomfort is
that getting qualifications right is the business of trade-offs.
There are so many different stakes in the qualification system.
For it to work well, and for it have everyone's confidence, everybody
has to have their say; and those different and sometimes competing
demands have to be balancedand balanced well. I recognise
that universities have a bit less of a stake as a result of the
last 10 years; employers will feel in some areas that they have
a bit less of stake in some parts of the system, although it has
grown in others. We are sitting in the middle, and inevitably
juggling all those. We are certainly making a lot of effort to
build more relationships back with higher education; they have
weakened a bit, as we have had more of our focus drawn towards
the Government of the day, and a not particularly independent
Q243 Chairman: Is there anything
you want to say to the Committee before we wind upanything
that you think you should inform the Committee about what you
have not yet said because our questions were inadequate?
Jerry Jarvis: If I had not got
across my point about the importance of the things that Ken Boston
said and about all the money that I have spent, I would be very
Chairman: I think that we got that.
Jerry Jarvis: But we have a serious
opportunity to shift that stubborn A to C statistic that has dogged
us for many years.
Murray Butcher: A point came from
Fiona about releasing information and the problems it might cause.
I think that we should look at it from the reverse direction.
It is sensible for awarding bodies like ourselves to find ways
to be more and more open in our processes. If part of that is
giving feedback, as mentioned, with all the data that we collect
from various examining activities, there is a growing duty and
responsibility, at least on the four of us, to be more creative
and more open with that information. It will only make the system
Q244 Chairman: I feel a bit guilty
about you, Murray, because we have not asked you as many questions
as others. Surely we should have asked you about this vast expansion
of apprenticeships. Are they going to be linked to qualifications
in a serious wayor should they be?
Murray Butcher: I regard apprenticeships
as they stand as serious qualifications.
Q245 Chairman: I am sorry, but they
are not naturally linked to qualifications, are they?
Murray Butcher: They are an amalgam
of two or three different bits.
Q246 Chairman: A lot of them are
still time-served, with hardly any paper qualification. Evidence
given to the Committee suggests that that is the case.
Murray Butcher: I would be extremely
surprised, because the QCA and the Learning and Skills Council
have identified apprenticeships as involving national vocational
qualifications, possibly what is called a technical certificate,
which underpins knowledge, and functional and basic skills. That
is the apprenticeship.
Q247 Chairman: So you are totally
happy with what is happening with apprenticeships?
Murray Butcher: I would not say
that I was totally happy. They probably need more support in the
workplace, and still more understanding by employers as to what
they offer. I know that the achievement rates remain relatively
lowat about 40%.partly because young people who
begin apprenticeships achieve employment and leave the programme.
So there are obviously some problems about ensuring continuance
There are some structural issues that need to
be resolved, but as a product they provide a good background and
a good basis for employment. What is planned at the moment is
increasing flexibility in the structure of the apprenticeship.
That is what QCA and others are currently looking at.
Greg Watson: Just a final thought
on standards, which is right at the heart of the review. In general
in this country, we spend too much time having a debate about
standards at the low level of an individual question paper, the
marking of this year's examination and small changes here or there
in the percentage of candidates getting a given grade. We are
having that debate at the wrong level. 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. As I hope you have heard, that is something on which
we have tremendous expertise, tremendous power to innovate and
a tremendous ability to add to learning by making exams sympathetic
to the business of learning, rather than something that sits outside
Q248 Chairman: But, Greg, you are
still selling a product. We on this Committee and our predecessor
Committee have argued for a long time that you do not need a new
A* plus and that you can just let the universities have the full
marks at A-level. Would that not be just as good as an A*? Why
do you want an A*?
Greg Watson: We do not just want
the A* grade, but the new style of syllabus that we have developed
to support it. We have been back to every single A-level subject
andto answer your question, Fiona, about where these questions
come fromdefined in new terms what you have to be able
to do to get the highest grade in an A-level. Now, we are setting
questions to match that.
Q249 Chairman: Will that inevitably
lead to even more children from elite independent schools dominating
the leading research universities in our country?
Greg Watson: We will just mark
what we are faced with and give the A*s to the A*-standard candidates.
Dr. Bird: There is a forecast
in our evidence to that effect. I cannot remember which paragraph
it is in, but we have provided a forecast of that in our evidence.
Q250 Chairman: Jerry, do you think
that, too? Do you think that will be the inevitable conclusion?
Will an A* mean that even more children from the independent sector
and the best of the state school system will dominate?
Jerry Jarvis: That is certainly
a tendency and something that we really have to work on. However,
it is striking that if you look at individual schools' performance,
you can see that two schools facing each other in the same street
and drawn from the same community can have dramatically different
outcomes, and we need to understand much more why that is. The
fact that schools that have dramatic advantages will do better
is almost an inevitability. The private sector already has the
vast majority of passes at A-level, so you would expect it to
excel at A*, but a number of other schools also excel and can
also differentiate themselves hugely. In the evidence that the
awarding bodies gave during last summer's results, we faced the
press together and pointed out that there were differences in
different school types and that the overall achievement rates
at some school types were doing down, not up. However, there is,
of course, a general tendency that the better-off and the more
advantaged will gain higher grades.
Chairman: Thank you very much for that
evidence. It has been a long session, but it has been a good one
from our point of view. Sorry if we pushed you too hard at any
time or if we have been hard on you, although I do not think that
we were. You have been excellent witnesses. Thank you very much
for your contributions.