Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary memorandum submitted by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF)


  1.  In May 2007, the Department submitted a memorandum to the Education and Skills Committee's inquiry into testing and assessment. This supplementary memorandum provides further information relevant to that inquiry. The Government remains committed to the assessment system as described in the original memorandum.


  2.  On 26 September 2007, the Secretary of State announced plans to establish a new, independent regulator of qualifications and tests. The regulator will be the guardian of standards across the assessment and qualifications system and will report to Parliament on the tests and qualifications system and the value for money it offers the taxpayer.

  3.  Confidence in Standards: Regulating and developing qualifications and assessment (Cm 7281) was published jointly by the DCSF and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills on 17 December 2007, and sets out the Government's proposals in greater detail. A consultation on these proposals is running until 10 March 2008.

  4.  The proposed reforms have two goals: firstly, to ensure that we have a regulatory system that continues to maintain the high standards of qualifications and assessment in England; and secondly, to ensure that learners, employers, higher education and the general public have full confidence in these standards and their consistency year on year. The reforms will achieve these goals in the following ways:

    —    The scope, powers and functions of the new regulator reflect the Government's principles of good regulation and build on the experience and expertise of the QCA, which has managed the qualifications and assessment system successfully for the past 10 years. A number of changes to the existing regulatory approach are proposed in Chapter 2 of Confidence in Standards. The proposed regulatory system will allow the regulator to maintain standards in the current system and to operate effectively in the changing landscape of the coming years;

    —    The creation of the new regulator will separate regulatory activity from the work of the QCA on development and delivery of public qualifications. This will resolve the perceived conflict of interest that exists with these functions sitting in the same organisation; and

    —    The new regulator will be independent of Ministers and will report to Parliament on its work. This will allow it to demonstrate that it is carrying out its regulatory activity independently of government, which will help to ensure public confidence in the standards that it is regulating. The Secretary of State wrote to the Chairman of the Select Committee on the day the consultation document was published, inviting the Committee to consider how it wished to monitor and review the work of the new regulator.

  5.  The Office of the Qualifications and Examinations Regulator will be a Non-Ministerial Government Department. It will have its own chief executive, chair and non-executive board. We will legislate to establish the new body at the earliest available opportunity following the outcome of the current consultation exercise. In the meantime, an interim regulator will be set up under existing statutory powers in advance of next summer's exams.


  6.  The Department's previous memorandum referred to the Making Good Progress (MGP) pilot, which is trialling new ways to measure, assess, report and stimulate progress in schools (paragraphs 37-40). It involves pupils in Key Stages 2 and 3 in over 450 schools across 10 Local Authorities. Since the submission of that memorandum the pilot has now begun. It started in September 2007 and will run to July 2009. Its five elements are:

    —    one-to-one tuition of up to 20 hours in English and/or maths for pupils behind national expectations who are still making slow progress;

    —    a focus on assessment for learning;

    —    the introduction of single-level tests which pupils can take "when ready";

    —    school progression targets (in 2008-09 this is to increase by at least 4% points the proportion of pupils making 2 levels of progress in the key stage); and

    —    an incentive payment for schools which make good progress with those children who entered the key stage behind expectations.

  7.  Within the MGP pilot, we are looking at how testing might more effectively support a personalised approach to learning and encourage every child to make good progress throughout their school careers. In December, 22,500 pupils took 43,000 single level tests in reading, writing and mathematics. An independent evaluation of the pilot being undertaken by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC).

  8.  Single level tests are shorter than the current end of Key Stage tests and each covers a single level of the National Curriculum, from Level 3 to Level 8. They are aimed at pupils aged between seven and 14. They are intended to confirm teachers' judgements and are designed to motivate pupils by focusing on the next step in their learning. Pupils will take a test which is pitched at the level at which they are judged by their teacher to be working, rather than a test which spans a range of levels. If they are unsuccessful, they will be able to take the test again.

  9.  During the pilot, which runs until summer 2009, single level tests will be available in December and June each year. Pupils will also take the current tests in English, mathematics and science at the end of Key Stages 2 and 3.

  10.  In the Children's Plan, which we published on 11 December, we signalled our intention to implement single level tests in reading, writing and mathematics on a national basis at the earliest opportunity, subject to positive evidence from the pilot and endorsement of this approach from the regulator. Those tests would replace the National Curriculum tests at the end of Key Stages 2 and 3. We will also explore new options for the assessment of science. In the meantime, the current National Curriculum tests for science will continue.


  11.  The Children's Plan has also cited the aim to make the use of tracking and Assessment for Learning (AfL) tools and techniques truly universal across all schools, extending them beyond the core subjects of English and mathematics. The English and mathematics Assessing Pupil Progress (APP) materials, already developed by the QCA, should become universally used in schools, and we want to expand those tools into more subjects, starting with science. Schools will be expected to have a systematic approach to AfL and intervention as a key strategy in helping both pupil and teacher understand where they are in their learning and what their next steps should be. AfL, and especially the use of tracking tools such as APP, also ensures that teachers' assessment judgements against curricular targets are consistent, robust, and build on a solid evidence base. This will be particularly important if single level tests are introduced on a national basis, so that teachers are able accurately to enter children for the appropriate test when they are ready. £1.6 billion has been committed for personalised learning over the next CSR period (2008-11) to ensure that schools are able to do this.


  12.  As our previous memorandum explained (paragraph 34), changes are being made to GCSE to respond to concerns expressed about coursework—tightening and strengthening assessment arrangements—as well as to ensure that specifications develop to reflect the recent secondary curriculum review and the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act. Following a series of consultations and reports, QCA recommended that controlled assessments should replace coursework in the following subjects: business studies, classical subjects, economics, English literature, geography, history, modern foreign languages, religious studies and social sciences. In addition, it recommended that in art and design, design and technology, home economics, music and physical education, internal assessments should continue with stronger safeguards. It also recommended mathematics coursework be removed from September 2007: this has now come into effect.

  13.  Controlled assessments are assessments that take place under controlled conditions in schools and are either set or marked by an awarding body. This approach will address the need to balance concerns about potential cheating against the added burden and cost to schools of monitoring every piece of work a student does or increasing the number of exams.

  14.  In the summer of 2007, QCA consulted on new GCSE qualification and subject criteria, incorporating the above recommendations. They received clear support from most of the respondents. The criteria have now been finalised and the subsequently revised specifications will be available from September 2008 for first teaching in 2009. The exceptions are science, which will remain unchanged, and English, English Literature, information and communication technology (ICT) and mathematics, for which new specifications will be available in the autumn term of 2009 ahead of first teaching in 2010. The English, ICT and mathematics criteria are being revised on a slower timescale to other GCSEs to allow time to incorporate the functional skills which are currently being piloted.


  15.  As explained in our previous memorandum (paragraph 43), to increase the options available to young people the Government is introducing a new range of qualifications for the 14-19 phase. Diplomas will provide a new way of assessing standards at Levels 1, 2 and 3 in 17 lines of learning. Consortia of schools, colleges and other providers will begin delivering the first five Diplomas from September 2008. A further five will be rolled out from September 2009, and four more in September 2010. By 2013, all students anywhere in the country will be able to choose one of the first 14 Diplomas.

  16.  In October 2007, the Secretary of State announced the introduction of three new Diplomas in Science, Humanities and Languages—it is expected that these will be available for first teaching in September 2011. Suitable Diploma Development Partnership structures will shortly be established to specify the most appropriate content and assessment arrangements for each of these new Diplomas.

  17.  The Government has committed that in 2013 it will review the evidence and experience following the introduction of all Diplomas to reach conclusions about how in practice the overall qualification offer meets the needs of young people in progressing to further study and employment. It will consider the future of A levels and GCSEs in the light of this evidence.

  18.  We are currently developing a strategy for all 14-19 qualifications, to underpin our 14-19 reforms, and will publish proposals for consultation shortly.


  19.  Diplomas are applied qualifications and the approach to assessment needs to support learners to learn how to apply their learning. Assessment will therefore be a combination of internal controlled assessment and external assessment. In designing the Principal Learning qualifications for the Diploma, awarding bodies have chosen the assessment methods that best suit the knowledge, skills and understanding required for each unit. Units that involve internal controlled assessment will typically focus on practical learning and those with a more theoretical focus will be externally assessed. This approach is consistent with our approach to other national qualifications. The majority of GCSEs and A levels have a theoretical focus and therefore are predominantly externally assessed: however, as set out above, those GCSE subjects which have a greater focus on applied knowledge and skills will include an element of controlled internal assessment.

  20.  QCA has recently published guidance on controlled internal assessment which is available on their website. This sets out how internal assessment may be controlled in relation to how tasks are set, taken and marked and also how teachers are trained to assess.

  21.  To ensure that the assessment system and assessment practice for Diplomas in schools and colleges operates to a high standard, we have given the National Assessment Agency a remit to develop a national approach which will set standards for high quality controlled internal assessment processes and practice and will ensure the professional expertise of local assessors.

January 2008

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