Examination of Witnesses (Questions 320
MONDAY 28 JANUARY 2008
Q320 Ms Butler: Sorry, I am not
clear exactly how it will monitor the pupil, as opposed to the
teacher's perception of how the pupil is doing.
Sue Hackman: When a pupil arrives
at a levellet us say Level 4, Level 5 or Level 6it
means something: the child has certain competencies. For example,
at Level 4 English, children do not just read aloud and literally;
they can read between the lines. That is how you know that they
are at Level 4. That is the marker. At Level 5, they can use standard
English and write in paragraphs. What is in the APP that measures
progress? It spells out those markers and competencies showing
that single children are at that level. When the teacher is sure
and has assessed in the classroom that a child can do those thingsfor
example, can use standard English and paragraphsand knows
and has seen on several occasions that the child can do that,
they say that the child really is at Level 5 in their everyday
work, so they can be entered for their single level test to get
external confirmation that that is the level that they are at.
It is a formal confirmation of the teacher's classroom assessment.
David Bell: May I come in on that?
Miss Butler is also concerned about what you might call depressed
expectation and some youngsters never being considered ready for
the test. It is important, alongside all that Sue has described,
that teachers and school leaders, such as head teachers, ensure
that all youngsters, irrespective of their background, are suitably
judged ready at the right time. We want a system with the potential
to enable youngsters who are not doing well to make better progress
and, as part of the pilot, we are also encouraging schools to
look at two levels of progress that students can make, but we
do not want all those good intentions to be undermined by some
pupils not being considered ready when they actually are. That
is an issue, first and foremost, of classroom practiceof
teachers being really skilled at judging when students are ready
to move onand, secondly, and perhaps equally important,
of school leaders asking the question, "Are we sure that
every youngster, irrespective of background, has been properly
assessed by the teacher and taken forward?"
Sue Hackman: May I add that one
of the purposes of introducing the single level test is to introduce
motivation into the system so that the child has some short-range
goals to be going for during those long key stages that last four
years? We think that it will add some interest and motivation
for pupils who are facing those tests. For the most able, the
test will give stretchif they do well in their end-of-Key-Stage
it will give them additional challenges to move on toand
it will allow the least able, or those who perhaps move more slowly,
to move at a pace that is most suitable for them while giving
them something to go for. When a less able child enters the tests,
they will enter at a level that is suitable for them, and at which
the teacher is confident that they will achieve. The tests will
build their confidence and enthusiasm for learning. It was partly
those children who we had in mind when we introduced the tests.
Chairman: We have one last section and
only nine minutes to get through it. Fiona, would you lead us
Q321 Fiona Mactaggart: We have talked
quite a bit about the reliability of teststhe 30% figurebut
I am also really interested in the validity of tests. It seems
that in the hunt for more reliable testinga test that will
produce the same result every timewe are making tests that
cut down the curriculum. In a way, that was the point that I was
getting at earlier with the universities.I feel a bit like Mr.
Gradgrind, who asked for the definition of a horse. Sissy Jupe
knew everything there was to know about a horse but did not know
that it was a gramnivorous quadruped, as I recall. I worry that
we are overstressing reliability at the expense of validity in
assessing young people's learning. Is there any truth in that
worry, and, if so, what are you doing to try to overcome it?
Jon Coles: Should I respond in
relation to the public exam system? I think that that comes to
the point about the A-level specification, for example, and the
extent to which being very tight means that the assessment objectives
are clear and can be assessed precisely and reliably. That is
one of the reasons why we have a reliable system of public examination.
That then goes to the question that universities and employers
were raising in your last session and, in all of that, the desire
to ensure that there is the full range of knowledge, that the
tests are reliable and that they can be confirmedwhether
we have managed to capture sufficiently all the broader sets of
skills. They range from self-management through to independent
learning, the ability to work in teams and all the rest. The set
of reforms that we have in place now, which range from the new
Diplomas, which are designed with some really different approaches
to assessment in places
Q322 Fiona Mactaggart: OCR suggested
in its evidence to us that seeking parity with GCSE has actually
limited the range of assessment and made it too much like previous
Jon Coles: I do not think that
that will be the case. I believe that in their oral evidence to
you, several of the awarding bodies said that they hoped that
the Diplomas would give them the ability to introduce the broader
range of assessment methods that would better test the broad range
of skills that all the universities and employers who appeared
before you earlier said were so crucial to them, and that is indeed
what the Diplomas are designed to do.
The extended project is another example of the
system changing in quite a significant way to ensure that some
of those higher-order intellectual, personal, practical and thinking
skills can be developed and tested in ways that enable young people
to pursue their own learning and to learn and research independently.
So there is a set of changes in train, and it includes the introduction
of the new forms of controlled assessment at GCSE, which are designed
to ensure that we have a system that is at once valid and reliable
in testing the skills and knowledge that the syllabus is designed
to develop. I think that you are right to say that that is something
that we have to keep working at over time, and at any one point
in time there is a risk that one is stressed more than the other,
but I think that the set of reforms that we are implementing at
the moment really focuses on getting the set of things that employers
and universities want, while ensuring that we have a very reliable
system underpinning that.
Q323 Fiona Mactaggart: Would you
expect a new regulator to publish data on the reliability of particular
examinations and qualifications?
Jon Coles: I am not sure what
data they would be.
Q324 Fiona Mactaggart: Everybody
has an assessment of the reliability of a particular testing and
examination system. As I understand it, the Key Stage 2 test was
assessed as having a variation factor of some 30%, and I suspect
that that was where the 30% figure originated. Do you not think
that these figures should be public?
David Bell: The potential of an
independent regulator enables it not just to work behind the scenes
as it were, but also to make a report. In fact, there will be
an annual report, and it will be for the independent regulator
to determine what kind of evidence to put into the public domain.
I would have thought that if one of the underpinning principles
of having a new regulator was to build on the good work of the
QCA and, crucially, to help to reinforce public confidence in
tests and examinations, it will want to put their work out. In
fact, we have also said that we expect it to have quite a strong
research function. We expect it to be looking at international
data, data from across the four nations in the UK and so on. So,
I think that that would be for it to decide, but I would expect
it to be putting a lot of their findings, including their technical
findings, into the public domain.
Sue Hackman: We could design tests
that would deliver fantastic rates of reliability, but I do not
know if they are the kind of tests that we would want because
they would be made up of those very small, reliable, atomised
kinds of questions that do not deliver a sense of what the child
can do and their ability in, as I think the vice-chancellor from
Coventry described it, synoptic or conceptual understanding. With
regard to national curriculum tests, we do our best with QCA to
ensure that a range of skills are tested. There will be some very
tight, specific questions and, at the other end of the paper,
there will be some wider questions. I think that with any testing
system, there is a compromise between having atomistic and reliable
questions, and having wide questions that allow pupils with flair
and ability to show what they can do more widely.
Q325 Annette Brooke: I wonder whether
you could tell us, now that more and more work is being done on
the Diplomas, what you believe will be the long-term future of
GCSEs and A-levels. After all, you have put in the children's
plan that as long as you have got positive results back on your
testing of the single-level tests, that is the way forward. What
are your confident predictions, give or take the feedback and
piloting of the new Diplomas? What is the long-term future for
GCSEs and A-levels?
David Bell: The Secretary of State
made it clear in the autumn that he was not going to carry forward
a review of A-levels in 2008, but was going to wait until 2013.
The answer is, let us wait and see. By 2013, not only will we
have seen the effect of the reforms to A-levels that Jon has described
and other changes to GCSEs, but we will have all the Diploma lines
up and operational. Do not forget that as we expand the apprenticeships
programme, we will see more young people, we hope, following that
particular route. We are building a system that we hope will be
increasingly good for each of those different qualifications,
but that will also provide a wide variety of choice for young
people and their families and meet a wide variety of needs. I
cannot sit and speculate about what will happen.
The most important thing, surely, is to have
a system of qualifications, tests and examinations that meets
the individual needs of every young person but that, at the same
time, continues to build the economic and social strength of our
Q326 Annette Brooke: But you would
keep the two routes that Tomlinson thought it would be a good
thing to get rid of?
Jon Coles: Probably the best thing
we could do is quote directly from the Secretary of State's statement
on the day of the launch of the three new Diplomas and the formal
launch of the first five. He said, "If Diplomas are successfully
introduced and are delivering what employers and universities
value, they could become the qualification of choice for young
people. But, because GCSEs and A levels are long-established as
well valued qualifications, that should not be decided by any
pre-emptive Government decision, but by the needs and demands
of young people and parents, schools and colleges, employers and
Universities." I am not sure whether we could add to that.
We think that they could become the qualification of choice, but
that will ultimately be decided by people's choices and the qualifications
that they value in future.
Annette Brooke: I should probably leave
it there, although I am tempted to say a bit more.
Q327 Chairman: I think that we should
leave it there. I have one last thing to say to David Bell. There
is still a view among teachers and foreign commentators that we
still rely on testing and assessment, that the pendulum must start
swinging back at some stage to take the pressure off, and that
we have gone as far as we can go on testing and assessment. Do
you share that feeling?
David Bell: I think I would be
much more concerned if we were sitting here saying, "No,
we are prepared to defend everything and we are not prepared to
consider any change. Everything must go on as it always has".
I hope that you have heard today is that we are very open to the
sorts of comments, questions, views and opinions that you have
expressed. Much of what the vice-chancellors and the CBI have
said in public has been said to us privately, and much of what
we have done has been a response to that. I do not accept that
we can ever have a system without good and robust national testing
and public examinations, the results of which are made available
to the public. At the same time, we must meet changing demands,
as one of your earlier witnesses described, to ensure that we
have the best system.
Chairman: Thank you. This has been a
good sessionit could have gone on, but we are late already.
I am only slightly disappointed that I did not get a Lancastrian
head on the block. Apart from that, I thank you very much.
3 Note by witness: This should read `single-level
test' instead of `end-of-Key-Stage-test' . Back