Examination of Witnesses (Questions 360
MONDAY 18 FEBRUARY 2008
MP AND RALPH
Q360 Chairman: You are missing the
point. We represent a broad swathe of population in our constituencies
and we want the information to be intelligible to people with
higher education, lesser education and very little education.
We want them all to be well informed. In the way that you present
CVA scores, what you have set up is a system that is only understandable
to people with higher levels of qualifications. That is unfair.
Jim Knight: I want to challenge
that if I may. I do not think that it is that difficult to understand
that in CVA terms, 1,000 is the norm. If you are above 1,000,
you are adding value better than the norm. If you are below 1,000,
you are adding value lower than the norm. If that is all people
understand, then it is pretty straightforward.
Q361 Mr. Chaytor: Surely, the real
point is that the significance of the degree to which it is below
1,000 is unclear. What is the Government's resistance to a simple
banding system or a five-point scale, from excellent to poor,
to rate a school's value-added performance? Would that not be
easier? We use simple banding systems to describe most other public
institutions. Yet this value-added concept is a
Jim Knight: A star system.
Q362 Mr. Chaytor: What parents want
to know is to what degree their school differs from what could
reasonably be expected. As it presents at the moment, they just
cannot work that out.
Jim Knight: The problem is that
you would be lumping lots of different judgments together. We
would have constant Select Committee inquiries into whether it
was a fair way in which to lump everything together.
Q363 Mr. Chaytor: That is what the
Ofsted report is.
Jim Knight: The Ofsted report
gives a series of judgments under a series of headings.
Q364 Mr. Chaytor: It comes together
under one scale.
Jim Knight: Yes, the Ofsted report
is the thorough, authoritative reflection on a school, whereas,
finding ways to lump things together using year by year assessment
and attainment tables would make us vulnerable to criticism and
questions such as whether we left out soft skills, science, foreign
languages and so on. There are many ways of making judgments about
a school. You could say the same about a hospital to some extent,
but a hospital's performance is rated by inspection.
Q365 Annette Brooke: Can I ask you
to have a look at how informative CVA is for the vast majority
of parents? The vast majority of parents do not really appreciate
it and do not take it on board. They still see, in a selective
system, that school X must be better than school Y, because it
has better figures according to raw results. School Y might be
doing fantastically well, but that is not the message that comes
Jim Knight: Annette, we would
always look seriously at the Committee's recommendations, and
I shall look out for that one in particular.
Q366 Chairman: It is not rocket science.
Do a quick little testanyone could do it. Get the Institute
of Education to see how understandable it is. You would not have
to take a big sampleyou could simply test how many people
easily understand it, as Ralph said, and sample by class and educational
background. You could do it in a week.
Jim Knight: I will reflect on
the wishes of the Committee.
Q367 Annette Brooke: Finally, even
if the league tables really work and if they convey something
or other to parents, you often argue that they are driving up
standards. What is the causal link between league tables and the
driving up of standards? Do you genuinely have evidence for such
Jim Knight: We have discussed
this afternoon the nature of testing and the publication of results
in tables, and their use in making schools accountable. Part of
the debate is about whether the tests are high stakes. Schools
take how well they are doing in the tests really seriously, which
drives forward their literacy and numeracy priorities. Getting
things right in English, maths and science is a priority. There
is evidence that such sharp accountability has driven things forward
in those subjects.
Annette Brooke: I shall leave the drilling
on that question to my colleagues. You write to your 100 most
improved schools, but are they most improved on raw results, on
CVA or on both?
Chairman: Let us move on. Fiona, do you
wish to ask a question about the unintended consequences of high-stakes
Q368 Fiona Mactaggart: Minister,
you said earlier that no individual pupil spends more than 2%
of their time on taking tests. That might have been a mis-statement:
Sue Hackman told us that no one spent more than 0.2% of their
time preparing for tests, but David Bell said in writing that
that meant taking tests. Do you have any evidence to show how
long pupils spend on revision and preparation for tests?
Jim Knight: I do not have those
statistics. Key Stage 2 tests take a total of five hours and 35
minutes in one week in May, so the amount of teaching time taken
away so that pupils can sit the test is 0.2%. For Key Stage 3,
seven hours and 55 minutes, or 0.3%, is taken away. Those are
the figures that Sue quoted. When I recalled that it was 2%, I
should have said 0.2%. However, I do not have any exact statistics
on the average amount of time anyone spends preparing for the
test, which would be hugely variable. With some schoolsand
I think the ideal is that they would just integrate it into their
learningthere would be a certain amount of preparation
for taking a test, because it is just good practice to instil
in young people the belief that when they are about to take an
examination they should prepare for it. I prepared a little bit
for this hearing, believe it or not. However, I do not know exactly
how the figure might average out across the country.
Q369 Fiona Mactaggart: Would you
be surprised to learn that the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority
did a survey of primary schools that showed that at Key Stage
2, in the four months before the test, it was 10 hours a week
on average per pupil? That is nearly 50% of the teaching time
Jim Knight: I have not seen that
research. I do not know whether it is something with which Ralph
Ralph Tabberer: I am certainly
familiar with the QCA research. It goes back to what I said earlier
about the problems that have surfaced from time to time regarding
the possible impact on the year 6 curriculum. That is why we are
looking atand we always listen to questions raised by the
profession and by non-departmental public bodiesthe impact
of the current system.
Q370 Fiona Mactaggart: What effort
is the Department making on this? Of course public examinations
require rehearsal and revisionI have no doubt about thatbut
the Key Stage tests were not originally conceived as that kind
of test for pupils. If half the time of a Key Stage 2 pupil is
taken up with revision for the test, that is time when they are
not learning new things.
Jim Knight: I shall let Ralph
come in on this in a minute, but I dispute that, and would be
very surprised if there are young people who are just sat there
revising when they know it all. If they are spending some time
making sure that when they complete year 6 they have the necessary
maths, English and science skills to be able to prosper when they
get into secondary and move into Key Stage 3, I do not have a
problem with that. I do not have a problem with their being taught
the things they need to be able to pass the test, even if that
means more catch-up classes, or even if it means a shift in the
amount of time being spent on the priority subjects in their final
year in primary.
Ralph Tabberer: I am sorry if
I nearly interrupted my Minister, but it was only to be just as
quick in disputing the premise that revision is wasted time. It
is enormously important that young people are as prepared as possible
for Level 4, particularly in English and maths, so that they are
ready to access the secondary curriculum. I am not concerned if
that is a prime interest for teachers teaching in year 6. We know
there is a tremendously strong relationship between pupils who
attain Level 4 in English and maths at that age and their results
at GCSE, and if we can give more young people access to that level
we are sure that they make a stronger transition into secondary
schools and are more likely to succeed. The threshold is not there
by accident, and I do not think we should treat revision as necessarily
Q371 Fiona Mactaggart: I do not do
so, but I am concerned about standards. I have only one concern,
and it is about standards. There is a balance between testing
and standards, and testing is the way in which you assess whether
a child has achieved a standard. You might want to anchor a child
into that standard, but I am concerned that our focus on testing
mayI am not saying that it does, but there is a risk that
it willinterfere with the drive for standards. In a way
it can become a substitute for standards. For example, Mr. Tabberer,
your experience is as a teacher educator and the head of teacher
education. Would you say that well-implemented teaching for learning,
and that kind of in-teaching assessment, has the capacity to drive
up standards faster than the constant testing of children?
Ralph Tabberer: Yes, I believe
that assessment for learning is an immensely important and continuous
part of the teaching and learning process. I also believe in occasional
external assessments to lift performance and give young people
the opportunity to perform at a higher level. Both have a beneficial
effect, and I have never said that one is more important than
the otherboth are of value. The helpful thing in your distinction
is that we do not want to see children being drilled so that they
can just repeat low-level processes accurately and get marks for
thatwe are all clear that we do not want that. This is
where I turn to the professionalism of teachers, and when I talk
to them, I do not hear that they are engaged in that processthey
are trying not to drill, but to prepare pupils so that they can
do their best in these tests. We have a good balance. The evidence
is saying that if there is anywhere in our overall system where
we need to invest in assessment, it is in more assessment for
learning, so you are right.
Jim Knight: Which we are doing,
with £150 million over the next three years.
Q372 Fiona Mactaggart: So far, our
efforts to implement it across the board have not been as good
as they should have been. Is that not the case?
Jim Knight: We can always do better.
Q373 Fiona Mactaggart: Let us briefly
take this back to the point that Annette raised about the results
of tests being used for other purposes. I do not think that most
teachers drill pupils, but some do, and my anxiety is that that
is partly because we use the tests in the ways that we do. There
is a riskI would like your views on thisthat drilling
might become more, not less, prevalent in the single level tests,
although there is a possibility that it might become less prevalent.
However, I would like your opinion on the fact that the research
shows that about 30% of pupils at Key Stage 2 are misallocated
levels just because that happens. About 15% are allocated a level
below that which they should have and about 15% are allocated
a level aboveI might have got the margins slightly wrong,
but that is how I read the research. One anxiety about the single
level teststhis is great for the individual pupilis
that once you are through the gateway, you are safe. My anxiety
is about pupils getting unreliable success results, although that
would be good for those pupils and might motivate them, with good
consequences. However, because we use the tests to measure schools,
there is a real incentive for teachers to push children through
the gateway. I have not seen any evidence that the Department
has addressed the damaging consequences of what the evidence suggests
is really going on.
Jim Knight: We are obviously in
the early days of the pilot on the single level tests, and we
have had only the December round of testing. It is worth noting
that we made the decisions about changing the measures on the
tests in November, before the December tests were even taken,
let alone before the results were knownI say that for the
benefit of any media representatives listening. We will see what
happens in those pilots, but one thing that was a bit weird about
the patterns from the December tests was the number of entrants
who were put in at the wrong level. As things bed in, teachers
will understand the importance of the assessment of their children's
learning and the fact that these are pass/fail tests. There is
a big difference from the SATs as they stand, where the examiner
makes the assessment of which level the pupil is at. In this case,
the teacher makes the assessment of which level the pupil is at,
then the examiner checks whether the teacher is right. That changes
the terms of trade quite significantly. It puts more emphasis
on the teacher's own assessment. That is why assessment for learning
is built into the Making Good Progress pilots, alongside
one-to-one tuition, progression targets and incentive payments.
Q374 Fiona Mactaggart: I am trying
to refresh my memory about your letter to the Committee. As we
saw it only this morning, I might be wrong, but one of the things
that you were wondering aboutthis was on the third page
of your letterwas whether part of the reason for the wrong
entry might have been that pupils were not being focused and prepared
in the way that they have been. I am quite interested in this
issue. Let me explain why. I am an MP for an area that has the
11-plus. When it was originally conceived, the 11-plus was said
to be an assessment of where pupils were at and not a consequence
of drilling and so on. Of course, ambitious parents drill their
children extensively. Of course they dothey pay for tutors
if they can afford itbecause it makes a huge difference
to pupils' performance, as a result of which it is not the kind
of assessment that it was in the days when I did the 11-plus.
I went into school one morning and the exam was stuck in front
of me; I did not know that that was going to happen that day.
Today, it is quite a different experience. I think it would be
a good thing if we could, in the single level tests and in Key
Stage 2 tests, make that the norm. It would create a blip in results
in the short term, because of the lack of preparation, but it
might tell us better truth about what pupils know, and mean that
teachers could focus on getting the pupils' understanding strong
rather than on getting pupils through examinations.
Jim Knight: I think I am with
you on this. However, I would sound a note of caution, in that
I do not want to take the pressure off.
Fiona Mactaggart: Neither do I.
Jim Knight: I know you do not.
We are explicitly designing this to drive progress for every single
pupil, regardless of their starting point, because of the concern
that some people have expressed about the current situation, in
which, let us say, at the end of Key Stage 2 there is too much
focus in some schools on people on the margins of a Level 4 and
not on the rest, because that is where the measure is. This is
about every single child making two levels of progress within
each key stage and being tested when they are ready, so the testing
is the culmination of learning when the child is ready to take
the test, rather than everyone being pushed and drilled for an
arbitrary date in June or May or whenever it is. That feels like
a good model to explore in the pilot. In relation to ambitious
parents, I think the answer is to try to get every parent as ambitious
as the next for their child. I would love an aspect of this to
be parents asking at parents evenings or in e-mails to teachers
when their child will be ready to take the next test in reading,
writing or numeracy, so that there is a bit of a push in the same
way as there is with the music grading exam. In the days when
my daughter was young enough to take her cello exams, when I saw
the cello teacher I would ask when she would be ready for grade
4, grade 5 or whatever. Just that little bit of push in the system
for each individual is not a bad thing.
Ralph Tabberer: I agree entirely
that whenever you pilot or look at an alternative approach to
assessment, the thing you have to do, as you are suggesting, is
look at the changes that causes in teacher behaviour, pupil behaviour
and parent behaviour. That is precisely why we want to go through
this pilot exercise. When you are looking at a pilot and weighing
it against the strengths and weaknesses of an existing system,
you are asking yourselves questions about whether it might cause
less time in year 6 to be devoted to revision, less time to be
devoted to drilling and so on. I think we have to go through a
couple of these rounds of the progression tests and look quite
closely at whether those are the problems, or whether we get a
new set of behaviours. At the moment we are very open to those
possibilities. You can always set out a theory that a new assessment
form could cause this or that, and there are plenty of people
out there with experience of assessmentand some withoutwho
will proselytise for different theories about what might happen.
We clearly want, with the progression test, to change some behaviours,
say earlier in Key Stage 2to get some of the questions
that are being asked about the progress of all pupils asked earlier
in the key stage than may be the case now. If we can make it more
obvious that children are perhaps progressing more slowly than
we wish in year 3 and year 4, that could be a good effect, but
if we misjudge the accountability to the point where everybody
feels that they have got to drill in order to prove worth, then
we have gone too far. These are very subtle things, but these
are the crucial questions that we have got to ask.
Q375 Chairman: I have to say that
your language worries me, because it is you, and then the Minister,
who have kept talking about drillingdrilling, driving and
pressure. That language seems to me all wrong in terms of the
educational process that Fiona is probing on, in the sense that
you set up a system that has an enormous amount of testing in
it; you incentivise teachers to achieve on that business of testing
and being successful; and you seem not to be able to step outside
that and say, "But what does this achieve? What do independent
assessors, researchers at whatever institution, tell us?"
It is an internal world; you seem to glorify testing and believe
that it is going to lead to a better quality of education for
the children. It worries me tremendously when you talk about it,
and when you brush aside the fact that it could be 50% of the
time in school spent on trying to get the kids to achieve on the
test. In the school where 30% or 40% of children have special
educational needs, and there a lot of poor kids, I have a feeling
that the percentage in those schools, particularly perhaps the
ones that might just make it with extra drilling, would be much
more intense than 50%. It worries me that this is not the world
that I see when I visit schoolsthe world that you describe.
They seem to be lost in this drilling, driving and pressure.
Jim Knight: Fiona started it with
Chairman: No; you guys came up with drilling.
Ralph Tabberer: I have clearly
given the wrong impression if you think that we just, in your
words, drive this as an internal system. Far from it. We do not
just sit in Sanctuary buildings and imagine what we think will
be an effective system. We do a lot of work looking at what the
research tells us is working, and what is not working. I would
say there is an immensely powerful trail of evidence that our
approach to assessing has been very effective over 20 years.
Q376 Chairman: So there is no evidence
that the marginal student gets even more pressure to get to that
next level? Is there any evidence that those people who teachers
think are never going to make the standard are just left in the
Ralph Tabberer: I accept that
there are real questions about where the onus of attention goes
with any external tested system at the end of a key stage. Again,
that is why within the Department we have been so interested to
move towards progression as a new model, looking at the progress
that pupils make across the key stage. It is just as important
to us that a child who is working at Level 1 gets to a Level 3
as that a child who is working at Level 3 gets to a Level 5, through
the key stage. Far from being locked into just one approach we
are much more concerned with the overall range. Where I perhaps
disagree with you, I am not sure, is that I believe that measurement
helps us to understand where a child is and gives us a sense of
where they are going. It helps to give the parent and the child
that sense, and it helps to give the school that sense. That is
itself worth having. I think that helps to open up the secret
Q377 Chairman: Would not a qualified
and perceptive teacher give you that?
Ralph Tabberer: Yes, but when
you are trying to use a system also for public accountability,
as we are doing, you are looking for a manageable solution. I
believe that our system of external testing creates the best possible
model. Indeed, in terms of the international investigation of
different models, we get a trail of people coming here to look
at the way our system works, to look at the power of the data
that we have available and to look at the willingness with which
we have been able to confront areas of failureareas of
failure for the disadvantaged as well as the advantaged. Indeed,
if you look at the recent comments from colleagues in OECD they
point to our system as having probably more of the components
of a modern and effective education system than any other they
Chairman: You have been very patient,
Annette, in getting to your questions.
Q378 Annette Brooke: I am still rather
concerned about children who would only be able to progress one
level being ignored. In many cases, it is probably a cause for
great celebration that those children do progress that one level.
The teacher will be trusted to celebrate that, I guess. Why, on
perhaps the easier aspect of going up two levels for children
of a certain ability, are there financial incentives? It seems
to me rather topsy-turvy, and we may be in danger of not putting
enough incentives in the system for children who, however high
the quality of teaching, will find it much more difficult to progress.
Jim Knight: We have yet to announce
exactly how the financial incentives within the pilot will work.
My inclination is to focus around those young people who have
not been making the sort of pace of progress they should, so rather
than just paying money for those who you would normally expect
to do well, you focus the incentive around those who have not
been doing as well as they should, who have not been making the
pace of progress that you want and being able to reward those
schoolsnot teachers, but the schools themselvesif
they manage to achieve that. We will make some announcements on
that fairly shortly. As for those who are making only one level
of progress during key stages, obviously there are some with special
educational needs where that might apply. It is worth bearing
in mind that, as Ralph said, the new system will celebrate as
much someone moving from 0 to 2, or 1 to 3, as it will someone
moving from 5 to 7. That is a significant step forward in terms
of a system that rewards improvement across the whole ability
Chairman: We must move on.
Q379 Lynda Waltho: Minister, thank
you for your letter, although for me it arrived a bit too close
Jim Knight: I have apologised
to the Chairman.