Examination of Witnesses (Questions 400
MONDAY 18 FEBRUARY 2008
MP AND RALPH
Q400 Chairman: Some people on the
Committee have always wondered why you cannot just have the raw
datathe scores that you get in your subjectsand
leave it at that. Universities can judge from that; they do not
need the A*.
Jim Knight: We can give that data
to admissions tutors. We have said that we will do that, which
is fine. The issue is about stretch, as I have said; it is not
about differentiation for universities.
Q401 Mr. Carswell: You have used
the word "elitist" several times in a disparaging sense.
Is not testing and assessment inherently elitist, because it differentiates
and breaks down people's results in a hierarchy of performance?
Jim Knight: Not necessarily, because
a driving test is not that elitist.
Q402 Mr. Carswell: Between those
who pass and those who fail, of course it is. I failed my driving
test the first few times I took itit was elitist, and for
people who drove, thank goodness that it was.
Jim Knight: I have discussed an
education system that was designed to separate people in an elitist
way. We had a lot more selection, including Certificates of Secondary
Education, General Certificates of Education and the rest. A few
went to university, and the rest went into unskilled or skilled
occupations, of whichthis is no longer the casethere
We cannot afford to have a level of elitism that is culturally
built in. Yes, we need to differentiate, but not in a way that
Mr. Carswell: By definition, it is going
to make judgments.
Q403 Lynda Waltho: I want to wave
a flag for the poor old Diploma at this point.
Jim Knight: There is nothing poor
or old about the Diploma.
Q404 Lynda Waltho: No, I do not think
that it is poor, and I want to make sure that it is not ignored.
The OCR has stated that in its experience new qualifications take
at least 10 years to become accepted and to take rootI
am not sure whether you will be pleased to hear that. It has also
indicated that in seeking parity with GCSE and GCE, the main parts
of Diplomas are increasingly adopting models and grading structures
that mirror GCSE and GCE. What assurances can you give us, Minister,
that the proposed format of the new Diploma, which I am positive
about, will be given time to work and will not be subject to undue
Jim Knight: As you know, the first
teaching will start this September, with the entitlement in 2013
to all 14 of themwe will decide when the entitlement to
the last three is introduced. That is a fair lead-in timeit
is not the full OCR 10 years, but it is fair. The fundamental
design of the Diplomas will not change. We are not going to move
away from generic learning, which involves things such as functional
skills, personal learning and thinking skills. The voice of the
sector skills councils, where we started the process, will obviously
be heard very loud in terms of what learning is required for someone
to do well in a sector. On additional specialist learning, which
is the area of greatest flexibility, there may well be some things
that feel very familiar in terms of GCSE, A-level, BTEC and the
other qualifications that are part of the landscape at the moment.
The additional specialist learning element and the work experience
element may well look familiar. We have said that no individual
school or college will be able to live with those individual Diplomas
on their own. We will have much stronger employer engagement and
a style of teaching and learning that is related to the workplace.
In assessment terms, some of that may be similar to applied GCSEs,
applied A-levels and some of the BTECsit will be a very
distinctive offerbut we will always look for equivalence.
We should not shy away from equivalence with GCSEs and A-levels.
At the advanced level, we were pleased about the Diploma being
worth the equivalent of three and a half A-levels.
Q405 Lynda Waltho: Just one more
point. The supplementary memorandum from the Department states
that the Government will consider the future of A-levels and GCSEs
"in the light of the evidence". It is clear that both
of those qualifications are here to stay. Has the Department's
position on the long-term future of GCSEs and A-levels changed?
Jim Knight: No. The announcement
that we made in October, when we announced the three additional
Diplomas, was that we would postpone the A-level review until
2013. In the meantime, we will see what the evidence is in terms
of the experience of learners, parents, schools, colleges, universities
and employers around the qualification landscape. We will continue
to invest and reform A-levels and GCSEs in the meantime. We will
not let them wither on the vinefar from it. Obviously,
we will be putting a lot of energy into making Diplomas a success,
but not at the expense of GCSEs, A-levels and, indeed, apprenticeships,
which we will be expanding as well. We want to be able to assess
them all to see whether they are strong offers for all stakeholders.
We will have a review in 2013, and we have no preconceptions about
how that will turn out.
Q406 Mr. Chaytor: Minister, may I
ask about the splitting up of the QCA? Will the positions of chief
executive at the two new agencies be publicly advertised?
Jim Knight: We would have to advertise
under the normal Nolan rules.
Ralph Tabberer: With the new regulator,
the position would be open, but with the existing QCA in its new
form, my understanding is that Ken Boston will be staying on as
the chief executive until the end of his term.
Q407 Mr. Chaytor: How will you ensure
that the development agency and the regulator are more independent
of the Department than the QCA has been in the past? Earlier,
you described the QCA as the "independent regulator",
and then qualified that by saying, "Well, relatively independent."
What will be put in place that will make it different?
Jim Knight: The regulator will
be a non-ministerial department, like Ofsted, accountable to Parliament
rather than through Ministers. The new chief regulator, the chair
of the organisation, will be a Crown appointment in the same way
as Christine Gilbert at Ofsted. In that respect, it will clearly
be more independent than the QCA as a non-departmental public
body that is accountable through us and through our budget lines,
subject to a remit letter. The position of the development body
will be very similar to the QCA's current position: it will not
be any closer; it will not be any further away; and it will still
perform the development role that the QCA currently performs.
Q408 Chairman: Would you like the
Committee to help you with appointments and screening the eligible
Jim Knight: Goodness me, it is
very difficult for me to refuse any offers of help from the Committee,
but I would have to see the form back in the Department.
Ralph Tabberer: We would have
to consult civil service commissioners, who guide us on this process.
Jim Knight: There you go; that
is the official advice.
Q409 Mr. Chaytor: So the new development
agency will essentially be the QCA reinvented? It will not be
a non-departmental public body?
Jim Knight: It will be
Ralph Tabberer: It will remain
Jim Knight: Yes.
Ralph Tabberer: It will remain
a non-departmental public body accountable to our Ministers.
Q410 Mr. Chaytor: Not accountable
Ralph Tabberer: Well, it will
be, but through our Ministers, whereas the independent regulator
will not have a route through our Ministers. That is the distinction.
Q411 Mr. Chaytor: What will the route
be for the independent regulator?
Jim Knight: As Ofsted is now,
so not through Ministers but directly to Parliament.
Chairman: Through this Committee.
Q412 Mr. Chaytor: Had the development
agency been in existence 12 months ago, would a policy such as
the introduction of single level tests have been taken up only
after advice from the development agency? Had that been the case,
would it have been likely to have been introduced over a longer
period? The point that I am trying to get at is this. There was
an urgency about the introduction of the single level test. Your
letter to the Committee mentions that one of the problems was
the lack of pre-testing. Is this not almost like the introduction
of curriculum 2000, when the lack of pre-testing was one of the
reasons for the difficulties?
Ralph Tabberer: The pilot for
the single level test has been agreed and worked on with the QCA
from the beginning. The very big difference between curriculum
2000 and the single level test is the fact that it is a pilot.
We are making sure that it acts as a pilot. We test it out so
that we understand what is going on. We are doing that with the
QCA. There is nothing in the timing of any of these decisions
that will have changed the way that we approach that or the advice
that we would have given.
Q413 Mr. Chaytor: May I ask about
the Primary Review? Could you say a word about the time scale
for that, and will it be under the aegis of the new Development
and Training Agency?
Jim Knight: Jim Rose is leading
that for us. Most of the support that he gets logistically, in
secretariat and personnel terms, is from the QCA. They are doing
that together. Jim is working from within the Department, but
with the QCA, in that review. We expect some interim advice from
him in a few months, and we are looking for him to conclude by
the end of the year.
Chairman: Fiona has a very quick question
on creativity. She has a pressing problem.
Q414 Fiona Mactaggart: I am sorry
about that; I said to the Chairman that I would have to leave
and that I would not be able to ask you about your welcome announcement
on the cultural offer and on ways to assess creativity. Clearly,
no one really knows how that needs to be done, and I wonder whether
you would share with the Committee your early thoughts on how
it is to be doneand continue to share with the Committee
what you are going to do?
Jim Knight: To continue to share
Chairman: You had better make it quick,
Minister, or Fiona will miss her deadline.
Jim Knight: It is obviously something
that we would be happy to do. We announced last week that we would
pilot how this works. We know that there are a number of schools
where this already happens. We know that there is a considerable
amount of culture already within the curriculum in terms of art,
music, dance and drama. We know that a number of schools already
do trips to access all of that, so what we need to pilot is how
to extend that and use the very positive experience of greater
partnerships, informed by the Committee's excellent report, and
integrate it with the sport five hours, some of which, as with
culture, would be out of school.
Q415 Fiona Mactaggart: What about
Jim Knight: In terms of assessing
how well it is working and the results, I turn to Ralph.
Ralph Tabberer: We would be very
happy to work with the Committee on the approach we take. It is
new ground for us, and it is important that we get it right. However,
we are not in a position where we have a working model up and
running, so given your interest we would enjoy looking at it with
Chairman: Honour is satisfied; thank
you, Fiona. David, I am sorry about that.
Q416 Mr. Chaytor: I return to the
question of the independence of the new agency. What interests
me is where it is specified, where the separate functions are
to be described, and how the Government are going to guarantee
that independence and ensure that, at the end of the day, Ministers'
influence will not determine the recommendations and the advice
of the agency.
Jim Knight: We will need to legislate
to achieve some of this. We can set up some interim arrangements
in shadow form, effectively trying to put a Chinese wall through
the QCA. Ultimately, much of it will therefore be set out in legislation.
Ralph Tabberer: I would add that
the document Confidence in Standards is out for consultation
and it sets out the detailed proposals for the bodies. That will
allow you and us an opportunity to look at the careful balances
that need to be achieved in order to get the regulator and the
agency right. The particular opportunity that it gives us is to
make what were robust internal procedures within the QCA the subject
of work between the two, so one takes responsibility for development
and the other holds them to account. It will now be a much more
transparent process, which should allow the public to have more
confidence in it.
Q417 Mr. Chaytor: The new regulator
will have responsibility for regulating the quality and reliability
of qualifications and assessments, but in terms of the policy
surrounding assessment, will he be required to give advice on
that or will it come under the aegis of the agency? The specific
issue that I put to you is perhaps the question with which we
started our discussions this afternoon, that of the multiple uses
of assessment. Who will be advising the Government about whether
it makes sense to use pupil assessment as a means of holding schools
accountable and as a means of informing parental preference? Will
that be the role of the regulator or the development agency, or
will that stay within the Department?
Jim Knight: In simple terms, Ministers
and the Department will still decide on policy. The new development
agency will develop that policy into practice, as appropriate
and according to its remit, and the regulator will assess whether
or not standards have been maintained as a result. It will be
quite important to respect the independence of the regulator.
If we started to involve the regulator in the policy development
too much, we would be back to where we are with the current QCA,
in terms of the confliction that I talked about, if confliction
is a word, between its development role and its regulatory role.
Therefore, we would be cautious about that. However, we would
certainly be asking the new development agency for advice on policy
development and then deciding what to do with that advice.
Q418 Mr. Chaytor: If the new development
agency gave Ministers advice that it no longer made sense for
pupil assessment to serve so many different purposes, would you
be likely to accept that advice?
Jim Knight: Given that the QCA
currently performs that development role, the QCA could give us
that advice and we would then decide accordingly. We have not
received that advice. I have been fairly robust in my position,
so I think that you can predict how I might respond if I received
Q419 Mr. Chaytor: Will the legislation
be specific in giving the development agency responsibility for
advising the Government on the uses of assessment and not just
the specific forms of assessment?
Jim Knight: My familiarity with
Confidence in Standards is not sufficient to be able to
answer that question, but I can obviously let you know if Ralph
Ralph Tabberer: In terms of taking
advice, the closest relationship will be between the QCA's development
agency and the Department in putting together advice for the Ministers.
I think that it would be fair to say that we will also seek the
views of the regulator on the moves and their response will be
public. It would not make sense just to act and have the regulator
completely out of the process. However, we have to guard this
process in such a way, as Jim indicated, that we do not cause
conflict for the regulator in so doing. Again, I would point to
the current consultation as an opportunity for us to tease out
these issues. They are very good questions.
2 Note by Witness: This relates to the unskilled
occupations, not the skilled. Back