Examination of Witnesses (Questions 420
MONDAY 18 FEBRUARY 2008
MP AND RALPH
Q420 Mr. Chaytor: If the advice from
the regulator conflicts with the advice from the development agency,
who mediates? Will the legislation include some kind of mechanism
for that mediation?
Ralph Tabberer: Ultimately, the
decision in this area falls to Ministers. The advice of the regulator
would be public and that advice would be subject to normal parliamentary
Chairman: David had to leave to attend
a Standing Committee; he did not mean any discourtesy. We will
have very quick questions from Douglas and Annette, and then we
are finished for the day.
Q421 Mr. Carswell: Am I right, Minister,
in thinking that you said that the regulator would be accountable
directly to Parliament and not through Ministers?
Jim Knight: Yes.
Q422 Mr. Carswell: But at the same
time, you are saying that the head of the regulatory body would
be appointed by the Civil Service Commission.
Ralph Tabberer: The Civil Service
Commission gives its recommendations on the process to be followed.
Q423 Mr. Carswell: Given that Gordon
Brown made the excellent recommendation in his first week as Prime
Minister that he was going to reform Crown prerogative and allow
the legislature to make key appointments that hitherto have been
the preserve of Sir Humphrey, would there not be a case for saying
that the Children, Schools and Families Committee should conduct
confirmation hearings for the person appointed to that regulatory
role? Would that not be an excellent idea? It would ensure genuine
accountability to Parliament and it would ensure that Mr. Brown's
excellent idea was realised.
Jim Knight: That is a decision
above my pay grade.
Q424 Mr. Carswell: But you would
support it in principle?
Jim Knight: Even my view is above
my pay grade.
Q425 Mr. Carswell: You do not have
a view? You do not have a view on Gordon Brown's White Paper about
the governance of Britain?
Jim Knight: I think that you understand
what I am saying.
Q426 Mr. Carswell: No, I do not understand.
You do not have a view? Does Gordon know?
Jim Knight: I do not have a view
that I am going to share with you now.
Ralph Tabberer: I was taught in
my briefing not to answer rhetorical questions.
Q427 Annette Brooke: As I recollect,
when we talked to the examination bodies, they did not really
see the need for a development agency, because they could take
on its work. They could give you advice for freethey would
not need two chief executives. Have you considered that?
Jim Knight: Yes, it has passed
through the mind, but not for long. We are making the change because
of the perceived conflict of interest in the QCA between its regulation
and its development functions. Replacing that conflict of interest
with a different conflict of interest, by giving the development
of qualifications to the same people who make money out of them,
did not seem sensible.
Q428 Annette Brooke: I might not
applaud a competitive model, but I thought that you might.
Jim Knight: There is a very competitive
qualifications market out there, which responds to the qualifications
that are designed in structural and policy form by the QCA. We
do not have a problem with competition, but I do not want the
conflict that your interesting notion would produce.
Q429 Chairman: One very last thing,
Minister. When did you last consult teachers directly on how they
feel about the quality of the testing and assessment system? I
do not mean through the unions, I mean through either the General
Teaching Council or, more importantly, by the direct polling of
teachers about their experiences and happiness, and what suggestions
they would make to improve the system. When was the last time
you did that?
Jim Knight: You said "not
through unions", but I frequently talk to teachers' representatives
about the matter. I do not know when we last carried out any kind
of proper research or survey of the work force on the issue, but
we would have to carry out parallel research with parents, because
we have a system that is designed for the consumers of the product
as well as the producers.
Q430 Chairman: That ducks the question.
When was the last time you consulted? If you have not done it
recently, why do you not do so now?
Jim Knight: I tried not to duck
it by saying that I did not know.
Q431 Chairman: Is it a good idea?
Could you do even a sample survey?
Jim Knight: It might be a good
idea to do both. Obviously, we carry out various types of research,
but we have a budget on which there are many demands. As always,
I will listen carefully.
Q432 Chairman: This is a key part
of Government policy. Surely the people who deliver the policy
up and down the land should be consulted on how they feel about
the regulatory and testing and assessment frameworks. Surely it
is key to know what they think.
Jim Knight: It is key, which is
why I have frequent discussions with teachers' representatives
Q433 Chairman: We all know about
vested interests. We set up the General Teaching Council to cut
away from that, but you evaded talking about it.
Jim Knight: I meet with the GTC
and hold discussions with itI shall speak at its parliamentary
reception fairly soon, and I look forward to seeing members of
the Committee there.
Q434 Chairman: Ralph, you were in
charge of teacher training. Do you think that it is important
to keep in touch? As we know, one of the key elements in delivering
quality education is a highly motivated and highly trained work
force, so should it be consulted on the very important issue of
testing and assessment?
Ralph Tabberer: I am sure that
it should be consultedyour argument is very clear. We are
not short of teachers' views on the matter, whether they are presented
directly by representatives, at school visits, or through the
GTC. We are shorter on responses from parents, and we might take
a look at the range of their views. It is enormously important
to look at the public information on what is happening in the
school system. I still believeyou have heard me defend
it todaythat our system is particularly transparent because
of what we can show parents regarding what works and what does
not work in our schools and in the system at large. We should
not give that up too quickly.
Q435 Chairman: It is not that anyone
on the Committee particularly disagrees with that, Ralph, but
I am calling on someone to find those things out scientifically.
I am not simply talking about chatting to the National Union of
Teachers or the NASUWT. Their representatives failed to appear
before the Committee to talk about this important subject, which
is an indication of how important they consider testing and assessment.
You should find out scientifically, by going directly to teachers
and evaluating their opinion. We would be happy if you spoke to
parents at the same time, but you should get a clear resonance
of what is going on out there.
Jim Knight: In the same way that
I heard the message that we might want to think about research
on CVA and what information parents find useful, I hear your message
that we could usefully do some proper, quantitative research with
the teaching work force on testing and the other things that we
have talked about today, and I shall certainly take that back
to the Department.
Chairman: Thank you very much. This has
been a long session. We have learned a lot, and we have enjoyed
itI hope you did, too.