Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 420 - 435)



  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 scrutiny.

  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 free—they 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 about it.

  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 it—I 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 consulted—your 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 believe—you have heard me defend it today—that 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 it—I hope you did, too.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2008
Prepared 13 May 2008