Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families Minutes of Evidence

Further memorandum submitted by Jim Knight MP, Minister of State for Schools and Learners

  Following my appearance before the Committee on 18 February, I am writing to provide further details relating to the evidence I gave. I hope the Committee will find this additional information useful in making its report.


  The Committee expressed concern that they were not aware of any recent research into teachers' and parents' attitudes to assessment.

  We have recently consulted widely on the possible new direction of assessment policy. Teachers were amongst those consulted about our Making Good Progress proposals. Responses to the consultation indicated general support for the idea of taking a test when ready, although there was a lack of understanding at that stage about how the single level tests would operate.

  We also have an opportunity to learn more about teachers', pupils' and parents' views through the Making Good Progress pilot. As part of their independent evaluation of that, PriceWaterhouseCoopers are conducting surveys with all these groups, as well as interviews with teachers and pupil focus groups in a small sample of the pilot schools.

  We are also considering asking for parents views on our proposals for future assessment policy, including the use of Single Level Tests, as part of our forthcoming consultations on the Children's Plan.

  Furthermore, as part of a series of ongoing research, Ipsos MORI was commissioned by the QCA to carry out a sixth wave of research to assess teachers', parents', students' and the general public's perceptions of the A level and GCSE exam system shortly after the 2007 examinations session. This follows five "waves" of a quantitative survey of perceptions towards A levels between 2003 and 2006 (and, since 2004, perceptions towards GCSEs). The report, GCSEs and A level: the experiences of teachers, students, parents and the general public. A Research Study Conducted for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) was published in last month. Some of the key findings were as follows:

    —    Teachers are most likely to agree that most A level students get the grades their performance deserves, followed by the students themselves. 63% of parents agree with this statement.

    —    Teachers are less likely to express concerns about the A level system this year than previously—over a third (35%) claim they have no concerns.

    —    Teachers' confidence in the A level system continues to increase (76% now agree that they have confidence in the system).

    —    Just under three in five (59%) A level teachers say they are confident in the accuracy and quality of the marking of A level papers.

    —    Teachers' confidence in the GCSE system has increased since 2006 (76% agree they have confidence, up from 66% in 2006).

    —    Two-thirds of GCSE teachers (67%) have confidence in the accuracy and quality of marking of GCSE papers.

    —    The same proportion of teachers as the previous two years (77%) agree that the exam system needs to be independently regulated and controlled by a body other than the Department for Children, Schools and Families. In line with last year, three-quarters (76%) of teachers feel that the QCA is effective in this role.

    —    Parents' concerns are similar to those of teachers, with problems about how exams are graded and marked coming out top, followed by how time consuming the work is for students, and the number of exams that students face. Concerns relating to coursework appear to be less of an issue this year (possibly due to the removal of coursework from some GCSE subjects).


  I have considered further the points that members made about contextual value added (CVA), and its transparency to parents. The prime purpose of the Tables is public accountability—one element of which is choice of school. This links to the presentation of information for use by parents, and it should be considered within the wider context, for example, by looking at parental reactions to notions of progression, as I suggested in my answer to Annette Brooke (Q355). I will also be looking at we already know about parents' views on school accountability, and will then consider whether more research is needed, or whether we should indeed address questions of the presentation of CVA or other aspects of school data.


  The Committee expressed interest in the scrutiny of appointments to the new independent regulatory body for qualifications and examinations. Subject to Parliament passing the necessary legislation, the Chair of the Office of the Qualifications and Examinations Regulator will be a Crown appointment. Prior to legislation, an interim regulator will be established as a committee of the QCA, to carry out the regulatory functions of the QCA as they are currently set out in legislation. The Chair of the interim regulator is being recruited under Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments rules, and will become the first Chair of the Office of the Qualifications and Examinations Regulator.

  The establishing legislation will reflect official advice on the appropriate processes to be followed for public appointments to the Office of the Qualifications and Examinations Regulator. On 23 January 2008, the Minister for the Cabinet Office sent to the Liaison Committee a list of existing public appointments which the Government propose should be subject to the pre-appointment scrutiny by their relevant Select Committee, and placed a copy in the Library of the House.

  Ed Balls wrote to you on 17 December, when the consultation document Confidence in Standards was published, and invited the Committee to consider how best it could monitor and review the work of the new statutory regulator and the interim regulator.

  I hope this information helps the Committee in its Inquiry and I look forward to seeing the report.

March 2008

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