|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, for her support for Mike Tomlinson, which is important. Responsibility for standards must rest with the QCA. I will try to deal with the specific points that the noble Baroness raised, starting with the weighting between the AS- and A2-level. The full weighting of the new A-level is the same as that of the historical one. The AS-level has been set to recognise that students are in the first year of their two-year course and to give weighting appropriately. That has meant effectively that the AS-level is slightly easier and the A2 level is slightly harder, which reflects the fact that students will have completed a two-year course. On Curriculum 2000 overall, as I repeated in my right honourable friend's statement, Mike Tomlinson is very clear that the principles were wholeheartedly endorsed. I was grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for adding her weight to the endorsement of the principles behind the breadth of the curriculum.
Turning to the question that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, asked about Sir William Stubbs, I recognise his record. As my right honourable friend said, the way in which the QCA was perceived and the confidence in the system required a change of leadership in the organisation. We expect shortly to announce an interim chair for the QCA.
I am afraid that I will have to leave for Mike Tomlinson's further discussion the question of why only one board was affected. The issue is one of perception rather than reality, but it is very important that we look carefully at it. We accept that we must examine carefully the role of the QCA. We have every confidence in the new chief executive, Ken Boston. As I said, he is putting forward his task force and looking very carefully at what needs to happen.
We have never claimed, and never would do, that there has been no contact between the QCA and the department. As I said earlier, there is a policy in the department of promoting secondments in and out of a wide range of organisations. Secondments are an
We will want to look carefully at the matter, but I accept the points raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Sharp and Lady Blatch. Mike Tomlinson will be considering further the question of more QCA independence. We do not want to make any instant decisions at present; the matter is open for discussion. The key principle is that the exam system must match public expectations of integrity, fairness, objectivity and consistency, as noble Lords would expect.
I am grateful for the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. I agree that the uncertainty for students over the summer has been very difficult. Although we are, in a sense, relievedI use that word advisedlythat the 168 students affected is a smaller number than some speculated, I add immediately that one student put in this position is one student too many.
As a Government and as a group of Ministers, we asked Mike Tomlinson to look very carefully at whether there had been any interference by Ministers or officials. A resounding answer that there was none came back to Ministers and to your Lordships' House now in this Statement. I ask noble Lords to accept the word of the former Chief Inspector on the matter and I assure them that we asked that question to ensure that nothing had been done to put any pressure on the QCA. We recognise that there are lessons to be learnt and that the piloting of A2 might have been done better. As my right honourable friend said, we will learn the lessons from that.
Some of those who received a "U" in their coursework were part of the regrading process. A separate exercise related to remarking is going on. It is worth repeating that when the inquiry was called the number of requests for remarking was consistent with those of previous years. To return to the final point of the noble Baroness, the independence of the QCA will be discussed as part of Mike Tomlinson's further work.
Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe: My Lords, as chief executive of Universities UK, I welcome the generous spirit and the content of the Minister's Statement. We should remind ourselves that, given the attacks on the Secretary of State, the Tomlinson report was clear. This House needs to remind itself of how important it was to the integrity of the exam system that there was no political interference in the process. I echo the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, in expressing my hope that there will not now be a knee-jerk reaction to abandon AS- and A-level combinations. Many teachers and schools have put huge effort into making the combination work, and it would be inappropriate for us to say that the system should be abandoned now. The system has broadened the curriculum in a way that schools and universities welcome.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, and I have already paid tribute to the work done by Universities UK in this process. I am also grateful for her support for the continuation of the AS-level and the A-level. Last evening, I heard a head teacher say that in his view the group which had just left the school was perhaps the broadest and best educated he had seen.
I recognise that the period of uncertainty for students has been extremely difficult and we are all relieved that it is over. We need to work hard to ensure that any loss of confidence in the system is restored. Furthermore, I repeat that we have available special funds to ensure that no student or university is financially disadvantaged by the process.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, given the number of Ministers in the department, both in the previous Parliament and in this; given the fact that there were no ministerial resignations after the fiasco of the individual learning accounts; and given that no resignations are occurring in the present context, some might say that the cat's nine lives are beginning to run out. However, I acknowledge that I said today that resignation is a subjective matter.
Perhaps I may ask a practical question. The Statement refers to the 168 students who might be able to apply to a university on the basis of the results that they have been given. I followed that advice. However, in terms of students entering a university which they have not previously been able to enter, the Statement refers to a small number of students among the 689 who are already at their first-choice university and to a small number who are not on their first-choice course. As no advice is given on that matter, is it possible under the system for those students to ask whether they can be put on their first-choice course?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the most recent figure I have indicates that 73 students are currently at the university of their first choice but not on the course of their first choice. They will be getting in touch with their tutors and with the university admissions body to see whether a transfer would be possible. They will be making a decision in the same light as the 168 students; that is, considering whether
Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe: My Lords, perhaps I may assist my noble friend. I believe that the same criteria will apply. If there is a place available I am sure that that will be accommodated. However, it may be enormously difficult because of over-recruitment.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I am not sure that it is in order for a Back Bencher to answer another Back Bencher, even when the chief executive of Universities UK happens to sit on the government Benches. I am not sure that that is correct, but if I am wrong I shall stand corrected.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I ask a question as someone who lives in another part of the United Kingdom and has not had direct involvement in A-levels. Listening to the whole debate and following what has happened, I can understand why the universities are relieved that the changes do not affect them a great deal. I can also understand why students are fairly satisfied that not too many of them will have to change their plans. However, in view of the massive operation of marking A-level papers and grading them, and the way in which that is done, and in view of the fact that adjustments had to be made to the marking when the results were published, how do we know that the re-grading is right? Have all the marks of the thousands of students been looked at or only those up for remarking?
What about the people who did better than the staff expected and therefore did not ask for re-grading? Could many of them have had better marks but did not? How do we know that the re-grading is correct? The process makes me anxious.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page