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On Question, amendments agreed to.

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.

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Education and Skills Bill

5.07 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Lord Adonis): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Lord Brabazon of Tara) in the Chair.]

Clause 3 [Level 3 qualification]:

Baroness Morris of Bolton moved Amendment No. 22:

“( ) the Cambridge Assessment Pre-U qualification in two subjects, or( ) ”

The noble Baroness said: In speaking also to Amendments Nos. 23 to 25, 33, 212, 213 and 231, I hope I will not confuse the Committee, although I cannot guarantee that I will not. I say that because I am fully aware that Clause 3 defines a level 3 qualification, and much of what I shall say concentrates on the generalities of qualifications.

These amendments simply emphasise our belief that the Government should not be limited in their thinking about qualifications, both in terms of which qualifications count at which level and in highlighting the difference between knowledge-based and practically based qualifications. In her book, Diminished Returns, Alison Woolf says:

She goes on to say:

This, she says, is deceptive because other qualifications, such as the NVQ2 in food processing and cooking or the AQA level 2 certificate in enterprise and employability, are also level 2 qualifications but are not treated the same by employers and sixth-form gatekeepers.

I am a great believer in parity of esteem for vocational and academic qualifications. However, we will not achieve that by pretending that a qualification is something that it is not. My honourable friend John Hayes MP was absolutely right when he said in another place:

To achieve the aim of maximising the level of attainment reached by every young person, we need to be honest about the type of qualification that they are working towards. We should accept that different qualifications are just that: different.

As an aside, but an important one, we have heard today, from research undertaken at Durham University, that we cannot always compare like with like between

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academic qualifications. Furthermore, I simply cannot resist commenting on the story in yesterday’s Times that pupils are rewarded for using expletives in their exams if the spelling was accurate and successfully conveyed a meaning. That hardly instils confidence in the system, and I wonder whether the Minister might comment on it because I cannot tell him how widely people are talking about it.

The best way to ensure that vocational and academic qualifications achieve parity of esteem is to make certain that they lead to good jobs for which the young person has been fully trained, knows what they are doing and makes the most of it. That challenge must be met and should not be simply glossed over by saying that equality in qualifications has been reached, full stop. Our amendments on the Cambridge Pre-U and the IGCSE, on which there were long debates during proceedings on the previous Education Bill, simply flag up that there are now a number of qualifications being pursued by schools and universities and ensure that they will be recognised at the appropriate level. It seems bizarre that, among the hundreds of recognised vocational and academic qualifications, the QCA does not recognise the IGCSE—a well-regarded and established qualification.

Half of all independent schools in the country are now entering their pupils for the IGCSE: the Cambridge version is offered in 2,000 schools in 125 countries around the world. They are obviously impressed with it, which rather begs the question: “Why isn’t the QCA”? The lack of recognition not only distorts results in league tables; we are in danger of opening up a two-tier system where 93 per cent of pupils educated in the state sector will not be able to study for that rigorous exam. As Nick Cowen, the author of a Civitas study, said,

He went on to say that that was,

in Britain.

More absurdly, however, for the purposes of the Bill, pupils from the independent sector who take the IGCSE or the Cambridge Pre-U will not be considered to be in relevant education or training.

Amendment No. 25 is intended to determine how much unfettered power Clause 3(3) is giving to the QCA by adding those words to that subsection. We would give the Secretary of State the final say on what functions may be conferred on the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to maintain departmental control over what may be classed as level 3 qualifications. Ultimately, the Secretary of State needs to be the official who takes important decisions about educational policy, because he or she is accountable to the Government they serve and to Parliament. I beg to move.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I must confess that, from these Benches, we have less sympathy for this batch of amendments. We agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, that it is extremely important that vocational qualifications should have equivalence:

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in fact, between them the QCA and the QAA accord a degree of equivalence between qualifications. This is no easy issue and, as the noble Baroness mentioned, the work done by Durham University in looking at the equivalence between different types of A-level has revealed differences, contrary to work done earlier by the QAA for Her Majesty’s Government, in the relative difficulty between what are sometimes regarded as the hard science A-levels—of physics, chemistry and, indeed, mathematics—and some others. The Government need to begin to take this issue seriously and consider how best to accommodate it within the university entrance system.

What worries me about introducing to the Bill mention of the Cambridge Pre-U, the IGCSE, and so forth is that they have their equivalents, but it will be very unfortunate if the divide between private and state education in this country is increased by the two sectors taking different types of examination. The more credence that we give to those alternative forms of examination, the more likely it is that the two sectors will separate. It is very important that we try to have a coherent set of school leaving examinations, if you like. From these Benches, we take the view that young people are required to go through too many tests and examinations. In the Finnish system, they stay at school until they are 18 and there is only one school leaving examination at 18. In some senses, that is a very sensible system.

We agree with Amendment No. 24 on equivalent qualifications, but we have great reservations about introducing to the Bill acknowledgement of the Cambridge Pre-U or the IGCSE.

Lord Lucas: Presumably, when the Government draw up regulations under Clause 2, they will have to accommodate examination systems worldwide, because pupils will be arriving in this country having gained all sorts of qualifications. They may have been abroad with their parents and been educated in the American system, they may have been to the Lycée or the German school here and followed those courses of education. To deal with those oddities, there will have to be an equivalence for all sorts of examinations that do not fall naturally within the British examination system.

I therefore very much hope that, whatever decisions the QCA may reach on the suitability of individual examinations, such as the IGCSE and the Cambridge Pre-U, for the state system, the Government will not seek to perpetuate the rather unfortunate collection of ruffled feathers in the Bill, which, to my mind, has a rather different purpose and where the QCA ought to be considering their equivalence because they are examinations that are widely taken, rather than in the light of any particular UK requirement.

I hope that, over time, the noble Lord will manage to settle those ruffled feathers. It seems very odd that the IGCSE should be excluded and I hope that the Cambridge Pre-U is set to come within the system. I understand that discussions have been fruitful, or at least positive in that direction. To have a system where, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, says, we are running different educational systems between private and state merely because the state, out of some amour-propre,

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refuses to recognise those qualifications, seems very unfortunate. If the IGCSE had just been welcomed into the fold as another way of doing GCSEs, no one would think that there was any difference. It would be just a question of what examination you took. The same applies to the Cambridge Pre-U and A-levels. It is a different board; it is a different way of doing it; it may suit different circumstances.

By keeping those examinations outside the fold, the Government are creating an image of difference and an image that state system children are allowed only second-class qualifications. That is unfortunate in itself and especially unfortunate in view of the aspiration, which I share, that one should aim for vocational and other practical examinations being valued more than they are. Creating that sort of 1/4ber-class of academic examinations and giving them that added status by fighting shy of them goes very much against the Government’s best interests.

Lord Adonis: I try to prepare for everything conceivable when appearing before your Lordships, but I regret that I am not briefed on expletives. I promise to look into the issue and to return to the noble Baroness as soon as I have advice.

We entirely agree with the intention behind Amendment No. 23, which is that there should be sufficient flexibility in the system to allow for any qualification that is at level 3 to count for the purposes of this part of the Bill. I am glad to be able to tell the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, that the clause allows for this. Regulations under Clause 3(1) will enable the Government to list all level 3 qualifications that will count for the purpose of defining who is no longer required to participate. This also answers the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I can state categorically that it is our intention to list without exception all qualifications that are accredited by the QCA as level 3.

On Amendment No. 25, I similarly reassure the noble Baroness that regulations made under Clause 3 will be laid by the Government and could confer functions on the QCA only if the Secretary of State approved.

Amendment No. 24 in the name of the noble Baroness would define level 3 as the level of attainment demonstrated by the achievement of an A-level in two “knowledge-based” subjects. It is not clear to me precisely what she means by knowledge-based, and she did not seek to elucidate this in her opening remarks. If she wishes to give me examples of A-levels that are not knowledge-based, I will happily look into them and see whether any issue arises. However, I expect that my reply to any specific instances that she might wish to give me is that there is a perfectly satisfactory knowledge base behind the A-levels in question. In my experience, when the disciples of particular disciplines start to argue the rival merits of different bodies of knowledge, it is probably best for politicians to stand aside than to make value judgments, which I took the noble Baroness to be inviting me to do. I willingly stand aside from that debate.

The noble Baroness’s Amendment No. 231 would approve the IGCSE for funding and use in the maintained sector. The IGCSE is a reputable qualification, which

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some schools in this country clearly regard as beneficial to their students. However, it is right that we should have a process for accreditation to ensure standards. The Secretary of State already has the discretion to approve qualifications for use in maintained schools under Section 98 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000, and we have published a set of principles for the use of this power. In effect, this means that there is a process for approving qualifications for use in the maintained sector, through which awarding bodies can choose to put their qualifications. To date, awarding bodies have chosen not to put the IGCSE through this process. However, Cambridge International Examinations has submitted some of the IGCSE specifications for accreditation using the title “Cambridge Certificate”. These are being considered by Ofqual, the new agency, at two levels—level 1 and level 2—which equate to the higher and lower tiers of the GCSE. There are approximately 16 subjects under consideration, including English, mathematics and science. If the noble Baroness watches this space, she may receive some positive news in due course. As I say, this is a matter for the accreditation authorities, but we do think it right that the proper processes are followed and we do not see a case for circumventing them for the IGCSE.

Let me stress, also in response to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that the Government have no aversion whatever to diversity in qualifications where our advisers are of the view that those qualifications are of high quality and are consistent with the national curriculum. The IB, for example, is available in the state sector, and we have encouraged it considerably in recent years.

The Pre-U, to which the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, referred, has now been accredited and approved for use in maintained schools and colleges. If IGCSEs are accredited, they will come under the definition of an accredited qualification in any case, without the need to specify them in the Bill. If this happens, my department will make a decision on whether to approve them for funding in maintained institutions under Section 96 in the usual way.

Let me stress that independent schools are free to offer whatever qualifications they like, and young people taking IGCSEs or the Pre-U full time in independent schools will meet the terms of this legislation whether or not those qualifications are accredited. Specifically in respect of Clause 6, which is about part-time training undertaken alongside full-time employment, it is very unlikely that a young person will be doing IGCSEs or the Pre-U part time alongside employment, but if those qualifications are accredited, they would meet the requirements of the legislation.

I turn now to the adult skills provisions. Paragraph 6 of new Schedule 1A to be inserted into the Learning and Skills Act 2000 provides a generic description of level 2 qualifications citing five good GCSEs as the example. Amendment No. 212 inserts the IGCSE into this description. We use GCSEs as the reference point for the generic description of level 2 qualifications because they provide a widely recognised standard of education which is easily understood by potential learners. This is not the case with the IGCSE, which is not so generally well known or available, and therefore we do not think it would be appropriate at this time to

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include it in the legislation because it has not yet been accredited by the QCA. But as I have said, if accreditation does take place, the issue of its wider availability would then arise.

Similarly, paragraph 7 of new Schedule 1A provides a generic description of level 3 qualifications. As with level 2 qualifications, we use a widely recognised generic standard as our example, in this case two A-levels. Amendment No. 213 would insert the Cambridge Assessment Pre-U qualification into this description. The addition does not help to provide clarity, not least because the Pre-U qualification, unlike A-levels, is not a generic qualification offered by numerous awarding bodies; it is a specific qualification from a particular organisation. So, without prejudice to the virtues of either the IGCSE or the Pre-U, it would not be appropriate to insert them into the Bill in this way. However, I hope that I have reassured the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, on the substance of their points about these two qualifications and how there is no discrimination against them in the Bill.

Lord Lucas: I am encouraged by what the noble Lord has said. The Government seem at last to have separated the business of accreditation from the question of whether a qualification should be funded for use in state schools, and that is very sensible. I would be delighted if the noble Lord was able to tell me, if not now then later, what timescale it is believed applies to the IGCSE. Are we likely to see it coming in this autumn or will it take longer than that? On the question I asked about overseas qualifications, children will arrive here with qualifications that are never going to be accredited in the UK system. We will have people who have gone through the French and German systems in our native schools because those curriculums are followed in some schools, but we will also have people coming in particularly with American qualifications who, while abroad with their parents, have been in American schools. Some mechanism is needed to establish whether the qualifications they hold are level 2 or level 3, so presumably that process can be gone through whether or not a qualification meets a particular set of criteria, and therefore it ought to be possible to bring in IGCSEs offered by, say, Edexcel which have not been submitted for accreditation under the net of, as it were, foreign qualifications. The purposes of this Bill will then not get too wrapped in accreditation which has been developed for other reasons.

5.30 pm

Baroness Morris of Bolton: I, too, am heartened by what the Minister said and I thank him for his detailed answer. I thank also the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, who started by saying that she did not agree with our amendments but then seemed to support quite a lot of what I said. If we can get away with that kind of disagreement, I shall be happy.

On Amendment No. 22, perhaps I may pick up on what my noble friend Lord Lucas has just said. The Minister seemed to suggest that his answer would satisfy my noble friend and that there would be a list of qualifications accredited by the QCA. I am not sure how that would answer the question of young people coming in with diverse and different qualifications.

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On Amendment No. 24, I shall take the Minister’s advice and stand aside. It was perhaps not as well worded as it might have been but I have never pretended that I would ever get a job as a parliamentary draftsman.

I was pleased to hear what the Minister said about IGCSEs and will indeed “watch this space”. However, I reiterate that these were probing amendments to raise these important issues. If we can go some way towards ensuring that 93 per cent of children in the state sector are able to take these more rigorous exams, I shall be pleased. For now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 23 to 25 not moved.]

Clause 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 [Appropriate full-time education or training]:

Baroness Verma moved Amendment No. 26:

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