Previous SectionIndexHome Page

15 Oct 2002 : Column 219—continued

Mr. Paul Truswell (Pudsey): What will my right hon. Friend say to the 17 pupils at Horsforth school in my constituency where English literature marks were changed to the extent that some of those pupils received 91 out of 120, rather than 21 out of 120, and others received 102 out of 120? Would it surprise her to learn that the examination board involved offered no apology for its mistakes and all the trauma that was caused? What reassurance will she give pupils, parents and the school not only that we shall learn the lessons from this fiasco but that in future examination boards will have a much more human face?

Estelle Morris: I know that my hon. Friend will take back the comments that I have made to the House today, expressing our understanding of the distress that the students must have gone through. His comments only serve to remind us that we were absolutely right to act as we did in setting up an independent inquiry, letting it do its work and reporting to the House when it had completed its tasks.

As regards any points that hon. Members raise on the future of examination boards or the impartiality or robustness of the examination system, it is good to have the debate, but I am determined to wait for part two of Mike Tomlinson's report. At that point we shall no doubt have the opportunity to discuss and debate it further.

Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks): Given that Ministers introduced the AS-level, given that Ministers approved the increase in repeatable coursework and given that Ministers had sight of the draft QCA guidance on grading, how does it follow that Ministers had no responsibility at all for the accident about to happen? Discuss.

Estelle Morris: Grade E, bordering on U.

Given the hon. Gentleman's previous post, I should have thought that he would understand that the setting of grades, sending out subject specifications or anything to do with the marking assessment system is hands off for politicians. I do not question for a minute that the situation was not the same in his day. It is hands off for politicians and it is important that that remain the case. The QCA is responsible for setting out subject-specific guidance and for all the implementation and mechanics of the system.

I am responsible for the policy. I am responsible for making sure that when something goes wrong it is put right. I am responsible for Curriculum 2000 and I am

15 Oct 2002 : Column 220

happy to be held accountable for that. I cannot be held responsible—nor can any politician—for interfering in the exam system because politicians should not do so. We did not do that and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman did not either.

James Purnell (Stalybridge and Hyde): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the root cause of the problem is that some people just will not believe that A-level results are improving? They do not believe that more than a minority of people should be allowed to take A-levels and go to university. Should those people not be pointed in the direction of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development research that found that we now have the eighth best education system in the world? We should be complimenting pupils rather than running them down the whole time.

Estelle Morris: My hon. Friend is, of course, exactly right. We have an excellent education system in which standards have increased at every key stage, at seven, 11, 14, 16 and 18. We should be proud of it.

I say again that we cannot be proud of the events that led to the statement. I acknowledge that. No one would want to pretend otherwise. However, each Member of the House, from all parties, has to make a personal decision: whether to accept what has come from the report, to learn from it and move on and to congratulate our students and teachers on their achievements, or whether to continue to make political capital over it—I think some have already made that decision.

I have dealt with the problems that arose during the past few weeks. We shall now move on and that will include recognising the achievements of the generation of children who are in our schools at present.

Mrs. Patsy Calton (Cheadle): The grading problems came to light through the starkly contrasting results of children who had been awarded previous A grades but final U grades in their modules. Anyone who has been a teacher knows that that is almost impossible and very unlikely in large numbers. However, C and D grades followed by mistaken U grades may be more difficult to identify. Has the Secretary of State satisfied herself that young people across the grading system—not merely those with As and Bs initially—have been treated fairly?

Estelle Morris: Absolutely. I did not know this two months ago, but I can now tell the hon. Lady that in order to set the grade boundaries, what first happens is that the A pass rate is set and the E pass grade is set, and then the grades in between are calibrated, presumably, within that framework. When that process was gone through again, every single grade would have been affected, so I want to offer the assurance that the process that has just been undergone has not just been about whether people who got an A or an E or a U got the correct grade; it has been about every single grade. Indeed, some of the young people who have been notified of grade changes today will find, for example, that they have a C that goes up to a B. It has been done effectively.

I again give the hon. Lady an assurance, because I do understand the seriousness of the matter; many Members of the House, not only as constituency MPs

15 Oct 2002 : Column 221

but as parents, as the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) said, know the importance of this and I note his concerns. But every single person who complained about the grading of this year's examination results has signed up today and said that they think that the process has been fair, that they are happy with the results and that they want to move on. I hope that we can do so as well.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Does the Secretary of State realise that the stridency of her statement and the brazen lack of contrition that she has displayed this afternoon make us all comprehend why she so regularly gets the bird at teachers' conferences? She keeps on citing the judgment of Mr. Tomlinson. Are not parents, teachers, the universities and, not least, students entitled to have a Secretary of State in whose judgment they can trust?

Estelle Morris: I think that, as I said before, the role of the Secretary of State in this is, on hearing of concerns, to look at the evidence, take action and ensure that the matter is put right. I set up this inquiry some three-and-a-half to four weeks ago. Within a relatively short period, a great deal has happened. I have been responsible for ensuring that the inquiry has been carried out effectively. I have been responsible for ensuring that it has been brought to a timely conclusion. I have been responsible for ensuring that at every single stage of that inquiry, those whose concerns brought the matter to our attention in the first place, were satisfied with the procedures that were being used. I believe that that is the sort of Secretary of State that teachers and the nation want.

15 Oct 2002 : Column 222

Points of Order

6.12 pm

Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. You will recall that XErskine May", on page 266, addresses a problem of sufficient time to deal with business. We have before us an important debate on post offices and other matters, but we also have the matter of local government finance, which represents 25 per cent. of public expenditure. Even with good will, I cannot imagine that we shall get on to that before 8 o'clock or maybe even later. That does not allow sufficient time to debate this important issue. Have you had an indication from the Leader of the House or from the Deputy Prime Minister that one of them will be coming to the House to make a statement on change of business so that we can have additional time to discuss this matter, which is vital to all our constituents?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): I do understand and sympathise with the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, and indeed with other hon. Members in the House who hope to contribute to the debates. The timing of debates and the order of business are in the hands of the Government and I have had no notice of a statement of the type in which the hon. Gentleman is interested.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I raise a point of order concerning the treatment of the House of Commons by the Executive, for the consideration and reflection of Mr. Speaker? On 7 February 1996—

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): 1896.

Mr. Dalyell :—1996. My right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor), then the shadow Leader of the House, said in relation to the Scott report:

My right hon. Friend returned to the subject the following day, saying:

Indeed, the present Leader of the House, a week later on 15 February, at column 1146, complained bitterly that the then Government had had eight days and Members of Parliament had had eight minutes.

It is in the recollection of Members that on 24 September, a dossier of 55 pages on a rather complex subject was published at 8 o'clock. It was subsequently described, rightly or wrongly, by President Putin as little more than propaganda. My question is this: if reports are published for the consideration of the House, should not they be published—as they perfectly easily could have been—two, three or four days before, so that they can be considered not only by Members, but on the anvil of informed opinion? Quite bluntly, I think that it was a

15 Oct 2002 : Column 223

calculated, cynical attempt to give a rather different gloss on a report than that which was actually contained in the report. These things should be subject to argument, because otherwise it will be seen as a deceiving the House.

Next Section

IndexHome Page