Examination of Witnesses(Questions 20-39)|
MILIBAND MP, MS
MONDAY 4 NOVEMBER 2002
20. That is what I want.
(Mr Miliband) Let us drill down to what is really
happening because I have absolutely no interest in pulling the
wool over your eyes or having the wool pulled over mine.
21. Right, Minister. We will follow that through
with you. You mentioned the National Centre for Excellence in
Science Teaching. Where has that got to at the minute? It is indeed
an important addition.
(Ms Dallas) As you know, we are working very closely
with the Wellcome Trust to develop the new centre. Where we are
at the moment is developing around 25 new courses for teachers
and also including science technicians. As maybe I indicated last
time, those courses are all about leading edge science. It is
about access to that for teachers and pupils. It is about looking
at contemporary science issues in a way which both handles the
science and the controversy which sometimes surrounds issues like
that. It is about engaging in effective use of ICT in the science
classroom. It is about looking at ways of encouraging analytical
and reasoning skills in pupils. One of the things which I remember
we talked about last time was the very heavy content in the curriculum
and the whole issue about regurgitation of facts. It is attempting
to move away from that. Obviously you need the facts but it is
about encouraging teachers to help their pupils develop those
reasoning, questioning and investigative skills. That is just
a snapshot of the provision that is being developed there.
(Mr Miliband) He wants to know when we are launching
it, when we are putting our money in.
22. When is the first brick going to be put
down? Is Amish Kapoor designing it? Who is going to design it?
Is it going to be a scientist or an economist?
(Ms Dallas) We said last time that the centre would
be up and running next year, and that is still the case, and we
said it would be fully operational in two years. That is still
(Mr Miliband) We want to make an announcement, as
I understand it, before Christmas about our commitment to the
package that was so generously kicked off by Wellcome.
23. We are hearing a little bit more good news
now, which is a move away from being in denial about there being
any problem at all about the physical sciences which is what I
was hearing earlier. Can I move us back from the undergraduate
evidence to the key area which we have been looking at, which
is the 14-19 Key Stage 4 science curriculum in particular? Anyone
who reads our report cannot fail to get the peer view which we
have expressed that there is something seriously wrong with the
Key Stage 4 curriculum as it presently is. It is not doing a service
to our prospective science students and you only have to read
the headings of the paragraphs in this report to see thatinflexibility,
irrelevance, failure to engage in debate, repetitiveness, limited
options, problems with practical and field work, Problems with
course work, Problems with using ICT in science. Our view is that
there is a significant problem here. We are concerned that there
does not appear to be any sense of urgency in the Department of
dealing with those problems with the structure and form of the
curriculum at the moment other than a commitment back in February
to review the Key Stage 4 science curriculum. Are we still waiting
for that review to be even started?
(Mr Miliband) I think this is an important area and
one where it is difficult for politicians, or at least politicians
that are not scientists or have not been through the system, to
be absolutely sure about what is really happening. You have listed
a number of areas. The fact that they are listed does not mean
that they are true, so the first thing we have to do is look at
them and see whether or not they are right. We are, with due seriousness,
trying to get underneath this.
24. How? Is that a review?
(Mr Miliband) No, it is not a capital
"R" Review, if that is what you are saying. Let me address
the second half of your comments because I am happy to hear you
come back on it. We have just started, this year, the new style
GCSE, and we have got the new pilot GCSE, the so-called hybrid
GCSE, starting next year. The frustrating thing about curriculum
change is that it takes a very long time. However, I am sure we
would all agree that, in the light of the AS-level and A-level
fracas this summer, urgency always has to be balanced with due
diligence in making curriculum change, and you will know, not
just that those initiatives were long in the gestation trying
to address several of the issues that you have raised here, but
that they need to be properly evaluated, but also that there is
a structural issue here which is that our advisers on curriculum
issues are, rightly, the independent QCA. They have given evidence
to you, they have responded to your report. I think it is dangerous
for me to bypass what is an established procedure, whichever party
is in power, as to the nature of curriculum change. I would agree
with you that where there are problems we have to tackle them
seriously. However, I never want to start trialing new initiatives
before we know the effects of existing ones. In this area, as
it happens, we have two really major things going on: a new GCSE
course and the new pilot of core science plus specialist modules.
I think we all have to wait and see what the effect of those is
before we rush to change it again.
25. I think I would be more content with that
answer if we did not in the Green Paper have a clear statement
that the curriculum is to be reviewed. I think it is reasonable
for this Committee to ask, at this point, whether that review
has been commissioned from the QCA and what its intentions are,
on what basis a review is to be held and on what timescale. At
the moment we have no indication that there is any timescale or
any basis for a review at all.
(Mr Jones) The review has not been commissioned yet.
That review will be part of the review that will be commissioned
as part of the response of the 14-19 Green Paper which the Minister
has not yet given. That would look at science and would be asked
to take account of this Committee's report, but until ministers
give their response to the 14-19 Green Paper we cannot commission
the QCA to undertake that review of the Key Stage 4 curriculum.
26. So that will happen in due course?
(Mr Jones) Yes.
(Mr Miliband) And I think it is fair to say that we
have been focusing on the practical issues, the delivery of the
A and AS-level system, but we certainly want to proceed, when
possible, with the 14-19 Green Paper and the response to it because
it was a very wide-ranging debate on that Green Paper.
27. I understand, Minister, what you say about
the fact that there is a long period of gestation, but I also
recognise the fact that on this sort of timescale, when we are
talking about exams coming into effect in 2003, of having two
years or so to run and then an assessment being made of that and
that being fed back into a review process, we are talking about
an entire generation of children who are going to continue to
be turned off science by the curriculum as it presently is and
we are going to continue to have a situation in which we are not
recruiting people in the physical sciences, the chemical sciences,
engineering, which is going to be to the huge detriment of this
(Mr Miliband) Can you come back on my point which
is that we have made, and are intending to make, what we believe,
and I think you accept this, are some quite significant changes
to the GCSE science course? Come back to me in a judicious way
and in a way that does not say to teachers, "You have started
teaching a new style course. We are going to turf it all up before
pupils take any exams". We need to find a way of learning
the lessons of that significant reform before we turn the system
upside down again.
Mr Heath: I think it would have been reasonable
to have commissioned the review from the QCA. I think it would
have been reasonable to have identified at least some of the key
28. One of the problems that came up was that
when major issues like GM crops, MMR and all these things come
up teachers are unable, within the curriculum, to stop and talk
about issues that excite young people which they hear about, they
read about and so on. What they have to do is bash on because
the curriculum has to be achieved, "Today we do this, today
we do that. We cannot have a buttercup today, we have done that.
On to the next thing." That is very important in science,
that young people have a chance to argue the morality, the ethics
of issues and so on, and it is not allowed for in terms of the
(Mr Miliband) But is it not right, Chairman, that
first of all there are schools that have been debating those things?
Secondly, the purpose of science courses is to give students the
technical basis on which to have what you describe as the moral
arguments. There is nothing to stop those sorts of debates happening.
I hear what you say about the amount of material that needs to
be taken on board. I have been to schools where there are displays
on the wall of work about GMOs, so I am not convinced that these
are no-go areas for teachers and for schools.
29. The gist of the report is that we need a
step change in school science education and that gets bogged down
in time limits and timescales. Has the Department given any thought
to how to achieve that step change, not through curriculum changes
but in terms of professional development for teachers or the training
of new teachers?
(Mr Miliband) There are a number of things I should
bring to your attention or maybe you know about them already,
which do constitute a significant improvement. You can judge whether
or not they are a step change. First of all, the Key Stage 3 strategy
really must not be under-estimated. It is a major attempt to galvanise
the teaching and learning experience for 11-14-year olds. We know
those are the years when there is a turn-off in secondary education.
Secondly, I think that the development of the specialist science
college network is an exciting step change, a genuine step change.
As I say, there are 58 applications in the October round to be
announced in January. Those are schools thinking, "We have
got a centre of excellence in science. We want to build on that
and share our facilities and our expertise in that area."
That has real power. Thirdly, I believe the school workforce reforms
that we announced two weeks ago really are a radical departure
in the sense that they will give science teachers, like other
teachers, a chance to be at the cutting edge of what it means
to be a professional. They will be properly supported with proper
time preparation and assessment of pupils, absolutely critical
to high quality lessons, I am sure you agree, and will get the
support in the classroom from technicians and others, secretarial
support as back-up, that really allows the science lessons to
be of the highest quality. We know at the moment that teachers
only spend a third of their time teaching. We want to increase
that proportion which will have benefits right across the curriculum,
but notably in an area like science. You can judge whether that
counts as a step change, but I think there are important things
happening that will have a positive effect.
30. In our paragraph 29 we concluded that students
face a lot of repetition and find it boring and you simply brushed
that aside with your response on page 8/9 where you conclude that
the current programmes of study, Key Stages 1-4, are designed
to encourage progression through all key stages. We did not pluck
our conclusion out of the air. We based it on empirical evidence
that we took from students, from teachers and from QCA people.
We published that evidence in our report. We would have had much
more confidence in you if you had shown some understanding of
the problem rather than simple denial and a defensive approach
that seems to be symptomatic of your own approach in this. I know
that there are changes but you would have given us more confidence
in you if you had accepted that, yes, there is this repetition
and that the changes that have been brought in are not going to
completely eradicate that repetition and had set about trying
to make sure that there is not that repetition and to make room
for more of these exciting subjects that the Chairman has talked
about to be brought in and discussed. Do you wish that you had
made a more positive approach to this?
(Mr Miliband) You obviously did think it was negative
and I am sorry you thought it was negative. We start with a statement
of fact which is that the National Curriculum, including science,
was revised in 2000. It has just happened. We have got that major
revision. For obvious reasons I do not need to bore you with we
are not permanently revising the National Curriculum. It would
drive teachers and pupils absolutely mad. I will take away the
fact that you think this is too complacent. I think with such
a recent review, with some big changes going on at Key Stage 3,
real encouragement for teachers to help students progress at their
own pace, so forging ahead in some subjects like science, where
they have got a particular talent, we can address some of the
points that you have made.
31. My understanding was that that the revision
was not a major revision. In fact, 75% of the syllabus probably
was untouched. What evidence have you got that that was a major
revision to the science curriculum?
(Mr Miliband) It was one of the quinquennial reviews
of the National Curriculum which was done on the basis of real
expert engagement with the science and other communities. Perhaps
someone can fill me in on the 25% that was revised. That is actually
quite a lot of the curriculum to be revised, given that it is
the same people who are teaching it in a five-year period.
(Mr Jones) My understanding was that one of the changes
that was made was to remove the duplication between what happened
at Key Stage 3 and what happened at Key Stage 4. That would be
in terms of the programme of study that would be required at each
of these stages and of course the curriculum at Key Stage 4 is
what drives the content of the GCSE provision. What I cannot comment
on, but may well be the case, is whether teachers none the less
found that in taking groups of pupils forward from Key Stage 3
they still had to do remedial work that would inevitably require
some duplication of work in order to bring people back up to speed
at Key Stage 4 and GCSE. Clearly there are issues in that about
pace and progression and how you handle different groups of young
people within any one-year group within a school, and indeed the
14-19 Green Paper does suggest that there should be a more flexible
use of different paced teaching in order to facilitate that.
32. There were no substantive changes? You just
took out the repetition?
(Mr Miliband) That is what this is about though. This
is what we are being asked about. We are asked, "Is there
repetition?", and he has just said we are taking out the
Mr Harris: I have to say, Minister, that in
the evidence we took across the country, in Scotland as well as
in England and Wales, everywhere, the word "repetition"
in the syllabus came up time and time again and my colleague has
already referred to that.
33. And not just between Key Stage 3 and Key
Stage 4 but across the complete range.
(Mr Miliband) Janet is in the Curriculum Division.
She obviously cannot speak for Scotland because they have got
a different situation, but why do you not say whether you think
that duplication has been removed, because that is the focus of
this, whether or not duplication has been removed and he says
(Ms Dallas) I think we need to separate out two things.
We need to separate out the curriculum which is a framework and
has progression built in from Key Stages 1 to 4 and it was the
case that prior to the last national curriculum review there was
repetition within what was studied or what was specified to be
studied between Key Stages 3 and 4, and it is that change which
has been made. I think perhaps from your own evidence what you
heard was that the pupils' learning experiences are repetitive
which is like being on the receiving end of the curriculum. We
recognise that some pupils do feel like that but I also think
that today we have told you a lot about the things that we have
put in place which we hope will change the experiences of those
young people over time, but these things do happen over time.
34. It was not just pupils, although pupils
did tell us that. It was the teachers from schools in Truro right
through to Bolton and it was also Martin Hollins of the QCA who
told us that and also told us that it was not just between 3 and
4 but across all the stages, so I hope you have taken that on
board. Minister, do you accept that the way that GCSE is assessed
in both course work and examinations has a major impact on the
way that science is taught in schools leading up to that assessment?
(Mr Miliband) I would certainly agree that the mode
of assessment has major implications for teaching in any subject,
not just in science. That is obviously true.
35. Does the Government share QCA's view that
there is no significant problem with the assessment of school
science at GCSE and, if not, what actions do you intend to take
to resolve this?
(Mr Miliband) For obvious reasons, in matters of assessment
it is always much more sensible for the Government to follow the
advice of its lead advisers unless there is absolutely overwhelming
evidence to the contrary. We have a system where it is not the
DfES internally that makes proposals on this. We have got an independent
external body full of experts in these areas. I have not seen
sufficient evidence to make me want to countermand the QCA's advice,
which I am sure you would agree, since they are an independent
body, means that there is this high burden of proof required,
and on the basis of my views simply to go against what they are
36. The Government response did not attempt
to address the concerns that we raised in our report about the
Awarding Bodies. Whose responsibility is it to ensure that the
Awarding Bodies actively review the impact of their assessment
regimes and develop alternatives where those are appropriate?
(Mr Miliband) I think this is an important area and
I am glad that we got a chance to look at it, but it is one where
politicians have to be very careful how they tread. The responsibility
for regulating the Awarding Bodies is not a matter for Government;
it is a matter for the QCA. That is the straightforward answer
to your question. The QCA is responsible for ensuring that syllabuses
are appropriate, that examination procedures are appropriate,
that the right examination is done in the right way and all that
sort of thing. Having said that, you will know that there is a
major review going on at the moment by Mike Tomlinson into the
relationships between the QCA and the Awarding Bodies as well
as into the suitability of our current structure of Awarding Bodies,
so I do not want to pre-judge that but that is the formal position.
37. Can you expand on what you are doing then
to make sure that the QCA is monitoring the performance of the
Awarding Bodies and, where necessary, intervening and intervening
very quickly because there are a number of problems with the A-levels
(Mr Miliband) That is a fair point. It would be absurd
in the light of this year's difficulties to say, "Look how
well we are doing in this area".
38. You may not recall but last time we had
a Minister come from the DfES there were some queries here about
what was going to happen with this year's exams.
(Mr Miliband) I have read Stephen Timms' evidence
but in relation to that there is quite an interesting story, remember,
which is that last year there was a major problem with one of
the examining boards, Edexel, and the way it worked. It was a
huge issue I think for you and for us and the QCA were encouraged
to take a very active role in ensuring due diligence on the procedures
in Edexel. What we know as a result of the whole imbroglio this
year is actually that Edexel got their act together, they got
the requisite number of markers, they got their grades in on time
and appropriately, so QCA in that specific context did its job
quite well. There is a separate issue, which is where QCA fell
down. It is very clear that in its specification of the appropriate
standards for individual units in the AS and A-level it fell down
on the job. That is the absolutely obvious conclusion of the Tomlinson
Review mark one, and that is what is being addressed coming out
of that Tomlinson Review by the new Chief Executive of the QCA.
The six points that Tomlinson requested that he look at are being
39. So can I tell those constituents of mine
whose children are still awaiting re-grades on some subjects that
you accept responsibility for that?
(Mr Miliband) With respect, I do not think they are
awaiting re-grades. They may be awaiting re-marks.