Select Committee on Education and Skills Third Report


Short term changes

  67. Mr Tomlinson told us that the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority should be charged with taking forward his reports' recommendations.[75] He declared his "confidence in the new leadership of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, Sir Anthony Greener and Ken Boston" and praised the progress they had made in addressing issues discussed

in the interim report. Mr Tomlinson believed that the issues that arose this summer could be addressed by a "a change of attitude, a change of ethos, a change of behaviour" of the QCA.

  68. Mr Tomlinson recognised that the Secretary of State would have a major role to play in the redefinition of the QCA. The Rt Hon Charles Clarke MP, newly appointed as Secretary of State, had welcomed the Tomlinson reports, agreed with the recommended actions and appointed Mr Tomlinson to the role of an independent and public observer of the QCA. The Secretary of State made _6 million available to help ensure that the 2003 examinations were not affected in a similar way to the 2002 exams. The money was to be spent on ensuring that the necessary examination markers could be recruited. [76]

Long term changes


  69. The A level exam was designed as an entry qualification for higher education. It remains the main precursor to higher education and the backbone of the university admissions system. Following the development of A levels from a norm referenced qualification to a primarily criterion referenced qualification in 1983,[77] the numbers of students achieving good A level grades has dramatically increased. In evidence to the Committee Sir Howard Newby, Chief Executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England [HEFCE], said that research HEFCE had commission from the University of Warwick showed that at a "given level of A level entry students from state schools actually outperform those from independent schools. The conclusion I would draw from that is that the independent schools are extremely good at preparing and coaching students to take A levels and succeed at A level examinations, rather better in that respect than the state schools. When they come through to university it is not always the best coached students that performs at university in terms of degree results."[78] On this evidence it appears that whilst A level examinations test the academic development of students, they do not provide a definitive guide to the academic potential of any student.

  70. A levels have also gained a wider purpose as a qualification leading to employment. This development was at the centre of the Curriculum 2000 policy which intended to increase the flexibility of the A level system and enable students to extend the scope of their studies.[79]

  71. The Tomlinson final Report concluded that there was "very little systematic support for a return to grading in which fixed quotas of grades would be awarded to students according to rank order rather than performance against a fixed standard of achievement (broadly, "norm referencing")".[80]


  72. The Green Paper 14-19: Extending Opportunities, Raising Standards was published in February 2002. It suggested that from the age of 14 young people should follow pathways tailored to their aptitudes and aspirations. These should include a wide range of high quality vocational and academic programmes in school, college and the workplace. More people should be encouraged to stay in learning to the age of 19 and beyond. An overarching award available to young people to recognise the breadth and depth of achievement by the age of 19 was proposed.[81] David Miliband MP, Minister of State for School Standards, has since published the results of the consultation on this paper and highlighted his support for a Baccalaureate-style qualification. He said that "this model, designed to suit English circumstances, could help us to tackle long standing English problems, promoting progression and achievement through Foundation to Intermediate and Advanced levels. If such a unified system could recognise the range of achievement expected by employers and higher education then it will perform a major service to educational attainment."[82]

  73. Mr Hopkins, Principal of Peter Symonds College, cautioned those who would replace the A level system with a baccalaureate qualification, following the events of last Summer: "I just do not think it is worth throwing out the baby with the bath water. We have a perfectly good system. What people sometimes forget, I think, when they talk about the Baccalaureate is that it involves more examinations and assessment than the AS and A2. If everybody in this country followed the IB who is going to mark it? The same three exam boards."[83]

  74. Mr Gould, Master of Marlborough College, supported the long term development of an English baccalaureate which would develop an education for all children from 14-19 offering a variety of routes to a qualification, but he added "for heaven's sake do not rock the boat with where we are at the moment. Let us keep it and let us keep working towards a more uniform system which will be inclusive for all children within England."[84] Mr Neal, Headmaster of De Ashton School, added that "in the shorter term there are many benefits that can be derived from the AS and A2 process and because of what happened last year we have not yet derived all those benefits".[85]

75   Q.490 Back

76   Q.490 Back

77   See page 4 for further information. Back

78   Higher Education Funding, HC425-iv, Session 2002-03, Q.491.  Back

79   Tomlinson Final Report page 7 paragraph 17 Back

80   Ibid, paragraph 19 Back

81   14-19: Extending opportunities, raising standards. Back

82   21 January 2003 Mr David Miliband speaking at the AOC/NAHT/SHA Conference. Back

83   Q.325 Back

84   Ibid. Back

85   Ibid. Back

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