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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 1671 i
House of COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE the
The administration of examinations for 1519 year olds
Tuesday 29 November 2011
Martin Collier, David Burton, Rob Pritchard and Teresa kelly
Professor Nick Lieven, Ana Gutiérrez and Anne Tipple
Evidence heard in Public Questions 1-138
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Taken before the Education Committee
on Tuesday 29 November 2011
Mr Graham Stuart (Chair)
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Martin Collier, Headmaster, St John’s School, Leatherhead, Surrey, David Burton, Deputy Headteacher, St Michael’s CofE High School, Crosby, Liverpool, Rob Pritchard, Headteacher, St Mary’s Catholic High School, Menston, Ilkley, West Yorkshire, and Teresa Kelly, Principal of Abingdon and Witney College, member of Principals’ Professional Council/Association of School and College Leaders, gave evidence.
Q1 Chair: Good morning and welcome. Today is the day of the Autumn Statement-supposed to be a quiet, little-noted latest update on Government figures-a day of great Parliamentary drama. We will try and crack on through our sessions this morning to inform our inquiry into the administration of examinations for 15 to 19-year- olds. I am very grateful to you all for taking the time to come along today. We conduct inquiries, we write reports, we make recommendations; the Government are obliged to respond. Please do include in your evidence to us today any recommendations that you think should be in our report; that is the business end of what we do. Please do try to be clear with us if you think there are changes that can usefully be made in the system of examinations. I will start with a very general question: does the current examination system for 15 to 19-year- olds serve our young people well? I will start with you, Robert; you are well known for strong views.
Robert Pritchard: We have to go back to the basics of what the exam system is for. Is it there to assess knowledge and understanding, to be a passport to A-levels or degrees, or to inform employers? At the moment, I do not think the exam system really knows what it is trying to do. One of the purposes of the exam system has been to be a method to judge schools rather than to judge the knowledge and understanding of young people, and sometimes that gets a little bit blurred. The plethora of different examinations and kinds of qualifications is confusing to many young people, employers, universities, and teachers, so currently it is a confused picture.
Q2 Chair: What should we do about it?
Robert Pritchard: We should simplify it. There are far too many examinations taking place in terms of different qualifications, so simplification would be good. The massive changes that are always taking place in terms of specifications would help, and going back to basics-
Q3 Chair: You said massive changes would help, or that there are too many already?
Robert Pritchard: No, the massive changes do not help at all. Going back to what examinations are about, it is assessing young people’s knowledge and understanding, and giving them the skills they need to go on to either A-levels or university.
Q4 Chair: Thank you very much. Teresa?
Teresa Kelly: I agree with that mainly, but the larger proportion of young people-16 to 18-are not taking AS and A2; they are taking vocational qualifications. The range of vocational qualification needs to be very, very specialised; they need to be very much what industry wants. While I would endorse some sort of simplification, I would not want to lose the specialism to a particular industry that some of the awarding bodies can give us, which is what the bulk of my students are looking to achieve. Certainly at level 1, and pre-level 1, there are too many qualifications that do not take the young person anywhere.
Q5 Chair: That matches the Wolf report’s finding.
Teresa Kelly: It does almost match the Wolf report findings. There is such a great emphasis on the English Baccalaureate within schools. I am very concerned that that is further lowering the status of vocational education. I would like to see a vocational baccalaureate with some real clout and status that puts us on a par with some of our European counterparts. I do not see that coming out of Government thinking at the moment.
Q6 Chair: David, does the system serve young people well?
David Burton: It serves certain people well, but we want an education and examination system that meets the needs of every single young person. The English Baccalaureate is far too narrow, and it has got the propensity to declare a 13 or 14-year-old not good enough; if they are not good enough to take those certain subjects, are they good enough for anything else?
Q7 Chair: No one is forced to take the English Baccalaureate; it is not part of the accountability system. It will be in performance tables, but basically it was a nudge that will probably fade in the rear view mirror over time while the emphasis on five good GCSEs remains the dominant system for accountability of schools. Is that not true?
David Burton: It was a very, very strong nudge. A lot of students, and certainly a lot of parents, felt the implication was that this could be the passport to university. Whether those particular subjects are the only passport to university is debatable. You can look around very successful people and ask, "How many of you would have got an English Baccalaureate?" I know a lot of schools have done that in leadership teams, and said that half the leadership team would not have qualified for an English Baccalaureate. That does not mean they made the wrong decisions at the age of 13 or 14. I think the narrowness of that is wrong.
The point about simplification is absolutely right: currently schools have a choice of many different exam boards for each qualification. GCSE English, for example, can take very many different forms. Are they really comparable? Do we have absolute clarity on that? As Bob says, when we are judging schools on that kind of measure, are we sure that the data we have got, or the source of those data, are reliable? Are all students who are passing GCSE English of the same level? I am not sure they are.
Martin Collier: I would agree with that last point in particular. You have to ask what GCSEs are for. I am a supporter of the idea that, at 16, children should be examined, because that is an important passage from childhood into the next stage. It is also important that, at 18, children are examined, because in a sense they are passing into adulthood.
Q8 Chair: Can you explain why you think children should be examined at 16? Now the participation age is rising to 18, is there anything magical about the 16-year-old point?
Martin Collier: There is something about the child, how they are maturing and changing. A lot of people in education do not believe in GCSEs, but it does give something to aim for, for children at that age and for teachers who are teaching children at that age. Is the examination system fit for purpose? The answer in a sense is no now, because, as has been pointed out, it lacks coherence. There is no coherence at all to the system, and over the last few years we have seen significant fragmentation, as David said, within qualifications. Within GCSE you have a number of different kinds of GCSEs for history or English, but beyond that you also have IGCSEs, and at A-level you have IB and Pre-U.
This is because there has been no overview; you have people going in different directions because they are looking for what they perceive to be better qualifications.
Q9 Chair: If we kept multiple examining bodies, would you rather they bid for a certain subject or suite of subjects, and one awarding body provided one examination in history, for instance? Would that be an improvement?
Martin Collier: That is what happened last time when we went into Curriculum 2000, and it was not tremendously successful then. I am not a fan of multiple exam boards, so I do not think I can answer that question.
Q10 Chair: You would like to see a single body?
Martin Collier: I think so. Even though we went down from seven to three-or whatever it was-in 2000, we have seen a proliferation that actually confuses rather than gives clarity. To pick up on what Teresa says, every child needs to have a clear pathway up to 18, and, currently, the pathways are very complex and confused. Nationally, with an examination system, we should be saying to schools, "We are going to provide you with an overarching examination system that is complex, does provide significant choice, but provides every child with that pathway through that suits their abilities and their interests, and also matches their aspirations."
Q11 Chair: What would that look like?
Martin Collier: If you have a national examination board, it can look as you would want it to, because, within that, you can have a mixture of vocational and academic qualifications.
Q12 Chair: We have a mixture of vocational and academic qualifications?
Martin Collier: We have, but it is all jumbled up, and there is no coherence.
Q13 Chair: Simply going to a uniform awarding body and saying it will be able to paint a perfect utopian picture with a pathway for all, diversity for all and opportunity to change track for all is just utopianism. That is not a practical guide to what it would look like, and, until we can see what it could look like, it is hard to say how you structure it in order to deliver it.
Martin Collier: It is not utopian if the philosophy that informs it is practical. I am not talking about a utopian system; I am talking about one that would be informed by educational philosophy, and by the idea that the children come first. That is not utopian: that is practical if you are talking about creating an educational qualification system.
Q14 Chair: I am only giving you such a hard time-
Martin Collier: No, no, please do.
Chair: -because I find the picture you are painting so attractive, but we have to fill that out, give detail, and explain how we would get from where we are to there for it to be realistic rather than just a pipe dream. Any more thoughts?
Martin Collier: Oh, you want me to do that?
Q15 Chair: I do. That’s what we’re here for.
Martin Collier: I feel that it is wrong to put the children’s qualifications into the marketplace. Competition between examination boards is not healthy at all. Even the fact that we have three examination boards structured in different ways-one is a charity, one is a not-for-profit organisation and one is a business-means you have different reasons, in a sense, for why they are producing qualifications and what they are after, which confuses the issue considerably. Where I am coming from with regard to national qualifications is as I just described, and also the concepts of professional standards with regard to how examinations work.
I cannot remember too much of the detail of Tomlinson-you smiled wryly when I mentioned Tomlinson-but I remember there was this idea that there was going to be a national standard, in particular for examining, and that there was going to be greater coherence, including for vocational, in how we set out our qualifications. How that is set up I do not know, but that was a vision shared by many at the time, and subsequent to Tomlinson, the further proliferation of problems potentially brings one back to those conclusions as something relatively attractive.
Chair: We now have the stillborn Diploma, which was supposed to offer some hope.
Q16 Craig Whittaker: You have answered the first couple of questions I had down here today. It was quite interesting what Robert said-that the GCSEs and A-levels were a method to judge schools. Interestingly enough, Martin said that it was wrong to put children’s qualifications into the marketplace. To be wholly blunt, surely the education system’s job is to make those children economically viable. When we have a million NEETs in the system, are the GCSE and A-level examinations fit for purpose?
Teresa Kelly: You would expect me to say this, but I do not think they are. We use the language in college of level 1, level 2, and level 3-level 2 being GCSE equivalent. It is unfortunate that we always try to link qualifications to an equivalency of a GCSE or an A-level. The real test for me is: 60% of my students, at 18, are going into university, and, of that 60%, only 30% are going in with A-levels; the rest are going in with a level 3 qualification that has been worked alongside a university, so that the university can be sure that they have the skills to do that qualification, whether it be in engineering, creative or whatever.
Sometimes those young people are not starting on that route because they have followed this very narrow GCSE route. There are huge opportunities for 14-plus if we could open up and move away from the word "equivalencies" to a true vocational preparation curriculum that does not have a lower status, which you can demonstrate to the younger person does take them right the way through to university, and level 4 apprenticeships, straight into work. More and more students, and their parents, are coming to our open nights and asking about those qualifications, this year in particular.
Q17 Craig Whittaker: To be fair, that has always been the case, yet nothing ever gets done about it.
Teresa Kelly: We have never had a real drive. There was a glimmer of hope with Tomlinson, but it did not go through. We have never had a drive to give the status to that vocational route. If you look at some of our European counterparts, that is the case: it is not seen as the route for those who are less able and cannot do A-levels; it is seen as the route that those with the application, that applied knowledge, can follow. There is a huge opportunity here to do something about that.
Robert Pritchard: I do not think equivalency has helped with that. In the past, the equivalencies with BTECs and GCSEs did not help, because lots of schools were putting youngsters on to courses that were not appropriate for them; they would help the school in their league tables, but would not help the youngsters in their future. A number of youngsters who were aged 16 probably should have been put on level 1 courses, but were put on level 2 courses, and were able to get through level 2 courses, but when they got to college they were not able to access level 3 courses. You may have seen this.
The schools did that because they were chasing the league tables, trying to get five A*C without English and maths, and those equivalences got in the way. I do understand that you think headteachers do not have to go for the EBacc, but, parents are choosing EBacc for their youngsters because they see that as the new gold standard. Due to that, there will be a move away from vocational courses in lots of schools.
Teresa Kelly: Unless there is something to go alongside it that is equivalent.
Martin Collier: A-levels and GCSEs are academic qualifications, and that is, in a sense, where the tension is, because they were set up as academic qualifications, but the expectation is that whole swathes of children who are not academic will be channelled into taking these qualifications. Tension therefore was created in the exam boards, particularly in Curriculum 2000 at A-level, to broaden and dilute the academic standard, in particular the A-level, because more people were to take it. In particular, the AS in 2000 was opened up for that reason.
The tension of the A-level and GCSE is therefore that they have been broadened out and made slightly more vocational, but the reality is they are not: they are still academic qualifications. Many schools, therefore, which wanted to retain an academic qualification at GCSE have gone for the IGCSE, which is more of an academic qualification, and is not really accessible to those other than the top 20% of people academically. Is GCSE/A-level fit for purpose? In many senses it is not, but that is because we try to use it as an umbrella qualification for too broad a spectrum of our pupils.
David Burton: I would make a point about the assessment style. As has been pointed out, a lot of students are academic and the traditional routes work perfectly well for them, but for other students we need the vocational routes. It has to be very much equivalent in terms of what they are coming out with, their outcomes and succession routes, but also the way they are assessed. With current plans suggesting the traditional sit-down exam, I look at some of our students on vocational courses and think surely, in the 21st century, we can come up with a much more efficient and student-friendly system in which candidates are assessed on their skills and qualifications and does not require the old, archaic system of simply sitting down with a pen and a piece of paper.
Q18 Craig Whittaker: Talking about economic viability and looking particularly at the German system, which has a huge employer input into curriculum and modelling children going forward. As headteachers, how many of you involve your local manufacturers and businesses in that scheme in your schools to help put those children on the right vocational route?
Robert Pritchard: We do to a certain extent.
Q19 Craig Whittaker: To what extent?
Robert Pritchard: To a certain extent for a small number of youngsters. Their input into the curriculum is more about work-related learning rather than input into the curriculum about what we are going to teach. We teach what is on the specification, because we are tied by the specification. If there was a greater link between employers or universities and the A-levels or qualifications at GCSE and age 16, that would help, because we teach what is on the specification. They come in and supplement that in terms of workrelated learning and applying the knowledge.
Q20 Craig Whittaker: With all due respect, each one of you has mentioned vocational subjects, and to me the one way of doing vocational subjects, and the one beacon, is the German system. I am quite interested to tease out of you how much you involve your local employers in that process within your schools. I understand that you are set to a curriculum, but surely there is much more you can do.
Teresa Kelly: For our level 3 students, in the region of 20% of their delivery time is through our local employers. We have what we call a Professional Futures programme, which the employers have helped us build, and sitting in that are some of the qualifications. The programme is a good programme. We are fortunate, because we are just down the road from BMW; they have got that culture, so they are very involved with the delivery of that course.
David Burton: That is the ideal situation, very much to be sought after: to have as much employer engagement as possible. That was one of the good aspects of the Diploma courses; there were lots of other things wrong with them, but the multidisciplinary input was a really good feature. A lot of local companies are struggling to keep going at the moment and therefore have less time and man hours to help schools. But everyone you approach says it would be good.
Q21 Craig Whittaker: So there has been less time to invest in their future then?
David Burton: I think they are investing at the moment in making sure they have a future.
Craig Whittaker: Martin?
Martin Collier: My school doesn’t offer vocational qualifications.
Q22 Craig Whittaker: My last question is around what Robert has touched on with EBacc: what are the effects of linking the exam system for 16-year- olds so closely to the school accountability system? Is it a case of the assessment tail wagging the curriculum dog?
Robert Pritchard: It is. We have a philosophy of a curriculum that is right for the individual, but we are not naïve in terms of what we offer. We offer a broadly academic curriculum. Last year, when the options were open, the options night was on the same day the Daily Telegraph said that EBacc was the new standard for university. Our parents are the kind of parents who read the Daily Telegraph, and think, "That is the kind of qualification that is there for our youngsters."
We have not actively encouraged them. We have not got blocks in place that will force youngsters down an EBacc system. If I am brutally honest, the parental choice-as well as our not being naïve as leaders-is steering some youngsters down there that previously would not have gone down that route. However, we only put youngsters down that route who can achieve.
Q23 Chair: If you are only putting people down the route who can achieve there, for whom it is a good thing-they are facilitating subjects the universities like-and parents want it as well, then who are you to say this is not a great improvement? Who is it letting down? That is the most interesting point.
Robert Pritchard: The question was whether the assessment tail was wagging the dog: yes, these youngsters may have been doing something they are better at, rather than the EBacc subject. To quantify: last year 48% of the cohort were able to get the EBacc, and 42% did. This year, the number of youngsters who have opted for it has gone to 68%. That is a free option choice: parents and youngsters have seen that as the new option choice.
Q24 Chair: What’s wrong with it? Who is being let down?
Robert Pritchard: Do I think that doing a language after 14, and being able to achieve in that language, is a good idea? Yes. I did not get the EBacc; I did not do a language when I was 13, 14 and 15. From that point of view the EBacc would be a good idea if it encouraged more youngsters to do a language, and the same for humanities. However, 50% of the country’s population might not be able to access that qualification, so it is a question of what is in place for them. You have mentioned a different kind of route.
Q25 Chair: You are suggesting that somehow the EBacc damages. I try and understand: we have EBacc, we have five GCSEs, and the people who never feature in either of the scores for those particular sets of examinations are the lowest 20% of performers. The very people we are supposed to be changing our system to improve are entirely untouched by our main drivers of performance in the system: that seems a bit incoherent to me. I want you to explain to us, if you believe it, how people in that group are being harmed by the current accountability measures?
Robert Pritchard: It does not harm them in my school, but there are lots of schools across the country who, when the EBacc measure was brought in, changed the curriculum for their year 10, so that in year 11 they would have lots of time to do humanities and a language. A lot of schools did that, so as to hit the EBacc measure. We did not do that.
Q26 Chair: I myself would never be influenced in a malign way, but a lot of other people are: is that what you are saying?
Robert Pritchard: It depends on the context of the school and on the head. If the school is in particular circumstances such that it needs to do that, it will do that. A lot of our youngsters already do opt to do EBacc subjects, because that is the kind of school we teach in. There are a lot of schools out there with 0% on the EBacc.
Q27 Chair: Is the link between GCSEs and the accountability system leading to distortion? One of the classic charges is, again, that the biggest problem we have is not our elite, but those who are the lowest performing: they are getting inappropriate curricula, they are failing to get a pathway to a decent future, and our system of accountability leaves them out entirely. Therefore, the main drivers in the system are completely unmatched to what apparently are the main political objectives. Is that true, David?
David Burton: Yes, to an extent. One of the problems with EBacc is that, because the choice of subjects for EBacc are so narrow, anyone doing an EBacc who then wants to go to university has a narrowed list of subjects they can study. I am thinking, for example, of people who want to do design technology. Those kinds of subjects, which are not included in the EBacc, are perfectly good subjects to do at university, and would be good for our economy and employers. However, schools could potentially interview those students and say, "Well, maybe that is not the best choice for you as a university education".
At my school we interview every single student who was capable of doing the EBacc in terms of their prior attainment data and ensure they are aware of all the choices. We do not force anyone to do it, because you do not want a 13 or 14-year-old feeling that they are being forced to do a subject against their will that is not good for them and nowhere near their interest.
To go back to your other question about the problem 20%, we have to be careful that we meet the needs of those students but give them the sense that there is a long-term plan to it. We have said that for us as educational professionals it can be a very confusing system, so for parents and pupils it must be even more confusing. When we say, "They are equivalent", I am not sure that what they are seeing on a day-to-day basis says to them it is equivalent. Unfortunately they think that means second-rate.
Q28 Chair: Is your focus truly on that? We are going to have free-school-meals children appearing in the league tables in future, but the only accountability measure is the five good GCSEs, and the lowest performing 20% do not appear in that. Are you incentivised to concentrate on the children who least need your additional focus and attention?
David Burton: From a league table point of view, of course we are incentivised. But I would hope that any school leader has their moral stance, as well as their leadership stance and thinks, "The most important thing for my school is that every single student has the best opportunity." I do not necessarily think the answer is to think there are different paths for different people; we have also to ensure that every single person feels that their chosen path has progression they understand, that they can see a realistic chance of making that progression route, and that they feel that every day when they get up and go to school they are achieving something towards that.
Q29 Chair: Both you and Robert have suggested that that is not a problem: you are not putting people down for it inappropriately, and it is hard to see why it is a problem.
Robert Pritchard: I know schools that, for example, were putting lots of youngsters in for a BTEC Performing Arts 4 award, who were getting 11 to 16 GCSEs but then having no progression to post-16. Schools do that because, in a particular context, there could be a notice to improve, there could be special measures, and they need to get the points to go up as quickly as possible, so they have a simple fix in terms of vocational qualifications.
That will change, because of the changes to the equivalencies in the league tables. I think that will be a positive change, because it will force schools and headteachers to enter for qualifications only youngsters who are appropriate for them. If you look at the league tables, a lot of schools have 100% five A*-C, but might have 30 to 40% A*-C with English and maths. That is because they are playing the system in terms of vocational qualifications.
Q30 Damian Hinds: You may not know the arithmetic mean, but give me an estimate: for the kids at your schools, or those you have coming in, who have done or will do the English Baccalaureate, how many GCSEs will they do in total?
Robert Pritchard: Currently they will do 11.
Teresa Kelly: It does not apply to us, because we do not do GCSEs.
Q31 Damian Hinds: You do not have any, fine.
David Burton: Nine.
Martin Collier: Nine or 10.
Q32 Damian Hinds: To be fair, there is no sense in which children cannot do subjects on top of the English Baccalaureate. Would you all agree with that?
Robert Pritchard: Yes, I would agree with that because we have an option system whereby they are able to choose a language and a humanities subject, and have three spare blocks for things that they like.
Q33 Damian Hinds: Would anyone disagree that there is room in the curriculum, as well as the English Baccalaureate, for other options, e.g. design technology?
David Burton: Possibly. For example we have a lot of students in things like triple science, because that is a really important area.
Q34 Damian Hinds: Can you do the English Baccalaureate without triple science?
David Burton: Yes, but then we want to make the best opportunity for the student.
Q35 Damian Hinds: Okay. Even if they did triple science, it would still be possible to do options on top, yes or no? I think it would on the number you said.
Martin Collier: A point we have not made: I am in the independent sector, and we do not have to do the English Baccalaureate. You talk about the 20% that do not do it; the independent sector, as with a lot of education initiatives, has the independence to choose what it thinks are the best qualifications for their pupils-a bit of perspective.
Q36 Damian Hinds: We were talking earlier about the English Baccalaureate being the new standard for university entrants. In the independent sector, is that what you hear from your fellow heads, or do they talk about the old standards for university entrants?
Martin Collier: Not at all. I was Director of Studies at a school that, seven or eight years ago, was one of the first to introduce IGCSE maths and convince the exam boards that home schools could do it as well as the international schools. Since then, whole swathes of the independent sector have decided to take IGCSEs; they dropped to the bottom of every league table they could find, but it did not bother them. Now, looking forward, they know that universities are still interested in people with strong qualifications, English Bacc or IGCSE.
Q37 Damian Hinds: My question was about the subject choice: a phrase came up earlier that the English Baccalaureate was the new choice for university entrants. I was asking you, Martin, in your conversation with fellow independent school heads whether would they consider English, maths, humanities, language and science to be a new set of requirements to go to university or more of a traditional pre-existing set?
Martin Collier: In most, English, maths, and science are still the core, but not necessarily.
Q38 Damian Hinds: We talked earlier about the pressure from parents to take the English Baccalaureate. As MPs we get correspondence on all manner of topics: I have 85 emails and letters about the beak trimming of hens. I have yet to receive correspondence from any parent whatsoever about the English Baccalaureate. I am willing to believe it exists. I hear a lot of headteachers and teachers talking about it, but I do not hear a lot of parents talking about it.
Chair: Damian, we have done our English Baccalaureate inquiry: it would be quite nice to move on to the wider system.
Damian Hinds: Oh, c ome on . I accept that, but it is relevant to the wider system, because my question is how that par ental pressure manifests itself.
Robert Pritchard: It is basically only in the choices the youngsters make. There is no problem in terms of the school; it is just interesting to see that, after the Daily Telegraph article, the number of youngsters who chose it in that year went up.
Q39 Damian Hinds: David, in your school, how does the parental pressure manifest itself?
David Burton: As we have said, there are now so many different subjects that people can study that we, as educational professionals, are trying to influence our children to get the very best future for them. If a student comes from a family that does not have a history of sending people to university, then to convince a parent that their son or daughter should take the tough subjects, and that is the best for their future, is sometimes quite a hard sell. Those informed parents, who are Daily Telegraph readers or whatever, are more convinced, because they are the subjects they studied themselves.
Our parents tend to be very well aware; they want their sons and daughters to get jobs in the local area, and sometimes say, "How will a GCSE in history help with that?" Simply because they haven’t had the family history of it, we have that battle. The parents are great and very supportive, but clearly we are trying to change aspirations and perceptions. Sometimes they will say, "Hold on, do we do the French GCSE rather than design technology? Is that going to help them?"
We have got a two-edged argument in that we are trying to promote the best interests of the student, but that is in the quite long term: A-level, a university career, and then a job after that. Often parents want to see more impact slightly earlier than that, so that can be the conflict.
Q40 Damian Hinds: Obviously, in the exam system we have lots of change; schools do not like having as much change as we have, but I think probably there is also an acceptance that over time you need evolution. Who should drive change, both the pace of it and the actuality of it? Is it the schools themselves? Should it be universities, employers, learned societies, international benchmarking studies? What should it be?
Teresa Kelly: There are some very strong indicators from employers that there are skills gaps, certainly around science technician level. They should be a formal key driver, but we have to do that very carefully. We need to listen to the employers who really know what skills they are looking to embed far more then they are listened to at the moment, in terms of what they perceive they need for the future, and for the economy.
Q41 Damian Hinds: What of the role of international comparisons, higher education institutions, the Institute of Physics. Martin?
Martin Collier: This is where I come back to the lack of coherence and structure. If you have a proper structure, through that you can get a partnership with all the interested parties who can come up with a coherent plan that perhaps has a longer-term vision-because at present there is no vision at all-as to how qualifications should develop. All the different groups you describe should play a part in that.
Q42 Damian Hinds: All of them?
Martin Collier: All of them.
David Burton: Students and parents would be delighted to know that universities and employers were trying to help create a pathway for the young person. That would give people immense confidence that they are not just taking these qualifications in isolation, to get a certificate, to move on to the next stage, but there is a pathway, with employers saying, "If you get this, we will give you that". I think students would work their socks off to achieve that. That would be really helpful, and as parents we would want that as well. That is a positive step.
Within that, we have to create a simplified examination system, so the competition is not in how many qualifications we have for GCSE English, but how we get the best qualification, so we have one qualification that evolves in itself, rather than having one qualification going off in five or six different routes, five or six different students having a GCSE in English, and no one being quite sure if they are the same, or which one is best.
Q43 Alex Cunningham: You agreed with Damian that young people could take a qualification over and above the Bacc. Is that going to be applied to all students, or are some of them going to opt to put all their eggs into the Bacc basket, and lose the opportunity to do the things that they are probably better at?
Robert Pritchard: Not in my school’s case, and not in a number of schools that I know.
Q44 Alex Cunningham: Are young people able to do the additional work over and above the Bacc? Are you quite confident of that?
Robert Pritchard: Yes.
Q45 Alex Cunningham: So they will have that opportunity.
Robert Pritchard: Yes.
Q46 Alex Cunningham: What about those who might have less ability?
Robert Pritchard: The youngsters who have less ability, and are not able to get a C and above in the Bacc certificate, probably will not take it in the first place.
Q47 Charlotte Leslie: How will the advent of a quiet revolution in education affect the qualification system; that is University Technical Colleges, with the introduction of a curriculum break at 14, tackling, in many ways, an academic route-literacy, numeracy and other disciplines-through a vocational mechanism. How will that change the qualifications framework and what can we learn from that?
Teresa Kelly: We are looking at developing a University Technical College with some partners in Didcot at the moment, because Didcot sits in the heart of the Science Vale and the Science Corridor. We are working with Harwell and Diamond on that. The principle behind the developing qualification within the UTC movement is similar to the one I was talking about earlier. You have a route that does not have lower status; in some cases it might have higher status, or perceived by some to have higher status, but it is designed around the practical and applied skills of young people.
I have heard references this morning to the "lower achievers". I would say that some of those are not the lower achievers; they just do not have the skills to fit in the system we have currently. In a different system they may be the higher achievers, and those who are getting straight As may be the lower achievers. That is the anomaly in the system. I am hoping that the UTC model, although it is small in its national context, will go a way to addressing that.
The downside of the UTC model is there could be an argument that it is too narrow; the curriculum goes too far the other way in terms of focusing narrowly on engineering or construction.
Robert Pritchard: I tend to agree. There is a limited number of UTCs currently, so time will tell on that. I agree that the curriculum I have seen from a couple of proposals is far too narrow for young people; just like the EBacc is too narrow for some, this could be too narrow for others.
David Burton: The narrowness is a particular concern if they start at 14. They may think at 14, "That is the area I want to go into," but within the next year or 18 months that evolves, and they realise it wasn’t quite that area but another; we find that in schools. If it is too narrow then that could be a problem, with the students being forced through a system they do not particularly want in the end. The good thing is that the employers are massively involved in the UTC progression routes-as I said before, "If you can achieve this, then this is what is on offer for you" is going to be a huge motivational tool for students.
Q48 Charlotte Leslie: If the Committee were to make recommendations on the progress of the UTCs, because obviously UTCs are a work in progress, in terms of accessing the equipment from a different way-the method of access as opposed to what you are actually learning-and the break at 14 for decision-making about the future, do you think those are the two things it would be worth the Government considering and watching the progress of if they are looking at qualifications review?
Teresa Kelly: It is very early days with the UTCs, but my nervousness about the work that we are developing with them is that if a youngster is doing well in school between 11 and 13, why would they want to come out of that school and make a change? I would rather see the UTC curriculum offered in partnership with the schools, because it gives that confidence to the youngsters and parents. It is a big step to come out of school when you are doing quite well-and the UTCs are looking for people who are doing quite well-and to go into a different organisation. They are too distinct from each other, currently: we are trying to put one together in partnership with schools in Didcot, so that the young person and their parents do not have to make that divide.
Q49 Charlotte Leslie: I am getting the feeling that we do not think there is that much we can learn from the progress of UTCs in qualifications development. We talked earlier about what employers and universities want, being the main consumers of our young people. Our young people need to impress them if they are going to get on in life. Transferring that over to modularisation: do you think that modularisation is a good or bad thing, simply put? Do you think it enables or disenables young people to connect up the bits of curriculum they are studying? Do you think that it is a good model on which to base experience of the outside world? Your tasks are broken down into little bits and if you get it wrong, never mind, you can have another go. That is a rather large question.
David Burton: I certainly think it is a good thing. The modular system is more like real life, in that we do not normally have to wait two years to find out if something we have been working on is successful. We normally have our work appraisals every year, at least. To a young person, who is used to having instant feedback on anything they do-whether that be a computer game or a TV programme-it is alien. It is a system that most of us have grown up with-the linear approach: two years and then do the exam-but personally I do not see that as an effective approach at all.
Martin Collier: I do. You have to understand where modularity came from: mathematics primarily. In a sense you can understand why it might suit mathematics and potentially some of the sciences as well. Then in 2000, it was imposed on all subject disciplines and it did not suit many, the humanities in particular. I have never been a fan of the idea of children being able to re-sit and re-sit again. The problem with modularity from my point of view is that it broke up the learning process.
There are attractive elements to linearity, in particular that, as with life, your skills build on skills, and your knowledge builds on knowledge. You can have a linear qualification and still have within it various forms of assessment, which means that you can understand how well the child has progressed. I am a historian and modularity has turned history into a bite-size project, and when you are talking about what universities want, it is the level of historical understanding you do not get through modularity, in my opinion.
Robert Pritchard: I used to think modularisation was a great thing: it was brought in with maths. It has been used as a method of youngsters re-sitting and re-sitting. At my school, we start modular exams on 10 January next year and finish on 2 February. Over that time we have some modular exams taking place every single day. I am a chemist, and I will disagree to a certain extent, because you can really understand a subject like chemistry at the end of a long-term process. If you are going to do something on molecular structure and then forget it, it is not going to make you a good chemist at the end of the day. I understand why it was brought in, but it has overtaken the exam system, and the assessment has overtaken teaching.
Q50 Charlotte Leslie: Is there a sense that students are constantly preparing for exams?
Robert Pritchard: Absolutely.
Martin Collier: It has broken up the learning process.
Robert Pritchard: The one reason I wanted to come today was to say that a young person’s life is now constant assessment. It used to be just modules, and now hopefully we are going to have that controlled assessment, which is the other tail wagging the same dog, if that is possible. Youngsters now, as well as revising and preparing for the module exam, are being prepared for controlled assessments, which are in more or less every subject, and are ruining young people’s lives because they are becoming more and more important. I am speaking as a parent as well as an educator now.
Q51 Charlotte Leslie: The argument for modularisation is to say, "Assessment at every level". Do you think that that can be carried internally in the school, within the teaching structure?
Martin Collier: Assessment is an integral part of that learning process. You assess children all the time, every day; in every lesson the children are being assessed in some way or another. It is the formalisation of assessment, and the fact that assessment drives all, that, in a sense, has so distorted the system, in particular the last four years of a traditional period at school.
Robert Pritchard: If I were cynical talking about examination boards, that is one way that they are able to increase their revenue, by creating more and more modules.
Martin Collier: Absolutely.
Robert Pritchard: My exam board in the last five or six years has gone from £70,000 to £130,000. It is just a massive machine that has overtaken everything, and the people who are benefiting are the exam boards, some of which are there to make money.
David Burton: The only problem with the ongoing teacher assessment is that it is not currently recognised as well as the public examination system. My disagreement about the modular thing is that the modular system was not imposed on us; everyone could have sat all four or six modules at the end of two years, even in 2000.
Martin Collier: The trouble is that examinations were set up for modular assessment. I am concerned that, when the new GCSEs are introduced, if they are in a linear fashion, the examination boards will be asked to create new course structures such that there is a logic to those courses being assessed in a linear fashion. We should not take the modular courses we have at the moment and just say, "We will stick the exams at the end": that will not work. If you set up a modular course you have to examine it in a modular fashion.
Q52 Chair: Are we going to move from too much modularity to too little because of central diktat, rather than allowing organic assessment of what is best for a particular subject and particular pupils at a particular time?
David Burton: That is a concern. We were talking about the 20% of young people, or the NEETs: the kind of young people who are going to struggle to maintain their motivation, their attendance and their efforts over a two-year course, without any feedback on how they are doing. We can have ongoing teacher assessment, but that does not have the same status as the final qualification at the moment. As you have said, we need an education and examination system to meet more students’ needs; we need more than one model of assessment, clearly: linear works for some, but modular works for others. I do not think we should be beyond a system that incorporates both.
Q53 Tessa Munt: When was the last time you changed your examining board?
Martin Collier: People change all the time; subjects change.
Q54 Tessa Munt: You changed at the beginning of this year?
Martin Collier: I changed school at the beginning of this year.
Q55 Tessa Munt: That is cheating.
Martin Collier: Subjects change all the time.
Q56 Tessa Munt: It would be normal to change examining boards once a year?
Martin Collier: Not necessarily. Subjects in a school might find an exam board they like and run with it for a long time, but in one subject-English quite often-they might be having problems, for example, with the assessment, and they chop and change.
David Burton: Yes, quite frequently, but what is more frequent is the exam board changing what the requirements. If you are choosing one board to do one subject, they may change the nature of that before you have changed it, if that makes sense. An exam board may say, "Right, for English we are no longer just doing this, we are now doing this and this." The demands on the students and the teachers have changed even though you ostensibly have not changed, if that makes sense.
Teresa Kelly: We work with 39 exam boards and we change about 20% a year.
Robert Pritchard: We are very similar. The faculty leads look at the exam system and exam boards, and there are probably three or four changes in subjects per year. Often schools change because they have fallen out with the exam boards, something has gone wrong with the assessments or controlled assessments, and they are trying to find the best method for their youngsters. It is changed quite frequently.
Q57 Tessa Munt: It sounds like an awful lot of admin going on all the time.
Robert Pritchard: Absolutely.
Q58 Tessa Munt: What influences your decision to change?
Martin Collier: A subject leader will change because they had a rotten summer, have not got resolution from the exam board, particularly when they have the scripts back, feel that the children have been poorly done by, and therefore go with another exam board.
Robert Pritchard: I would echo that; sometimes you get the results back, you get the coursework back, and there are massive disagreements between the centre and the exam board, with no resolution. The only thing you can do is change.
Tessa Munt: Blimey.
Teresa Kelly: For us it is mainly about the curriculum content, and which of the exam boards are keeping up with the industry standards.
Q59 Tessa Munt: That is very much what I would like to hear.
David Burton: For us, it is very much more what is best for the student, but, within that, how the exam boards were responding to the needs of the outside world and making it more relevant to a young person’s life in terms of the self-assessment, in terms of the content, but also how exciting-for want of a better word-and engaging the curriculum content is.
Q60 Tessa Munt: I am quite alarmed, across all of you, to find that there are different things that are motivating you, and that you are not getting a response from the exam boards. That is not what I would want to hear at all.
Robert Pritchard: Once you write letters to the chief examiner, there is nowhere you can go. If you have a problem with an exam there is nowhere you can go.
Martin Collier: The only way you can go is if you can land on the exam board that they have failed in terms of procedure. The trouble is that that is extremely difficult to prove, and they do not give you any evidence of procedural failure. Now and again you can land a bit of a body blow on them, but it is rare.
Q61 Tessa Munt: You may end up having to go back to them if the next lot do the same thing. What should happen?
Robert Pritchard: There should be more transparency. There should be a method where we can communicate with them. You could know that something has gone wrong with a paper, you have asked for a remark, but there is no transparency in terms of what has gone wrong in the system. Sometimes some of the re-marks are bizarre in terms of going up by a couple of grades, going down by a couple of grades, but the big problem is that it is such a lengthy process. By the time you get a resolution somebody who was doing A-levels could have gone on to university, or young people could have gone on to do their A-levels, so it does not really matter any more. The response is slow, and the machine is so big; ironically I tend to agree that a single exam board would be a way, but I suppose the machine would be even bigger then.
Q62 Chair: It would possibly be even slower.
Martin Collier: It might be more transparent. The trouble is that the exam boards are very defensive because they are defending their market share, which comes back to the idea of the market.
Q63 Tessa Munt: It is not the best thing for children.
Martin Collier: Absolutely not.
Q64 Chair: Any thoughts on a recommendation today? Could Government legislate to say, "You can pay a fee to appeal against this and it is automatically sent out anonymously to some other examiners; the school pays if they are wrong, and the examination board pays if they are wrong"?
Teresa Kelly: There may be a greater role for Ofqual. Ofqual could extend to take this role on for us in some way or other. We would need to work through the detail of it, but we have got an organisation, Ofqual, which in a sense could.
Q65 Chair: What could they do? You have an individual school with an individual teacher of English who thinks a number of their pupils have been poorly marked: what is this central quango going to do?
Martin Collier: The problem is systemic. The problem at the end of the line, with the school with the child who is disappointed on the day, is the end of the process. Exam boards have various procedures that they operate, and they are governed by Ofqual. In terms of recommendations, Ofqual looks at all of the procedures within the examination boards. For example, over the past 10 or 15 years-I know because I worked for an exam board as an examiner-in history, in particular, exam boards got rid of a review process that happened after scripts were marked and before the results were produced. I would spend days and days in Guildford or London sifting through scripts with other very senior examiners, using our skills to find where the problems lay with the examiners. The review process went, and it partly went with the introduction of on-line marking, but it also went because it was really expensive.
Therefore, the idea was that to shift the emphasis on to re-marks; not all the problems are resolved by the time results day comes; the child gets their result. Some schools can afford re-marks, but they are quite expensive, and others cannot. Some schools have a culture of accepting the results at face value, but other schools are very proactive in challenging the results of the exam board. To my mind, those discrepancies in the system do not give confidence, and that is why parents generally do not have confidence with exam boards, and why schools also have significant problems.
Ofqual needs to review and look at this system of examining, how exams operate, to ensure professional standards. That should be their responsibility. As Teresa quite rightly said, we have a body, but my question would be: do they bear their teeth enough to the exam boards?
Tessa Munt: I have 100 other questions.
Chair: You are going to be allowed one.
Q66 Tessa Munt : I might ask you to write to the Committee on the following subject please: I want to know about the number of hours you teach, and whether you use exactly the recommended number of hours that are set per subject or go over that. I know there are some schools that are pulling the number of hours taught down. I know Martin’s views, because he has already given those to us about a single exam board, but I do not think we have explored that particularly, and I am sure Martin would be happy to put that in writing anyway. I am a fan of a single exam board, if only for children who move across the system, like military children and travelling children. I want also to get your views on the time of year that we should be examining children and to take into account what you were saying about the need for re-marking-we have to get it further back maybe; I do not know. I also want to know how many of you are putting children in for GCSE examinations in year 10, maybe year 9, whether you are putting kids in for A-level in year 10/11/12/13, and what proportion. That is fine now.
Chair: Excellent. I am glad you are satisfied.
Q67 Pat Glass: Can I briefly go back to the modular exams? I was interested in what you said about it having come from mathematics. As someone who has taught mathematics, I understand that. We had so many children who were failing because we taught decimals, some kids did not get it, we moved on; we went on to algebra, some kids did not get it, we moved on. By the time we got to the exam, some kids failed it all. Would you be recommending to us that it does not work for all examinations, but for some subjects, like mathematics, modular courses do get more kids interested, and we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
David Burton: Yes, I would say so.
Q68 Pat Glass: Generally?
Robert Pritchard: Generally, because that is why it came in the first place. The problem came when the assessment started to overtake everything else as well. I understand it for maths, but for other subjects it is starting to get in the way.
Q69 Pat Glass: I would be worried if we lost the modular courses around maths. Were any of your schools affected by errors in the exam papers in 2011, and if they were-I think Martin might have answered this-do you agree with the exam board that it was not systemic, but about individual failures?
Teresa Kelly: We were affected minimally, and I do agree with the exam boards for once in this respect: it is not a trend or a pattern. It was a blip that particular year.
Robert Pritchard: It probably was a blip, but an inexcusable blip.
David Burton: We were not very affected. However, it is not excusable that the first day we knew there was a problem with the exam paper was when the children were sitting. That seems totally wrong when there is an 18-month planning procedure before that happens; for them to be the guinea pigs on an important day seems wrong.
Martin Collier: By its definition it is systemic, because the system failed.
Q70 Pat Glass: I was interested in what Martin was saying about the lack of review across the system. I was saying before you came in that I remember spending what seemed like a lifetime in moderation meetings. Is that simply not in the system now?
Martin Collier: There are meetings. A lot of examining has now gone online, and a lot of meetings are now people sitting at home with their headphones on looking at their computers. Examining is a professional issue: it is a very complex exercise, as you know. Therefore, people have to be trained properly to examine. In my view, they should be qualified and paid properly to examine. We should ensure that people do not examine unless they are ready to do so. On top of that, there should be the structure in place to ensure that the standards are high. We do not have that now.
Q71 Pat Glass: Does everyone agree with that?
Robert Pritchard: It used to be quite difficult to become an examiner, because it was a prestigious thing to do.
Martin Collier: Absolutely.
Robert Pritchard: Nowadays more or less anybody may.
Q72 Chair: You suggested earlier that the costs in your school nearly doubled in a number of years: that is a huge increase in the expense of the examination system at the same time as a reduction in the quality of the examining that is going on within it.
Martin Collier: Absolutely.
Q73 Chair: Do any of the four of you disagree with that?
Teresa Kelly: No.
David Burton: At the same time, an increasing number of courses rely on so much internal assessment by teachers. We are paying to enter a student into an examination, but are doing most of the work ourselves or being sent off to a computer with OMR readers. So we are paying more money and getting much less service back.
Martin Collier: I do not want to be cynical, but I was on a QCDA body where the discussions were held; some exam boards wanted teacher assessment because it was cheaper.
Teresa Kelly: I agree that the examiner’s brief is a very professional one, and it should be a profession, but they should not be the person writing the textbooks and getting the commission and royalties. The commercial arms of some of the examining bodies need to be detached.
Q74 Pat Glass: We need to have a separation of the publications from the examinations.
David Burton: It would be unmanageable to take the current situation, with so many exam boards, so many different qualifications, and try to recreate the review process to ensure that that quality assurance is there. If it went to a single examination body, with single qualifications for each one, you would simplify it much more, and then each qualification you could rely upon, rather than having hundreds of different qualifications all of which have a certain grey area.
Q75 Pat Glass: It has been suggested that Ofqual be given the power to fine up to 10% of a company’s profits. Do you think that would make the situation better or worse? Will they simply pass the cost on to you?
Robert Pritchard: The schools would pay: they would just pass the cost on to schools.
Martin Collier: The issue is not the ability for Ofqual to fine; it is the ability for them to get into the exam boards to ensure the systems work properly.
David Burton: The systems let down the students.
Q76 Pat Glass: Instead of fining these people, Ofqual should be getting in and doing a better job?
Martin Collier: Absolutely.
Q77 Alex Cunningham: Robert suggested that anybody could be an examiner these days, so there is clearly a shortage of skilled examiners in the system. What needs to happen to correct that situation, to have the experienced people, the quality examiners in the system? Do you encourage your own teachers to take on the additional role of examiners, for example?
Robert Pritchard: I do encourage teachers to take on that role. Maybe because there are so many examinations now, with modular exams taking place, the exam boards need far more examiners. I have some really inexperienced teachers becoming examiners. I remember when I first started teaching, you needed to be in the profession for a number of years before you could even start.
Q78 Alex Cunningham: Is it a bad thing for young and inexperienced teachers to become examiners?
Robert Pritchard: It is not a bad thing; I encourage all my teachers to become examiners. I am just saying that in the past it used to be experienced practitioners who were able to become examiners, chief examiners, etc.
Q79 Alex Cunningham: How do we make sure that we get the quality that is required in the market? I am not doing down young teachers; some of our young teachers are the best teachers in the system.
Robert Pritchard: Young teachers do it because of the pay. I do not know what the pay for examiners is now, but some of the experienced teachers do not do it because the remuneration is not worth their while.
Martin Collier: You have to recognise that there is a professional element to examining. Part of that means you have to pay examiners accordingly, but part also means that you have to train them properly and recognise what are professional standards within examining. At the moment that has been taken out of the system. It is now a jobbing job; they put a body in front of the screen, and off they go.
Q80 Alex Cunningham: It is a failure of training?
Martin Collier: It is a failure of training. Over a period of time the professional standard has been reduced and reduced; there are still many good professionals in examining, but they are fewer and further between than they used to be.
Q81 Chair: David, would you agree with the description that Martin has given?
David Burton: Yes.
Q82 Chair: Do you think that Martin has gone over the top Robert, or do you agree with that as well?
Robert Pritchard: No. I do not think he has gone over the top.
Q83 Chair: Teresa, do you think that Martin is right?
Teresa Kelly: It only applies to a very small proportion of examinations-the academic. In the vocational you have to have five, six, seven years’ experience working in the industry before you can become an examiner in motor vehicle mechanics or engineering.
Q84 Chair: It is such a strong description, it would be interesting to hear from the panel.
Teresa Kelly: You must remember that the academic relates to only 40% of the cohort of young people we are talking about. It is very easy to give an academic answer because that is what most people’s experience is, whereas the bulk of young people are not following those qualifications.
Q85 Alex Cunningham: Is it realistic for teachers to take on that additional role? There has been some suggestion and evidence that they should not have that additional workload on top of a full teaching role.
Teresa Kelly: To teach something like motor vehicle mechanics, my staff must go out in to industry every two years to ensure they can keep up with what they need to be able to examine.
Martin Collier : The other side of it is that you can have examiners who have been out of the classroom or have little contact with children, but the reality is that the starting point for a good examiner is somebody who has an empathy with children , and an empathy with the child whose paper they are marking.
Q86 Alex Cunningham: I have some empathy with children when they feel upset about the deal they get when their papers are marked; mistakes can result in devastation for some young people. You talked about blips in the system, and said that mistakes are not widespread, but are you personally satisfied with the reliability of marking across GCSE and A-levels?
Robert Pritchard: No. There are far too many examples in this last series of individual subjects of people being dissatisfied with the service they have had. It is not just complaints about the results, because some of the results are bizarre in both ways. There is little satisfaction with a number of exam boards in my centre.
Chair: Alex, we need to move on.
Q87 Alex Cunningham: I just wanted to kno w if everybody agreed with that .
Chair: T eresa does not.
Teresa Kelly: I am generally satisfied.
Chair: So it is a split between the vocational and the academic: it is the quality of the examining in the academic subject that has gone downhill.
Teresa Kelly: We have a lot of AS and A2 students, and I am generally satisfied with that.
Q88 Damian Hinds: I have one two-pronged question. The analysis from Robert Coe and Peter Tymms on so-called grade inflation suggests that, between 1996 and 2007, the average grade at GCSE for students of broadly comparable ability rose by almost two thirds of a grade, and that for A-level, albeit over a longer period from 1988 to 2007, the increase was over two grades. My simple but two-pronged question is: does that ring true, intuitively? If so, what do you primarily attribute it to?
Robert Pritchard: It is a complex issue, due to the changing nature of the qualifications. I have wrestled with why this would be. Young people now work much harder than they used to; they are much better prepared for examinations. The teaching profession is working harder and doing a better job than it was. That is one part of the argument, but when I look back at some of the papers that were set a number of years ago, there does seem to be a discrepancy in the level of questions then and now. I am giving two contradictory answers there: the youngsters and the teachers are doing a better job, but, looking back at the papers that I used to set and mark years ago, there has been a shift.
David Burton: As a group of professionals, teachers get better over a period of time at preparing their students for examinations. That is partly because of what we said about the markers; the papers have to be set in such a way that the mark schemes can be fairly simple. I do not mean they are easy, but what is being looked for is fairly straightforward.
Q89 Damian Hinds: There are two ways you can be better prepared for the exam: better taught-development of the mind-and then teaching for the test. Are you erring more towards the second of those two?
David Burton: No. Generally it is both. What we are referring to is the stats that say the grades achieved in the examination have gone up, and there are two parts to that: being taught well, being enthused, being motivated. But also, I talk to my teachers and students about the tactics. We know when we go into the exam it is not just a blank face with a blank paper; we know what we have to do to pass that examination. That is an important part, and professional teachers are very good and getting better at doing that. What sometimes happens is that a new examination system or new qualification comes in, and it takes a few years for that to happen. Or, as sometimes seems to happen, a new qualification comes out and, lo and behold, that year the results are great: we can surmise why that is.
Martin Collier: We have to be careful, because young people do not like to be told it is getting easier. They work hard for their exams, they do well on the basis of that, and they need to be praised for that. I do not want to bang a drum, but one of the reasons why grades have gone up is the issue of market share. Having worked on the inside for an exam board, I know they are very wary of saying, "This year there will be fewer A grades", because they fear that people will then go off to another exam board. That is one of the consequences of setting up the market in exam boards.
You may think that is a rather strange comment, but I have been on the inside of exam boards and heard the conversations. In some subjects it has got harder more than in others; in some, in particular mathematics or science, there are greater similarities with what you saw 10 years ago. In other subjects there has been a dilution. The cynical response to the whole things was to add an extra grade at the top, which is what happened with the A* grade at GCSE and then at A-level. They were all shunted on one.
Q90 Alex Cunningham: You are saying simply that examining boards are awarding higher grades than they ought to to students because they want to retain their market share.
Martin Collier: No; I said that what the exam boards are worried about and have been worried about is that, if they hit the children hard one year, and the number of top grades diminish, people will go elsewhere.
Q91 Alex Cunningham: Is that not the same thing?
Martin Collier: No.
Chair: It sounds like it to me, but I’m a simple person.
Q92 Tessa Munt: I have multiple questions again. We have talked about re-marking, and I want to have your comments on re-taking. When considering whether you are going to put a particular pupil in for a retake, do you balance that against cost at all?
Martin Collier: In my school, no.
Q93 Tessa Munt: What do you do?
Martin Collier: They are only allowed one retake per subject, because educationally more than that is not acceptable in our view.
Q94 Tessa Munt: It is a game.
Martin Collier: Yes, it is a game.
David Burton: Similar, but in individual cases sometimes there might be extenuating circumstances, in which case you think that that re-take did not count.
Q95 Tessa Munt: They get one re-take?
David Burton: Normally, yes. However, I can think of a girl who this summer had to do a number of the Functional Skills to get the Diploma, and I am delighted she did because she got through, but there were extenuating circumstances in her case. As a policy, we would not have three or four re-takes.
Teresa Kelly: We have similar reasons for how many re-takes we would allow the student, but generally speaking, students pay for re-takes in college.
Robert Pritchard: It is my only budget heading where I am not too worried if it goes up, unfortunately, so it is a similar picture: one re-take, and the cost is not an option at the moment.
Q96 Tessa Munt: I was going to ask, how do you do the re-take thing in the context of a reducing budget?
Robert Pritchard: At the moment it is the one budget heading that we have set, expecting that we are going to have so many re-takes. As time goes on, hopefully we will look at whether the students pay, etc. It is not an issue currently, but in the future it could be.
David Burton: I can see that being a problem: if students are asked to pay then realistically we are asking parents to pay. That means that parents in a position to pay will, and the others will not. That means we have a postcode lottery.
Martin Collier: That is the same with remarks as well: it is the fear that some can pay and some cannot.
Q97 Tessa Munt: Do you find it easier to compare the costs of one exam board against the other when you are looking at the schedule of what they are offering?
Robert Pritchard: Generally. In choosing an exam board for a particular subject, we do not look at the costs, because they are comparable in terms of prices for the module entries.
Teresa Kelly: Same: we would not look at cost.
Q98 Craig Whittaker: We spoke earlier about endorsed textbooks. Do schools and colleges tend to overrely on endorsed textbooks due to pressure to improve the examination performance of their pupils?
David Burton: No, I would not say we do particularly. A lot of textbooks can be quite poor and often book writers have not taken into consideration the reading age of students. They are only concerned with the content of the subject, rather than the accessibility of the material they are writing. What has increased and improved in the last few years has been the number of resources produced via electronic means; they are much better quality, generally. The textbooks themselves are often not particularly good.
Q99 Craig Whittaker: Do they come from the examining boards?
David Burton: It is a mixture.
Robert Pritchard: To reiterate what was said earlier, chief examiners are writing books, and lots of my subject leaders want to buy the books because they are written by the chief examiner; they think they are going to get an inside line. It goes back to costs: with subjects that are changing specifications and exam boards, I get the subject leader coming to me again saying, "Well, I have changed exam boards, and this is written by the new chief examiner. Can I have some money for some new textbooks?" Often they get "no" as an answer, however.
Q100 Chair: Does the tail wag the dog? Are we going to have additional away strips?
Martin Collier: It does. I am in a position of having written some of these poor textbooks, but things change. With Curriculum 2000, in terms of A-level, the market was opened up, and a number of textbooks were produced because it was felt that the books for A-level previous to 2000 were too hard for some people. The real sea change and the problem has been with the badging of books, because then you get the scenario whereby, if you are doing a course, you are under pressure to buy the book that has been badged by the exam board. If you are talking about one exam board, it is the publisher/owner of the exam board who publishes the books.
The danger is that you get into a cycle whereby the chief examiner feels that he or she has got to set questions that come out of the book. You are not providing a textbook: you are providing a course book. If you think that A-levels and other academic disciplines are about broadening the mind, reading around a subject and that sort of thing, those things are mitigated against by these branded books.
Q101 Chair: In terms of a recommendation?
Teresa Kelly: The set texts or course books should be separated totally from the examination board function.
Q102 Chair: Do you all agree with that?
David Burton: I would agree with that.
Robert Pritchard: I would agree with that.
Q103 Chair: David is saying yes, and also Martin, obviously.
Martin Collier: I am not, because I have a vested interest. I withdraw.
Q104 Chair: Martin, we often have vested interests speaking at this Committee, but rarely so openly and honestly. Thank you for that.
Robert Pritchard: It is the badging. Chief examiners have always had input into textbooks, for years and years.
Martin Collier: Some of the books in a series that I edited, for the current A-level, are fantastic books on different topics on which there are no other books-not the ones I have written. The issue is badging, and now, badging is ubiquitous across all boards.
Q105 Chair: All four of you agree that the badging is wrong and should stop. Excellent, thank you all very much for coming along and giving us such stimulating evidence this morning. We look forward to hearing from you at whatever length you consider appropriate.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Professor Nick Lieven, Pro ViceChancellor, University of Bristol, Ana Gutiérrez, Head of Student Administration, University of Bournemouth, and Anne Tipple, National Skills Executive, British Chambers of Commerce, gave evidence.
Q106 Chair: Good morning. Thank you very much for coming along to give evidence to us today. I am sorry we have a very short slot before we head off to the Autumn Statement, but I know we will pack in lots of valuable content, and I appreciate your taking the time to come along. As you probably heard me say to the last panel, we make recommendations to Government; we are always interested to hear from you clarity about what you think the recommendations in our report should be. I will warm you up with a general question before coming to my colleagues: are the examinations that 15 to 19-year-olds sit providing not only for the young people but for your purposes at the moment?
Ana Gutiérrez: Thank you, Mr Chairman, for giving me the opportunity to come to the Committee on behalf of Bournemouth University. I have over two decades’ experience in UK administration, and I have overall responsibility at Bournemouth University for the admission of around 3,800 students a year. A-levels and vocational qualifications are very important for Bournemouth University: on a day-to-day basis that is how we admit our students. We believe that the qualifications prepare students for higher education. We have done a study looking at the correlation between tariff points and outcomes of the degree, and we see that correlation happens, not only for A-levels, but for vocational qualifications.
Perhaps it is more an issue of methods of teaching or coaching for assessments that gives the students a shock when they come to higher education. There is anecdotal evidence that sometimes perhaps the method of teaching in schools is of spoon-feeding students, and therefore they do not have the intellectual capability for research and synthesis of information when they come to us.
Q107 Chair: Is that spoon-feeding a function of the examination system itself? You said that A-levels are a pretty good predictor of degree grade, so they are useful from that point of view.
Ana Gutiérrez: We were talking before about how pupils were prepared for exams, and whether there is too much emphasis on that. The way that students can re-take exams is not preparing them well for how examinations are run in higher education. We have students who come with different expectations: they think that that is the way they are going to be treated in higher education as well.
Q108 Chair: Anne, from a business point of view, is it delivering young people suitably educated?
Anne Tipple: Sadly not, no. You will have seen a report that the British Chambers of Commerce compiled earlier this year. It was a large sample, 7,149 employers, of which just over 72% of the respondents said they did not feel confident in recruiting school leavers with A-levels or equivalent. We find this very concerning.
Q109 Chair: Do we have that over time? Employers have always moaned that the young people produced do not have the skills they should have.
Anne Tipple: Absolutely. I spend my life going up and down the country talking to employers. Once we finished the research this summer, I went to five different employer focus groups to drill down into some of this information. Employers have always grouched about the softer skills-the employability skills-but there is a serious concern about what appear to be declines in literacy and numeracy.
It is very difficult to get underneath the anecdotal version of this, but I have two examples from larger employers, both employing over 200 employees. One is a commercial legal company and the other is a manufacturing distributor: they would not be named. They are in different parts of the country. Both of these companies take on a number of school leavers every year for apprenticeship, and they use the GCSE and A-levels as a first sift, and then they do their own assessment tests. The commercial legal company uses an in-tray exercise, largely on the telephone, asking people to answer queries, respond to those queries, compose simple e-mails and letters, and do simple arithmetic. They have a pass rate, which has declined year-on-year over the last four years, with a very low level this year. The manufacturing distributor does a similar thing; it does a written comprehension test. It has a piece of text and the applicants are then asked to answer questions on that. They are also asked to do a simple arithmetic test. Again, the pass rate has declined considerably over the last few years.
Q110 Chair: When you say considerably, how much?
Anne Tipple: I could not pin them down to percentages.
Q111 Chair: If you could write to us, we would be very interested to see that, if it is not already in your submission to us.
Anne Tipple: It isn’t, so yes, okay. Interestingly, the manufacturing distributor also does hand-eye co-ordination and aptitude tests for the production line, and the pass rate has not changed on that. That seems to indicate that intellectual capability or aptitude has remained the same; perhaps there is something else about the examinations. When we quizzed employers at the focus groups about what they felt was going wrong-the complaint was universal across all sectors; the difference was that larger companies with sophisticated HR functions were more accepting and equipped to deal with the problems and smaller companies were not-one of the issues that came up a number of times was raised by employers who were also parents, who observed that they felt examinations were more geared towards recall, rather than thoughtful analysis. I have no way of knowing whether that was true.
Chair: Nick, from your point of view?
Professor Lieven: It is a curate’s egg, really. The best students, without doubt, are just as driven and capable as they ever were: there is no question about that. There is a greater diversity. We need to go back to the fundamental issue that higher education, the sector I come from, has changed: 30 to 35 years ago, 8% of population went into higher education; now 43% do. The issue is whether the A-level qualification, which is the one that I am most familiar with, is fit for purpose for 43% of the population. Thirty-five years ago it was for 8% of the population. In fact, the median area that you are trying to focus the qualification on has shifted: it has to, in order to be fair.
There are two issues. First, the granularity at the top end is now very broad. How do we distinguish at the top end the people whom we want to recruit? Secondly-this was touched on in the last session-modularisation has reduced the capability of students to do synoptic learning, which draws together multiple strands to solve an often difficult and sometimes intractable problem, if you can solve an intractable problem. We are finding that students assemble the tools, but cannot interrelate. They do snapshots of assessment: yes, you can do that; you move on to the next thing.
Q112 Chair: Do you welcome Michael Gove’s direction of travel in reducing modularisation in exams?
Professor Lieven: Yes. There are advantages in modularisation. The group that I am primarily concerned with is the output from 16 to 18-year-olds who then come into university. It is unreasonable to say to a 16-year-old, "Start your A-levels here and we will not assess you for two years". You do need to put some checks and balances in the system as you go through: it is good for motivation, apart from anything else.
Q113 Chair: You would like to keep the AS Level?
Professor Lieven: The multiplicity of modules that students do can be condensed. There does need to be an element in the assessment that brings the synoptic element together. Michael Gove’s speech on 13 October was moving in the right direction.
Q114 Craig Whittaker: A chap called David Boyle, the Managing Director of Crosslee, the largest UK independent manufacturer of tumble dryers, happens to be in my patch, and was telling me last week exactly what you were saying. In his business they do a lot of production line work. He said exactly what has been pointed out about literacy and numeracy but, more importantly for him, social skills are necessary, because people work in a small group. On that basis, are A-levels and GCSEs fit for purpose?
Anne Tipple: Employers tell us they are not. There are vast numbers of complaints about the inability of young people to communicate effectively, and that means to listen actively, to engage in conversation, to ask relevant questions, to follow instruction. Employers universally tell us that the first skill that they require is an ability to listen, to follow instructions and to communicate. They then want people to be able to read, write, and do simple arithmetic. After that, they are happy to train them in the skills that they require. Increasingly, they are finding that many young people cannot construct a simple letter or compose a simple e-mail.
Q115 Craig Whittaker: As a follow-up, the last panel of headteachers all indicated that they involved employers-although I am sure if we dig deeper we will find they did not in some cases-in the schools. Do you think that is important, or do you think it happens enough?
Anne Tipple: It happens. Our research showed that 66% of employers have been involved with some sort of school education activity. When you speak to employers about those activities-company visits, arranging work experience-they are happy and willing to do them, provided somebody facilitates them and tells them what they want and when. They are not involved in the design of the curriculum or of qualifications, in the majority of cases.
Q116 Tessa Munt: This is probably directed at Nick. I wanted to explore more about A-levels-the idea of independent thinking and in-depth, strong knowledge of a subject. Some of the evidence we have seen and various reports-such as the science report-suggest that that is not coming through. Can you talk about that a bit more?
Professor Lieven: It goes back to the modularisation and synoptic element, particularly in the arts and humanities. In universities there is something called scholarship; that has almost become a four-letter word. It is about being able to solve hard, complex problems. A university education is about being able to solve problems that you have never seen before. I say to our students, when you leave us, 90% of what you do will not involve what you have learned at university; it is about solving things you have never seen before: we give you the toolkit to do that.
The independent learning is really important, and that requires being able to draw often tenuous links together to say, "This is the global solution to the problem", which you have never seen before. The A-level system, through modularisation, simply does not equip students to do that. They are good at saying, "Here is a problem that has a discrete area to work on," and solving it. That also leads to gaps in understanding. In the last session Martin Collier said, "We know what we need to do to pass the examination". That says there is far more directive learning about passing an examination rather than scholarship, and that is where my concern is.
Q117 Tessa Munt: Do we need to reverse some changes into the GCSE side of things, or is that completely different?
Professor Lieven: It is hard to do. For education it is cumulative: you need the building bricks, and GCSEs are segmented. It is quite hard to draw all these links together simultaneously, and this grows as your educational capacity builds. It does take time: GCSEs are segmented. We cannot put unreasonable demands on 16-year-olds: it is hard enough when you are 21 and getting a degree.
Q118 Charlotte Leslie: In terms of ensuring that our qualifications have some bearing on what employers and universities need and want, how could the Government ensure that the needs of universities and employers, which are essentially the same needs as those of the young people themselves, are much more embedded in the exam syllabuses? Do you see a tension in that mission, with the competition between the exam boards?
Anne Tipple: Employers do not see a tension between exam boards, because they are oblivious to the fact that schools and colleges can choose exam boards; they do not know any of that. They are oblivious to most of the architecture of the curriculum and examination system. They are interested in outcomes. For employers, the needs are quite simple: they want people who can read and write, do simple arithmetic, analyse information, engage in conversation, and engage in society.
When I talk to employers and they host young people, they find that these young people are bright-that is the quote you get, "They are quite bright actually". They clearly have intellectual capability, but it seems that the examinations that they are doing, or the education that they are going through, are not currently equipping them for life in the work force today. We are dominated by the service sector now, and in many occupations in that sector the engagement that employees have to have with customers, suppliers and other stakeholders is more sophisticated than it used to be. I am not convinced that the education system has kept up with that level of sophistication.
Q119 Chair: What would you like to see?
Anne Tipple: I would like to see a much greater focus on conversation, questioning, listening actively and following instructions.
Q120 Charlotte Leslie: I see a danger in what you have said, that a well-meaning person would put all sorts of modules into a subject, saying, "This is where we learn about communication and listening, this is where we learn about teamwork." It would all be done on paper, and still the young person would have no idea about how to listen, because they would not be doing it; they would not have any idea about teamwork, because they would not be doing it. Is it more to do with the method of teaching, what is expected in cultures in schools, than just shoving bits on to the curriculum?
Anne Tipple: It is exactly that.
Professor Lieven: Schools are in a hard place here, because the schools’ customers are the pupils and the parents. Parents are forensic about what their offspring are doing at schools, and want to know what the results are. They like fairly regular updates-we all do as parents-about the output from our offspring. That does not necessarily map on to the needs of the employer, so schools are immediately answerable to parents, and the headteacher’s door will be kicked down. This makes it extremely hard for schools to say to exam boards, "We need employer input here", because schools do not have to answer to them directly.
Ana Gutiérrez: Being one of the leading professional education institutions, we see the importance of blending vocational and academic qualifications. It is a pity that at Bournemouth University we do not have any opportunity to be part of the design of qualifications. We did so when the Diplomas were being designed, and a couple of our more flagship areas-creative media and tourism-were part of the design of that curriculum. It is a lost opportunity that universities such as Bournemouth, which have a mixture of vocational and academic qualifications, cannot be part of that design. The previous panel spoke about a partnership of all interested parties; that has to be part of the design, to ensure that those qualifications are bringing what is needed.
Q121 Charlotte Leslie: In terms of what parents want, it depends how you phrase it. If you say to a parent, "Do you want your child to come out of school with qualifications that you feel are worth something and to be a success in the workplace?" they will say yes. If you take out what is a success in the workplace and create a structure whereby that is ingested into the school system, can you then have a system whereby what employers want and what schools want are not two different things? Is that possible?
Ana Gutiérrez: At Bournemouth we like to prepare students for flexible futures. We do that by having a unique blend of education with certain professional practices. As Nick was saying before, it is not necessarily that they will go to the area of work where they have studied. It is about what is going to be the future: they have to prepare for that flexibility.
Sometimes we put students into boxes: if they go for vocational or academic qualifications it is because of their intellectual capability. It is sad to do it in that way, because it may be a question of learning preferences-what is best for that student, how they will learn better-but we must ensure that doors are open for how they would like to take it. Sometimes it will be going to employment after that; sometimes they will see that it has opened their appetite to take them to higher education.
Q122 Damian Hinds: Following directly from Charlotte, I am very interested in how you systematise what employers want, which in a broad sense is what the economy wants, and what the young person really wants. How do you systematise that? We get lots of employers here saying, "We do not have enough team work, we do not have enough active listening". You could add to the list-particularly in the service sector, which is my background-self presentation, smiling, customer empathy, service ethic, work ethic and the link between effort and reward, all of which seem to be, as we hear from time to time, somewhat undeveloped in the service sector here, compared to in other countries, and possibly here in the past. Apart from saying you want bigger, better, faster, more, how do you make it happen? Today’s session is about the exam system; I am not entirely convinced that question really is about the exams, but it is about how employers and the economy have an ongoing input to make sure those things are being delivered in schools.
Anne Tipple: They do not. How can they? It is about a better engagement in curriculum design, but frankly that is going to be very difficult when 99.9% of businesses in this country employ fewer than 250 people. In the current economic climate, they are running thin on the ground; there is very little fat in terms of releasing people to go and do that. The large corporates that have large CSR departments and HR departments are equipped to do that, and a number of larger employers have been doing this sort of work.
Q123 Damian Hinds: When you say CSR, should it not be a charitable activity? It is fundamental to the economy.
Anne Tipple: Absolutely it is, but the education system is a very impenetrable place for the average employer. How do you engage? You cannot wander into a school and say, "I cannot get any young people who do this. What can I do to help?" They will say, "Well, I have my exam system". As you have already said, schools are very driven by results-their exam results and Ofsted results-because otherwise parents are beating a path to their door. It is very difficult for employers to engage unless a route is made available to them.
Q124 Charlotte Leslie: Do we have a model for it already? If you go to schools that have dramatically improved, or are seen as good schools, you have children who are not only getting lovely results but also open the door for you, say, "Hello, lovely to see you", and stand up; they have all those communication skills. That is because the school is an excellent school and it says to their children, "This is what we expect of you". Those things are not rocket science; it is what people need in a service environment, in a business environment, and that is down to the school ethos, and not curriculum design. Is that fair?
Anne Tipple: That is a fair comment. That is a big part of what employers are looking for. I suspect there is a need to embed in the curriculum some of the skills that need to be developed: analysis of information, application to the world of work.
Q125 Damian Hinds: The challenge remains about systematising. Certainly those schools exist in the state sector and the private sector-probably almost all schools in the private sector, and a large number of schools in the state sector. There are obviously a lot where it does not happen, as well. Although you are posing the question how can that be done-there must be a route-our question as a Committee to you is how should it be done? If you had a free hand to make a recommendation to Government, with particular reference to examinations, because that is what we are here to talk about today, how should it happen?
Anne Tipple: We would like to see a greater engagement of business in the design of examinations. We would ask employer bodies to facilitate that, so that they corral employers to get involved.
Q126 Chair: Successive Governments, successive business people, have been saying this for the last 40 years. We can make a recommendation saying there must be more engagement of employers in the examination system; we will join academics who tell us all the time that that has been said before. How do we turn it from a wish to something more concrete?
Professor Lieven: We are talking about a set of values more than a set of qualifications. What you are trying to imbue is a work culture. My Vice-Chancellor said, "Were any of us ever 18 or 21?" The demands on people leaving school or university: I am pretty sure the cohort I graduated with did not have all of those values you describe.
Q127 Damian Hinds: There are all sorts of levels and degrees of qualification, but in those days-I am not commenting on your age-your cohort were not competing against youngsters from Poland and the Czech Republic for front-line service level jobs, and the graduates of hotel school in Switzerland. In France all these things are on an entirely different level. Perhaps that is the change: that we compete in the international market.
Professor Lieven: We are trying to be all things to all people. Yesterday the Next Gen report came out, and I quote from it, "We’re looking for polymaths-people with computer science, maths, physics or fine arts can all thrive." What we are saying is that we want young people to be able to do everything: is that a realistic outcome of education at 14 to 19? We do need to rein this in a bit; what is it that we are using assessment for? For the part of the sector that I represent it is hard, complex problems, and the skills that you are talking about come along later. You only get that through interacting with people and saying, "I need to behave like that."
Damian Hinds: I am not convinced of that , to be honest.
Q128 Craig Whittaker: A year ago I opened a new £2.5 million technology centre for one of my local high schools. Not one local business had been involved in setting that business up. HBOS, or Lloyds TSB as it is now known, up until six months ago when I intervened had never had a communication with the local college about supplying their 6,000 employees. The question goes back to what Anne said: how do we formulate it so that these large employers have an input into ensuring that that never happens at that high school, and we have much more integration of companies in designing exam processes? How do we physically do it?
Anne Tipple: There has to be an initiative that takes the businesses to the schools or the education system. Business exists to deliver its business and to make a profit; that is what it is there for. It will have other responsibilities, but it will not necessarily go out and seek that engagement voluntarily-it has other priorities-so facilitation is needed to make that happen, otherwise it will not.
Q129 Craig Whittaker: Nick, you are shaking your head.
Professor Lieven: I was at Lloyds TSB last night, and they have just introduced something called the Lloyds Scholars, which is to do exactly what you are saying. It is starting in two universities, Bristol and Sheffield, to widen participation and bring people with the right skills and qualities. They will do it through volunteering and secondments to the company as a pull-through to encourage people to go into industry and commerce with the right skills. Industry is starting to be aware that there is a need for them to engage as well. They are saying to these scholars, "We want you to go into schools as well".
Q130 Damian Hinds: There is much talk about being able to sort and select students for higher education, and there seems to be a broadening view that it is harder and harder for universities to sort and select on the basis of A-levels. Has the time come when it would make sense, for the top bracket of students, to release their percentile place, as happens, for example, with the GMAT?
Ana Gutiérrez: At Bournemouth, although we have about 260 students coming in with A*, it is not an area that needs to have that granularity. Most of our students we require to come with 300 points, or three Bs equivalent-on our flagship courses in media, social care and tourism it is 340. We are still quite happy that the A-levels will produce that.
Professor Lieven: Yes. There is a downside to it, which is that there will be a lot more appeals. We need to be aware that it is a fairly coarse-grain system; because the banding is fairly wide; if people embed within that, it reduces the numbers: we have seen a lot more appeals recently. There is a down side to it, but it would be a useful way of discerning where people fit in the band.
Damian Hinds: You could have a half way house, as happens on the GMAT, for example, where on the things that can be positively marked-multiple choice-you get a percentile place, and on the essay questions you get a grade. The employer or education institution get to see that detail and can make their own choices.
Q131 Pat Glass: I have about two minutes left, so answers are "yes", "no" or "I don’t know". Today we have been trying to separate some of the myth from the reality around examinations. Can I go back to what you said at the beginning, Ana: students are coming, there is not a good transition from school to university, and there is a feeling that students are spoon-fed. You will appreciate that this is said at every transition: from infant school to juniors, from primary to secondary, from secondary to FE. The same criticisms are made. Twenty-five years ago-and I have worked in this sector-around 30% of students failed in the first year. Lots of them recovered, but it was being away from home, all the stuff around university, and the fact that schools were arguably spoon-feeding children. Has that 30% gone up or down?
Ana Gutiérrez: Down definitely.
Q132 Pat Glass: Is it true that the students are making the transition better?
Ana Gutiérrez: The way that we are seeing that at Bournemouth is what we have to put in place in the first year to help them with that transition.
Q133 Pat Glass: They are still coming with the same problems, but you have got better induction?
Ana Gutiérrez: What I cannot tell you is what happened before, but we are not just sitting back and saying, "They do not have the skills; we are going to leave them there". We have to put things in place to help with that transition.
Q134 Pat Glass: The current Government’s policy is to move away from a skills-based curriculum and more towards a knowledge-based curriculum. Is that what employers want? Kings, Queens, rivers?
Anne Tipple: It is more complex than that; it is a longer answer.
Ana Gutiérrez: Can I pick that one up?
Q135 Pat Glass: I might come back to you. Do you notice a difference in candidates who come in with GCSEs and A-levels from different examination boards?
Professor Lieven: Less so than 10 years ago.
Q136 Pat Glass: We have heard some discussion today that what we need is one examination board. Would you support that?
Professor Lieven: As was said in the last session, Ofqual needs more teeth. Whether you have one examination board or 10, it is the checks and balances you have in the system that are important. We have a mechanism or body there to do it, but has it been tasked with delivering that? I do not know what its remit is.
Q137 Pat Glass: Thanks, that was really good. Ana, you get an opportunity to come back now.
Ana Gutiérrez: Thank you very much. You were asking whether the curriculum was skillsbased or knowledgebased: for us it is really a mixture of the two.
Q138 Pat Glass: A more balanced curriculum?
Ana Gutiérrez: Yes. Bournemouth University has the largest number of sandwich students in England, Wales and Scotland. We see a big difference when those students come back from their placement year: they have become more mature, they have done the applied learning Anne talked about, they are enthusiastic about continuing to their level H and do their dissertation, because they can apply what they have learnt; they can see what is happening. We have very good feedback from employers in terms of saying that is what they need. They are involved in helping them develop, but also they are getting a lot back.
Chair: Thank you very much for coming in today.