HL Deb 21 July 1976 vol 373 cc846-7

2.52 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the Secretary of State for Education and Science defines a policy for education Boards and, if so, whether that policy indicates the percentage of candidates for A-level examination to be given a "pass" at their respective levels and whether the attainment of this percentage may involve the uplifting of the examiners' marking figures.


My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science is responsible for the overall direction of policy for secondary school examinations. In the exercise of that responsibility he is assisted by the Schools Council, who also undertake on his behalf the co-ordination of the work of the examining boards. My right honourable friend does not, however, lay down detailed conditions as to how the boards should distribute grades. In 1960 the Secondary School Examinations Council, whose functions have been assumed by the Schools Council, suggested certain guidelines for the percentage distribution of A-level pass grades, but emphasised their tentative nature. The examining boards have regard to the guidelines, but rely mainly on the expertise and experience of their examiners to establish and maintain standards and to judge the performance of individual candidates by those standards.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for that informative Answer, may I ask him whether his attention was called to an article on this subject in The Times on 10th July which threw some doubt on the reliability of the system? Is he aware that it is generally regarded as essential for the maintenance of high academic standards that the independence of examiners should be without doubt? Would it be possible for the noble Lord to publish the results as recorded by the examiners, and therefore the action which the Schools Council take in exercising the degree of judgment which has been put in their hands?


My Lords, I have indeed read this article. I do not think one should pay too much attention to an anonymous article because its value depends very much on the qualities as an examiner of the man who wrote it; but clearly it is a danger signal, of which my right honourable friend is fully aware. There is a report, which has been commissioned by the Schools Council, from the National Foundation for Educational Research which is looking at O-level and CSE results over the years. This report has not been published, but it will be. There are some elements in it which are rather disturbing, but generally speaking the evidence is not such as to suggest that there is a better way to keep up examination standards than the way which we use; that is, to have the Schools Council keeping a very close eye on them and doing specific research year by year, and to wait for the results.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that all examining boards have moderators who adjust the marking of all the examiners in order to ensure that there is uniformity in the marking? Is my noble friend also aware that in the so-called good old days there was a very distinguished examiner in the University of London who stated that he did not mind who saw the papers of the candidates whom he failed but heaven forbid that anyone should see a paper of a candidate whom he passed?


My Lords, I am aware of the first part of my noble friend's question but I was not aware of the second.