HL Deb 03 December 2002 vol 641 cc1063-75

5 p.m.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills on the inquiry into A-level standards. The Statement is as follows:

"I would like to make a Statement on the inquiry into A-level standards.

"My predecessor, the right honourable Member for Birmingham Yardley, invited Mike Tomlinson to carry out an independent inquiry into the concerns raised in September by headteachers' representatives and some examiners about the grading of students' work in this year's AS and A2-level examinations.

"I would like to begin by thanking Mike Tomlinson for the substantial work that he has done. We all owe him a debt of gratitude.

"The initial inquiry investigated allegations about the setting of standards for A-level grades this year, in particular, ensuring that the conversion from marks to grades was determined according to proper standards and procedures.

"Mr Tomlinson's report of 27th September identified weaknesses in the way the exams had been assessed this year and recommended a process of regrading. The outcomes of the regrading exercise were announced to Parliament on 15th October.

"Mr Tomlinson's final report states at paragraph 2 that: 'I remain convinced that my interim report and the subsequent review of grade boundaries dealt effectively with the major concerns and allegations about manipulation of the grading process'. This is a strong statement, which I wholeheartedly endorse, and I pay tribute to my right honourable friend for setting the process in motion.

"Mr Tomlinson goes on to say at paragraph 3 of his report that: 'Action by QCA and the other regulatory bodies on my earlier recommendations, allied to further proposals made in this final report will, in my view, secure the standards and integrity of next year's examinations'. Again, I endorse that view and want to express my confidence in the commitment of Sir Anthony Greener and Ken Boston at the QCA, working with my department, to implement the necessary steps set out by Mr Tomlinson.

"The QCA has already followed the recommendations given in Mr Tomlinson's first report, working together with the exam boards, the regulatory authorities in Wales and Northern Ireland and the headteachers' associations.

"As a further short-term measure to help restore confidence in the system, Mike Tomlinson has recommended that, for the January and summer 2003 examinations only, an appropriately qualified individual should observe and report publicly to the QCA board on the awarding process. I agree with this recommendation and believe that Mike Tomlinson is best qualified to fill the role. Therefore, after discussion with the QCA, I have invited Mr Tomlinson to carry out this responsibility and I am pleased to say that he has accepted. I have also accepted Mr Tomlinson's other short-term recommendations in paragraph 69 of his report for further strengthening of the system for 2003.

"In addition, I have received separately from the QCA advice on the extra resources needed to deliver the 2003 exams securely. I can announce today that I am prepared to make available up to £6 million once detailed costing work has been completed. This money will mainly be spent on ensuring that the necessary markers can be recruited.

"Separately, the QCA has advised the Government that in order to ensure timely delivery of English results at both GCSE and AS/A2-level in summer 2003 the GCSE English literature examination be moved prior to the 26th May bank holiday to relieve pressure on markers. The Government have accepted this recommendation for this year only.

"I turn now to the medium and long-term recommendations of Mr Tornlinson's report. Mr Tomlinson has gone about the task thoroughly, and it follows extensive consultation. His proposals are designed to ensure maintenance of the A-level standard in future years.

"Mr Tomlinson's first recommendation is for the systematic reform of the administrative requirements for the AS and A2 examinations to reduce the demands placed on schools and colleges by the awarding bodies' differing requirements and practices. I agree and I have asked the QCA to take this forward urgently with the awarding bodies.

"Secondly, Mr Tomlinson calls for the professionalisation of examining to include high-quality training for examiners and examination officers linked to career development. We welcome these suggestions and will take them forward jointly with the QCA.

"Thirdly, Mr Tomlinson recommends clarifying and making more transparent the relationships between my department, the QCA and the awarding bodies through a memorandum of understanding. I agree and can tell the House that work is in hand to draw up such a memorandum. In addition, I will consider very carefully the points made at paragraph 96 of his report about the varied responsibilities of the QCA and how they can best be addressed.

"Fourthly, Mr Tomlinson's report calls for arrangements to ensure, and reinforce confidence, that standards over time are being safeguarded. He recommends that the QCA should establish an independent committee whose role would be to review and, if necessary, advise publicly on whether standards are being maintained. We agree and will put this into effect.

"Fifthly, Mr Tomlinson recommends simplification of the rules governing re-sits and 'cashing-in' of AS units. I accept this recommendation and I am asking the QCA to consider this urgently with the awarding bodies and other partners.

"Sixthly, the report recommends changes to the timetable for publication of A-level results to give more time for marking and awarding. We will consult with the QCA, university interests, colleges and schools to see whether such a change can be achieved.

"Finally, in the medium term, Mr Tomlinson recommends increasing the use of ICT in the administration and marking of public examinations and eventually in the examining process itself. We agree that this issue needs to be addressed, and I am asking the QCA to put forward fully costed options, which I will consider positively.

"In the longer term, Mr Tomlinson has identified two issues for consideration. The first is the de-coupling of AS and A2 to create two free-standing qualifications as part of the 14–19 policy developments. Mr Tomlinson suggests that consideration should be given at the same time to other changes in the design of A-level assessment. We agree that these issues are important. They will be considered as part of the 14–19 reforms in the Next Steps document on this matter to be published early in the New Year.

"Secondly, Mr Tomlinson calls for further work on the practicality of introducing a post-qualifications admission system for entry to higher education. Together with the QCA, university interests, colleges and schools, we will explore the practicality of moving to such a system.

"The AS/A2 examination is a fundamentally sound system. It will become a better system as a result of Mr Tomlinson's work. But, as he says, 'The standard has not been lowered if an increased proportion of students meet it as a consequence of improved teaching and hard work by students'. "I invite honourable Members to join me in paying tribute to Mike Tomlinson's first-class work in carrying through the issues, which now need to be tackled".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

5.18 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. I echo her tribute and thanks to Mike Tomlinson and his team for their work in preparing these reports in the relatively short time they were given.

However, I am not yet sure what went wrong, or who, or what, was responsible. I agree that the report should look forward to making sure that this fiasco never happens again. However, Mike Tomlinson said on Radio 4 today that he did not blame anyone for what had happened. Ministers must be asked some serious questions. If Mike Tomlinson says that no-one is to blame, that is all right: no individual is to blame, the department is not to blame, the examination bodies are not to blame, and students and teachers are certainly not to blame. So, as the newly enrolled infant child would say, the debacle just happened like magic.

Was the system at fault? Was it a lack of clear guidance from the department? What, in the Minister's mind, led to the A-level fiasco, which my honourable friend in another place, Damian Green, described as the worst crisis in the history of public examinations in this country?

So many young people have been affected by the debacle. An air of uncertainty has prevailed throughout the summer and, sadly, on into the autumn. What comfort can the current second-year sixth-form students draw from the Statement? They are almost three-quarters of the way through the two-year course. They have completed their AS exams and are now sitting their A2s. The AS exams have already been marked. As the film world would say, they are already in the can, so that work cannot be undone.

My honourable friend Damian Green in another place has set five tests against which the Secretary of State's response must be judged. First, has the examination system been freed from the suspicion of political interference? The Statement certainly does not address that point. Secondly, will the examination's standards be maintained at a high level? We can only wait and see on that. Thirdly, can we be sure that the marking system will be efficient? Things will need to improve very quickly if the impact is to affect the young people who are sitting examinations at the moment and will be sitting them only a matter of weeks from now. Fourthly, does the Minister agree that young people are being asked to sit too many examinations? Has that featured in the thinking so far? Again, that is not addressed by the report. Fifthly, does the examination system work efficiently with the university admissions system? That remains an open question and should be taken into any review. The Statement does not satisfy all those tests, but it would be helpful to have the Minister's comments on some of those questions today.

We welcome the setting up of the independent committee to advise on whether standards are being maintained year on year. When we called for such an independent committee, the Minister for School Standards resoundingly rejected the suggestion, so we are pleased that it has now been taken on board and adopted.

Will the Government follow Tomlinson's wish to separate AS and A2 examinations as part of a review of post-16 examinations? My honourable friends in another place have called for such a review, which should also include looking at the issue of exam overload.

How many more examiners and markers will be needed to ensure that an efficient system is in place? The noble Baroness has talked about the system being dealt with in the short to medium term and in the long term. It would be helpful to know how many more will be needed. It has been difficult to enrol and recruit them so far. What magic thing is going to be conjured out of the air to bring forward more people in the timescale that is needed to be effective in the short term?

Will the Government indicate their plans for changing the liming of the examination in preparation for higher education?

Neither the Tomlinson review nor the Secretary of State have explained why Sir William Stubbs was sacked. On what basis was that decision made? Tomlinson has concluded that the relationship between QCA and the Government works well, but that relationship can have been far from well when a chairman of QCA could be summarily sacked without explanation. It would be helpful to have some elucidation on that point.

This aspect of the report presents my party with some difficulty. If we, students, teachers and parents are to be convinced that there is no ministerial manipulation or interference, the QCA must be made truly independent. There is too much suspicion. Whether it is real or imagined is not important. As long as that suspicion is there, it is important that it should be addressed. That suspicion is not simply on our part, but on the part of many others outside the confines of the Westminster village. Will the Minister confirm that the Tomlinson view on this issue will be rejected and that the QCA will be made truly independent?

This has been a sorry saga and it is not yet over. Confidence will not be restored overnight. It is going to take time. However, one thing is crucial: this shambles must never be repeated, and that includes for the children currently taking GCSEs and A-levels.

5.24 p.m.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the Statement in this House. I also thank Mike Tomlinson for the two reports, which have done something to sort out a little bit of the mess that the A-level system got into this summer.

We have a lot of sympathy with a number of the issues that arise in the second report. We are particularly glad to see that Tomlinson's medium and long-term proposals address decoupling AS from A2-levels, and in particular the question of whether we are over-examining pupils in the upper reaches of our secondary schools. We also welcome the consideration of the timing of the university admissions process—the possibility of a post-qualification admissions process and perhaps a move towards a six-term school year. These all seem very sensible moves. We would like them to be taken further and would like some reassurance from the Minister that the Government will be looking at these issues seriously.

We also very much welcome the proposals for the training of examiners and for the simplifying and tightening up of the rules on resits for the AS and A2 exams and for the clarification of the relationship between the department and the QCA in the attempt to re-establish confidence that standards are to be safeguarded.

The most astonishing aspect of the first Tomlinson report was the statement that there was no clear understanding between the QCA and the examining boards on the standards to be applied to AS and A2-level. I am glad that the proposals in the report to set up machinery will, in Mr Tomlinson's words, secure the standards and integrity of next year's examinations". However, I am not sure that I share his confidence that it can be achieved without some decoupling of the QCA from the department.

One of the statistics that we learnt in the process of our discussions about what happened is that one third of the officials who staff the QCA come from the Department for Education and Skills and most of those fill the top positions in the QCA. There is a great danger that, far from putting in place robust structures, the report is asking the Government, the QCA and the boards just to go away and hatch up a way of working together that suits them. One has visions of the press officers from these organisations working together for the six weeks before the announcement of the results in 2003, just as they did in 2002.

Is all this talk of independence meaningless? What would be the point of a memorandum of understanding between the DfES and the QCA while the Secretary of State retained power to hire and lire the chief executive and to second members of his department to senior positions in the QCA? Surely the Secretary of State should order the break-up of the QCA and establish a thoroughly independent examinations regulator accountable directly to Parliament, not to the DfES.

Secondly, we are not as confident as Mike Tomlinson is that all the issues relating to this year's A-levels have been cleared up. He says: I remain convinced that my interim report and the subsequent review of grade boundaries dealt effectively with the major concerns and allegations about manipulation of the grading process". Yet we also know, again from what has subsequently emerged after the first Tomlinson report, that, while there was a review of grade boundaries, it did not look at scripts where the marks were within six marks of the grade boundary. That has left a vast number of pupils unhappy with the situation. The initial concern arose where scripts had been submitted with work that had been done on assessment, which teachers had already seen and which came back ungraded, with a complete fail mark, which the teachers were unable to understand. The proposed adjusting of the candidates' grades without any reference to their scripts should be ruled out. It was identified by Nick Tate of the SCAA back in 1997. Is the Secretary of State prepared to rule out that practice now?

Where in the Statement is there any satisfaction for the thousands of students who were robbed of their legitimate grades this summer? The report says that any remaining concerns have been "dealt with". But there are examples. My noble friend in the other place has already mentioned the head of Knights Templar School which has outstanding problems still with the scripts submitted. Mike Tomlinson wrote to the head only a few days ago saying, I cannot personally see anything that can be done about the 2002 examination and results, but the final decision is not mine". If it is not his decision then whose is it? He has psychology students who have to re-sit their examinations in January because they had been so badly done by in last summer's fiasco. Will the Secretary of State guarantee that every student who took AS or A2-level exams this year will have the grades that they deserve?

5.31 p.m.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Sharp and Lady Blatch, for their tributes to Mike Tomlinson and to his team. I am sure that he will be grateful to receive them.

I shall deal, first, with the questions asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. She raised the important question of who is to blame. I refer to what Mike Tomlinson concluded. He said that a number of factors were involved. The first was what he described as the "perceived pressure" on examination boards from the QCA. Noble Lords will remember that we discussed some of these issues in the earlier Statement on Tomlinson—Part 1, if I may so describe it.

The second factor was the lack of guidance on the level of attainment expected for a particular grade in an individual paper. The third was the lack of a common understanding about the standards required to ensure that the overall A-level standard was maintained. I am sure that, having read Mike Tomlinson's report, noble Lords will be reassured that the issues where he firmly places blame will be addressed. I believe that we can take enormous comfort from the words within his statement that the 2003 standards are secure.

Both noble Baronesses raised the issue of the relationship between the QCA and Ministers. As noble Lords will be aware—Mike Tomlinson has been vigorous in saying this—no one, including Mike Tomlinson, has said that there has been any political interference in the work of the QCA. But we accept the need to clarify the relationship with the QCA—hence my saying that we are already working on a memorandum of understanding. We have absolutely no doubt that the independence of the QCA in its role as regulator must be clear and beyond question.

I agree with Mike Tomlinson that in the day-to-day workings of our relationship we need to have day-to-day working partnerships. I do not necessarily accept the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, about secondments. My experience of them has been that people behave appropriately in all cases. However, I accept the underlying principle that has been raised. I know that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills is deliberating on this matter and considering whether there is anything further that we should do. I accept that we should produce a memorandum of understanding.

We also agree that the responsibility of the QCA for delivering the key and basic skills qualification needs to be separated from its other responsibilities. We are going to look further at the suggestion that national curriculum tests are also placed in the hands of another body.

I turn to the professionalisation of the examination system. I accept that we have to find markers. A proposal involving £6 million has been put forward to the QCA. We are waiting for its costed proposals which will also tell us exactly how it proposes to go about recruiting. We have been quite interested in the pilot schemes that have been conducted by Edexel and LCR. Graduates and postgraduates have been used and they were found to mark consistently and effectively. We welcome Mike Tomlinson's endorsement of that approach.

We are looking to see how to improve and professionalise the service of examinations. We shall take this matter forward with due rigour and seriousness because it is very important. I believe that I have commented on the timing of exams.

I wish to spend a moment or two on some of the issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. Mike Tomlinson has received a number of submissions and had a number of discussions with individuals and organisations. I can say to the noble Baroness that as regards the particular issues that she raised, he has considered very carefully the question of five or six marks on either side. He has rejected the arguments made having carefully considered them. I believe that he is a man of integrity who has done his job well.

As regards psychology, QCA has carried out investigations into complaints from head teachers about the distribution of grades for LCR in psychology, English Literature and history. He found that in each of the three subjects the distribution of course work grades was similar to the examination modules. The QCA did conclude that the course work in these subjects had not been graded more severely. Mike Tomlinson also looked at this matter and found no evidence of systematic manipulation in the grading process in any unit.

However, the regrading exercise did highlight some issues relating to the syllabus design and assessment and the marking schemes for LCR psychology. We have asked the QCA to look into this issue and to make sure that LCR takes effective action quickly, particularly in addressing these issues before the exams next year.

My final point is on the issue of U grades. Mike Tomlinson said in his report that many of the case histories submitted to his inquiry appeared to have affected only individual candidates or groups of students within a school. He said that he was persuaded that such results could not be the result of systematic manipulation of the grading process since that would downgrade all of the students taking the relevant units and in extreme cases it would have led to up to 8 per cent of them receiving a U grade. He said that he had no evidence of that happening in any unit. He concluded that such cases are either a proper reflection of tower than expected performance by the candidate or inconsistent marking and/or course moderation. He has no clear evidence on which to reach a conclusion about the balance between the two explanations and therefore they are issues to be pursued within the QCA.

5.37 p.m.

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe

My Lords, I declare an interest as chief executive of Universities UK. I very much welcome the clear and helpful Tomlinson report. I can confirm what my noble friend said about the extensive consultation that Mike Tomlinson undertook during his investigation. I believe that the work which has been done to restore public confidence in the A-level system is valuable. I have no doubt at all that it will help to ensure that this year's problems can be avoided in future.

I welcome and I am delighted at the very positive response of the department, as indicated by my noble friend the Minister. I welcome the proposals for clarification of standards and for enhancing the value of examining within the teaching profession.

I should like to make a brief comment on one aspect to which my noble friend referred—higher education institutions and the importance of supporting changes that would build in greater certainty for students and security for institutions. I refer to the system for post-qualification applications to universities. If that had been an easy achievement we would have reached agreement already. It is not easy and there are all kinds of complications that we need to look at.

Nonetheless, I know that universities, in association with other stakeholders at schools and colleges, will look at the Tomlinson recommendations with a great degree of interest and commitment.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for her remarks about the work of Mike Tomlinson. We believe that it will enhance A-levels and make sure that the cohort of students going through the system this year can have full confidence. The issue of post-qualification applications is an important but difficult one. I am delighted that Universities UK will be, and have been, involved in looking very carefully all this matter.

The logic behind the position would be that students would know the results of their A-levels before they applied to university. But the implications for the way in which we design the university year and so forth are immense. This is one of the areas—there are many within the document—where we shall be consulting with colleagues in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. The Tomlinson report heralds an opportunity to discuss these issues and see where they might take us.

The Lord Bishop of Worcester

My Lords, the report is an example of expeditious and authoritative dealing with an unfortunate situation. I join with other noble Lords in welcoming it.

I have a question involving the unpacking of the expression, "perceived pressure", which occurred in the earlier report, but there is too a general point to be made. The crisis has been waiting to happen. It arises from the annual ritual by which examination results are subjected to massive distrust. It is one thing to want to make sure, if someone is attempting a four-minute mile, that the stopwatch and tape measure are accurate; it is quite another to greet every announcement of a four-minute mile with a suspicion that the watch was wrong and the tape was not correct. We see every year those of predominantly middle-age and beyond, like myself, assuming that it was much better when we were young, that it was tougher, that the teaching had to be much better, and that the exams must have been more difficult. Does the Minister agree that we all need to encourage some self-restraint?

There is a reluctance on the part of preceding generations to admire, affirm and welcome the achievements of the rising generation. I am staggered at what that generation is required to know, learn, study and achieve. Does the Minister agree that the language of perceived pressure must be elucidated to the general population so that we all understand that exam results have first to be received in a spirit of affirmation and welcome rather than be subjected to the annual ritual of suspicion that lies at the root of this year's crisis?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate makes an important point: to admire, affirm and welcome the fantastic work that our students, their families and teachers do year upon year. I agree with him that we must be cautious and careful in our assumptions about the next generation of bright young people who are able to perform to their best. I quote again Mike Tomlinson: The standard has not been lowered if an increased proportion of students meet it as a consequence of improved teaching and hard work". Whatever we do with the system, I wholeheartedly endorse that our objective is to ensure that we celebrate success and recognise it for what it is.

Baroness Hanham

My Lords, within the Statement is a suggestion that there was lack of guidance from the Department for Education and Skills. Will the Minister comment on the lack of guidance in association with the exams? Why were the exam boards unaware of what was expected of them?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, the issues of lack of guidance and lack of expectations rest in the main on the relationship between QCA and the exam boards. That does not mean that the department does not have a role to play. The issue seems to be how detailed information and assumptions could be made about what was an appropriate level. The QCA and examining boards are now fully geared up to address that and to make sure that they have clear guidance and understanding of what is required. I believe that in the previous year that was not done to best effect. Mike Tomlinson has been clear about that issue and it has now been dealt with.

Lord Campbell-Savours

My Lords, would the introduction of PQA have major implications for the new universities and indeed in certain conditions be damaging to them?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I am not sure precisely to which implications my noble friend refers. I have no doubt that in any discussion about whether such a system was possible or feasible we would wish to take on board all concerns about the impact. There is no commitment on the Government's part to introduce PQA, but as Mike Tomlinson has raised the issue we will explore it thoroughly.

Baroness Walmsley

My Lords, I too welcome Mr Tomlinson's report and pay tribute to him and his team for their work. I particularly welcome anything that will restore confidence in A-levels, with the caveat expressed by noble friend Lady Sharp. However, I am most concerned about the young people who have been let down this year.

Despite Mr Tomlinson's best endeavours, there is still a great lack of confidence that all the young people who took their A-levels this year have the grades they deserve. One of the situations that brought forward the crisis was the difference between the AS-level results and the poorer quality A2 results of some students; in particular, the discrepancy between the coursework for the A2 exam and the number of students who achieved an A grade in their AS level the previous year.

There is some concern about teachers' ability to understand what is required from the coursework. What is being done to address that? Unless it is addressed, there will be a continued lack of confidence in the A-level in coming years.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her kind words about Mike Tomlinson's work. I thought noble Lords would be interested to know, in case they have not seen the latest press releases, that 16 students have negotiated a change from universities or colleges where they had originally been accepted. That is the latest information we have.

In addition, 12 students will start at a new institution in autumn 2003. The noble Baroness raises an important point about communication. It is well covered in Mike Tomlinson's report. To save me reading out all of it, I refer her to paragraphs 74, 75 and 76 where he discusses misunderstandings, quality of communication and feedback—the important points to which the noble Baroness referred. They have been picked up in both the first and second reports.

Mike Tomlinson is saying that these problems are separate from the original allegations and therefore the terms of reference but that they need to be dealt with thoroughly. One of the threads running through everything he has said, including at his press conference, is that communication is fundamental. He has kindly agreed to oversee this year's work and communication will be fundamental to the programme's success. He will be keen to watch over it, as indeed will the department.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Blatch asked specific questions about the dismissal of Sir William Stubbs. The Minister made no reference to them. Will she do so now?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness. I realised that I had not responded as I sat down. I have nothing to add to the comments I made before. My right honourable friend the former Secretary of State for Education and Skills—I am not sure how to address her formally in your Lordships' House—made it clear that it was her view, in the light of all the issues presented to her, that the QCA should have new leadership. On that basis she sacked Sir William Stubbs.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, if I understood the Statement correctly, we are to have a QCA which will ensure the quality and consistency of examinations, and nothing else. That seems a thoroughly good step forward. The Minister knows that I have an interest to declare as editor of The Good Schools Guide. I would therefore see great benefit to parents in having examination results in which we can all believe carrying on from year to year.

Would the new structure also promise great benefit in allowing the examination boards to innovate much more than they have done to date? The physics syllabus has not changed since I took it 30 years ago; it is just as boring now as it was then. Many other subjects could do with a great deal of innovation. We could do with a history syllabus that had a great deal more breadth and interest to it than some of those currently on offer. If we concentrated on this business of quality and innovation, we could provide an opportunity for such courses to be developed.

Will the noble Baroness also ask her colleagues to ensure that they take this opportunity to do away with some of the old anomalies affecting various examinations at GCSE and A-level? Subjects such as French, for example, have consistently been more difficult—about one grade more difficult—than classical civilisation. As she will know from the department's own statistics, such anomalies appear consistently and go back to when we finished with norm referencing. If we are having a thorough look at the relative difficulties of examinations as between boards, could we not do the same with the difficulties as between subjects?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, that point goes slightly wider than the remit of this Statement. However, I recall with great pleasure, during our consideration of the Education Bill, some very interesting debates with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, on the relative merits of science, history and other subjects. I recognise the issue for the QCA about ensuring that it has a very clear role. As I said, we support what Mike Tomlinson said, and we are working with the QCA to achieve that. We also have great confidence that we can achieve it. I am happy to take the noble Lord's comments back to the department. However, questions such as how best to teach science are fundamental to our consideration of the curriculum for the 14 to 19 strategy. I hope that he will bear with us until we have completed those deliberations. Nevertheless, I shall feed in his comments.