HL Deb 15 October 2002 vol 639 cc769-82

7.29 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (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. The Statement is as follows:

"Mr Speaker, with permission, I would like to make a Statement on A-level grading.

"As the House will know, following the publication of examination results in the summer of this year there have been concerns about the grading of A and AS level examinations and about the way exam standards are set and maintained.

"I recognise the anxiety and uncertainty that this has caused. Students have been left unsure about whether their grades in A and AS-levels this year accurately reflect the standard of their work. On behalf of the education service, I apologise to all those students who have been affected.

"My responsibility has been to make sure that the concerns have been carefully and thoroughly investigated, the recommendations acted on as rapidly as possible and clear action taken to avoid the situation ever happening again.

"Early last month, head teachers' representatives and some examiners raised concerns about the grading of some students' work in this year's A and AS-level examinations. The complaints focused, in particular, on changes that had been made to grade boundaries in some of the papers.

"Given the seriousness of the allegations, on 19th September, I set up an independent inquiry under Mike Tomlinson, the former Chief Inspector of Schools.

"Mike Tomlinson's interim report, published on 27th September, identified weaknesses in the way the exams had been assessed this year and recommended a process of re-grading.

"This work has now been completed. Letters went from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) last night to all students on their records whose grades had been revised, and, since 10 o'clock this morning, a UCAS helpline has been in operation.

"Mike Tomlinson announced this morning that a total of 9,800 candidate entries had had unit grades raised. All the adjustments relate to the Oxford, Cambridge and RSA board. In the majority of cases, this has not resulted in a change to overall grades, but 1,945 candidates have had their overall grades raised: 733 for AS-levels and 1,212 for A2-levels.

"UCAS holds a record on 1,089 of these students. Of these, 689 are already in their first-choice university, although a small number are not on their first-choice course. A further 232 had no offer from their first or second-choice universities, so they are unlikely to be affected by a grade change. This leaves, on the current UCAS estimates, around 168 students who may be eligible to transfer university. UCAS has told us that there are no more than eight possible new students for any single university.

"I shall briefly outline what action these 168 students now need to take. Students who think they may be eligible to move institution are being advised to contact their preferred university or college. Universities have been advised by their own representative body, Universities UK, to honour all offers made to students prior to the publication of A-level results in August, and I am confident that they will do so. As I said on 27th September, the fact that institutions have already admitted their full number of students for this year may well mean that students wishing to transfer will be offered places for next year, rather than this. Clearly, the fact that the numbers are much lower than some have speculated will make things more manageable. Universities and colleges have agreed to make final decisions no later than 31 st October. Universities and students will not be disadvantaged financially if students move university due to re-grading.

"In his report of 27th September, Mike Tomlinson also gave his preliminary views on what had gone wrong. In particular, the QCA had not issued guidance on the level of attainment expected for a particular grade in individual papers; nor had it provided a clear, consistent view about the standard required to make sure that the overall GCE A-level standard was maintained. In addition, although AS units were piloted, A2 units were not.

"I also asked Mike Tomlinson to investigate the allegations that external pressure had been put on the examining boards to lower the number of A-level passes to protect against the allegation of lowering standards. Mike Tomlinson concluded that no pressure had been applied by Ministers or the department. He concluded that officers at QCA had acted within their guidelines but went on to say that, 'on the evidence available, the actions of the boards during the grading exercise arose from the pressure they perceived that they were under from the QCA both to maintain the standard and achieve an outcome which was more or less in line with the results in 2001'. "On 27th September, I decided that the confidence of the examining boards and the head teacher representatives in the leadership of the QCA was damaged and the future of the QCA would be best served by a new chairman. We will shortly announce the name of a new interim chair.

"I recognise that a major task for the QCA and my department now is to re-build confidence in QCA and our examinations system. Ken Boston, the new chief executive of the QCA has announced a timetable for implementing the recommendations in Mike Tomlinson's report. By the end of October, there will be additional guidance on AS and A2 standards. By mid-November, further work on the statistical issues underlying assessment and a revised code of practice for the conduct of the process will be completed. The QCA will also put in place improved communications with all partners. Current students on AS and A2 courses can be reassured by these actions that the marking and grading standards in 2003 will be robust.

"Ken Boston has also announced that he is to set up an examinations task force whose job will be to oversee the effective delivery of the AS and A2 exams in January and July 2003. The task force meets for the first time this Friday and will have on it representatives of head teachers, as well as the exam boards. I welcome this decisive action.

"Mike Tomlinson's report also provided wider lessons for how government plan and implement major changes of this type. My department will act on these lessons.

"Mike Tomlinson now turns to the second part of his remit, to review more generally the arrangements for setting, maintaining and judging A-level standards. He will report to me and to the QCA in November.

"The announcements made today are supported by the head teacher and teacher organisations, including those who raised the original concerns. All students who have taken examinations this year can be confident that the re-grading process has been independent and fair.

"I recognise the importance of exams as a means of measuring achievement and giving young people a currency for higher education and the world of work. It is therefore particularly important that our assessment system is fair, transparent and efficient.

"While it is important that we acknowledge the difficulties this year, it is also important to remember that Mike Tomlinson reported that the principles behind Curriculum 2000 were wholeheartedly endorsed. That must not be lost.

"Mike Tomlinson has given us a clear way forward for re-establishing confidence in the A-level system in future and for ensuring that standards are clear. I hope that this will enable us to avoid the sterile annual debate about exam standards, when better results should be a cause of celebration for young people and their teachers.

"I put on record my thanks to all those in the education service who brought the original concerns to our attention. Their co-operation and approval for the process we have undergone have been crucial. I am also grateful to UCAS and to Universities UK for their helpful and constructive approach. Finally, I should like to thank Mike Tomlinson and his team for the speed of their actions, their thoroughness and their integrity".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement

7.38 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement but, having listened to the Secretary of State in another place, one can only be impressed by the energy put into passing the blame for what happened to anyone other than the department, any Minister or the Secretary of State herself. At almost every criticism, the Secretary of State hid behind the Tomlinson report.

One recognises that, in the time allowed, Tomlinson performed well the task that he was given by the Secretary of State, as the Minister said. However, we were all witnesses to Mr Tomlinson's comment that the introduction of the AS-levels was, an accident waiting to happen". I shall return to his more extraordinary comments, reported today.

We also know that the A2-level was not trialled at all. Students, teachers and parents believed that the two parts—AS and A2-levels—were equal and that 50 per cent of the marks would be given for each part. Certainly, they were of equal worth in that respect, but they were not equal in terms of the work that they represented. We now know that the A2 was subject to more stringent marking than the AS-level. In itself, that begs another question: does the Minister agree that students amassing points for university entry would find it easier to take only AS-levels, rather than complete the full A-level by taking the A2 examinations?

It was Ministers who introduced AS-levels—too fast and too soon. I do not accept, as the Secretary of State claimed in another place, that because the previous Conservative government were contemplating the introduction of AS-levels, as a result of findings in the Dearing report, the Government can speculate about what might have been. The Government are in their sixth year of office and must, therefore, accept responsibility for their own policies, their implementation and any resulting mistakes.

AS-levels, far from broadening the education of students, have resulted in an unacceptable proliferation of examinations and have reduced many of the rich non-examination activities, such as music, drama and sport. In my view it is now time to consider abolishing AS-levels.

I repeat a question that I asked earlier today: what exactly is the basis for the dismissal of Sir William Stubbs? I return to Mr. Tomlinson's reported remarks. He said today: I think it is remarkable—and remarkably worrying—that we could have an examination system where AS and A2 standards, which are part of this new qualification, have not been adequately defined, not only for examiners but also for teachers and pupils". He went on to say: I do think it is amazing, yes". He added: I still don't know what the standard of AS and A2 is in terms of what QCA think it ought to be". Is the Minister saying that the Secretary of State was completely unaware until last month that no one knew what the standard of AS-levels and A2-levels were in terms of what the QCA thought they should be? Were the Secretary of State, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools and the Minister for Schools all unaware of that? Where have they been for the past two years?

The Prime Minister is quoted in today's press as having said: What's important is that we look forward and now start to rebuild confidence in the A-level system". That is after more than five and a half years in office.

If the QCA was alleged to have created the perception of pressure on examination boards, why was only one board affected? The 2,000 students involved will welcome the news that their results have been upgraded—of course they will. But what about the uncertainty caused for the other 88,000 students, many of whom possibly delayed applying to have their papers re-marked because of this exercise? Even though the date for requesting the, re-marking of papers has been extended to the end of this month, much valuable time has been lost.

Confidence will need to be restored. As part of that, will the Government make the QCA entirely independent? That includes an end to departmental secondments to the QCA—a point made earlier today from the Liberal Democrat Benches.

This has been a dreadful time for teachers, students and parents. The situation was made much worse by the dismissal of Sir William Stubbs even before the re-grading was complete.

Finally, what comfort is there for this year's students—for those starting AS-levels this term, but more particularly for those studying for the A2-level, who are already more than halfway through their course? We know that the Secretary of State was unaware of the standards expected—otherwise, she would have acted much sooner. We know that the former Chief Inspector of Schools, by his own admission, was unaware of the standards expected. How on earth could teachers and students know what standards were expected?

Apologies, however sincere—I have no doubt as to the Secretary of State's sincerity in this matter—are not enough. The Secretary of State and the Government should accept responsibility for this débaĉle. It has blighted the careers of many students and has created a serious loss of confidence in the sixth form education system.

7.44 p.m.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

My Lords, I join the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, in thanking the Minister for repeating the Statement. I am glad to know that, after all the fuss, the numbers affected by the re-grading are relatively small, and in particular that only 168 students now settled in universities of their second choice may be involved in changes. I am glad that the number involved for any one university is eight—a manageable number. Having worked in a university, I know that it is possible to squeeze in "extras" at those sorts of numbers. It is good to know that, after all the uncertainties of the summer, not that many students are affected.

However, we should not forget the uncertainties that have arisen. I suspect that for many of the students involved it has been a "summer from hell". Ten-thousand papers were re-graded, but there were probably 100,000 students who were wondering and worrying about whether their results were to be re-graded and what that might mean. We now know that, of the 10,000 students whose papers have been re-graded, 2,000 have been upgraded. Nevertheless, for them it has been a summer of great uncertainty. I am glad that the Secretary of State has apologised on behalf of the education service for the problems caused.

In the longer term, it is clear that this fiasco has undermined the confidence that people have had in A-level. In particular, it has raised doubts about Curriculum 2000 and the new AS-levels and A-levels. It will take many years to restore that confidence. It is clear that the Secretary of State recognises that, and has to some extent set in train mechanisms by which confidence can be restored.

I am glad, too, that there is no question at present of abandoning Curriculum 2000. Schools have had enough change. Too many new initiatives have been poured upon them. The last thing they want now is for us to abandon the system of AS and A2-levels. It is, therefore, right and proper that we should carry on with this system but make sure that such a fiasco never occurs again.

The Tomlinson report begins to give us some idea of why the fiasco occurred. I echo the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. I find it extraordinary that the QCA did not, as the Secretary of State said, issue guidance on the level of attainment expected for a particular grading in terms of individual papers; nor did it provide a clear and consistent view of the standard required to make sure that the overall GCSE/A-level standard was maintained. Why do we have a QCA if it is not to do that job? Whether the blame lies with the QCA or with Ministers, I do not know. At the end of the day, in our system it is Ministers who take the rap. It is extraordinary that there was no previous recognition of that.

Above all, it is extraordinary that A2 was not piloted. We know that the QCA had been warned that it should be. I believe that that is one of the reasons why the fiasco occurred. Perhaps that is a lesson to be learnt for other occasions; namely, where such new initiatives are proposed, it is essential that they are carefully piloted.

A further aspect is the question of the examination boards "perceiving" there to be pressure upon them not to increase the proportion of those receiving A grades at A-level. Given that this was a cohort who had achieved very well at GCSE, partly perhaps because of some of the reforms that were coming through the system—we know that they were the guinea pigs—and, in addition, having taken AS-levels in a wider range of subjects and then dropped those that they were least good at, we all knew that they would do better. Yet no one seems to have taken that into account. That is extraordinary. Why was the board so paranoid about this? Why did it make what seems in retrospect to have been rather ham-fisted adjustments to the grading boundaries in order to cope with the situation?

A point was raised by Mr Phil Willis, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on education in the other place, about the ministry's issuing of press releases over the summer. He questioned Ministers running a press campaign in late July and early August stressing the importance of A-levels and the fact that the gold standard was not being eroded because they were so worried about what the tabloid press was saying. Did that merely feed the board's perceptions and add to its own trouble? It probably did, and Ministers need to think very hard about how they play their PR on such matters.

I have two further questions for the Minister. So far, grade boundaries have been adjusted, but many of the original complaints came from students whose coursework had been given a "U" grade even though in other modules they had all gained very high grades. The coursework had been marked by teachers, who did not expect the students to gain a "U" grade. In these cases, will there be remarking of scripts as distinct from regrading or will normal complaint procedures be followed?

If we are to restore confidence in the examination system, the QCA must be seen to be totally independent of Ministers. Whether we like it or not, cronyism has influenced job appointments. That must stop, and people must be seen to be appointed as independent experts rather than because they happen to know the right people in the right places. Only if we get away from that will confidence in the system be restored.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, for her support for Mike Tomlinson, which is important. Responsibility for standards must rest with the QCA. I will try to deal with the specific points that the noble Baroness raised, starting with the weighting between the AS- and A2-level. The full weighting of the new A-level is the same as that of the historical one. The AS-level has been set to recognise that students are in the first year of their two-year course and to give weighting appropriately. That has meant effectively that the AS-level is slightly easier and the A2 level is slightly harder, which reflects the fact that students will have completed a two-year course. On Curriculum 2000 overall, as I repeated in my right honourable friend's statement, Mike Tomlinson is very clear that the principles were wholeheartedly endorsed. I was grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for adding her weight to the endorsement of the principles behind the breadth of the curriculum.

Turning to the question that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, asked about Sir William Stubbs, I recognise his record. As my right honourable friend said, the way in which the QCA was perceived and the confidence in the system required a change of leadership in the organisation. We expect shortly to announce an interim chair for the QCA.

I am afraid that I will have to leave for Mike Tomlinson's further discussion the question of why only one board was affected. The issue is one of perception rather than reality, but it is very important that we look carefully at it. We accept that we must examine carefully the role of the QCA. We have every confidence in the new chief executive, Ken Boston. As I said, he is putting forward his task force and looking very carefully at what needs to happen.

We have never claimed, and never would do, that there has been no contact between the QCA and the department. As I said earlier, there is a policy in the department of promoting secondments in and out of a wide range of organisations. Secondments are an important process in creating a level of understanding and recognition. I have never known secondees to have behaved other than with propriety in this regard.

We will want to look carefully at the matter, but I accept the points raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Sharp and Lady Blatch. Mike Tomlinson will be considering further the question of more QCA independence. We do not want to make any instant decisions at present; the matter is open for discussion. The key principle is that the exam system must match public expectations of integrity, fairness, objectivity and consistency, as noble Lords would expect.

I am grateful for the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. I agree that the uncertainty for students over the summer has been very difficult. Although we are, in a sense, relieved—I use that word advisedly—that the 168 students affected is a smaller number than some speculated, I add immediately that one student put in this position is one student too many.

As a Government and as a group of Ministers, we asked Mike Tomlinson to look very carefully at whether there had been any interference by Ministers or officials. A resounding answer that there was none came back to Ministers and to your Lordships' House now in this Statement. I ask noble Lords to accept the word of the former Chief Inspector on the matter and I assure them that we asked that question to ensure that nothing had been done to put any pressure on the QCA. We recognise that there are lessons to be learnt and that the piloting of A2 might have been done better. As my right honourable friend said, we will learn the lessons from that.

Some of those who received a "U" in their coursework were part of the regrading process. A separate exercise related to remarking is going on. It is worth repeating that when the inquiry was called the number of requests for remarking was consistent with those of previous years. To return to the final point of the noble Baroness, the independence of the QCA will be discussed as part of Mike Tomlinson's further work.

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe

My Lords, as chief executive of Universities UK, I welcome the generous spirit and the content of the Minister's Statement. We should remind ourselves that, given the attacks on the Secretary of State, the Tomlinson report was clear. This House needs to remind itself of how important it was to the integrity of the exam system that there was no political interference in the process. I echo the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, in expressing my hope that there will not now be a knee-jerk reaction to abandon AS- and A-level combinations. Many teachers and schools have put huge effort into making the combination work, and it would be inappropriate for us to say that the system should be abandoned now. The system has broadened the curriculum in a way that schools and universities welcome.

I made a point about the Minister's generosity because there are lessons to learn. The Minister and the Secretary of State have made it abundantly clear that those lessons will be learnt, and we should accept that. Universities UK and universities generally are enormously pleased that this period of uncertainty has ended. We are working with students and their families to resolve the many questions that will obviously arrive. I am delighted that the problem is much smaller than originally we had been led to believe it might be. We are pleased that the Secretary of State has provided assurances that neither student nor university will lose out financially as a result of any students changing institution. That was an enormously helpful and positive thing to say. Finally, I hope that we will all now work to restore to the confidence of schools and students the integrity of the examining board and the QCA. We should all be working to that end now.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, and I have already paid tribute to the work done by Universities UK in this process. I am also grateful for her support for the continuation of the AS-level and the A-level. Last evening, I heard a head teacher say that in his view the group which had just left the school was perhaps the broadest and best educated he had seen.

I recognise that the period of uncertainty for students has been extremely difficult and we are all relieved that it is over. We need to work hard to ensure that any loss of confidence in the system is restored. Furthermore, I repeat that we have available special funds to ensure that no student or university is financially disadvantaged by the process.


Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

My Lords, given the number of Ministers in the department, both in the previous Parliament and in this; given the fact that there were no ministerial resignations after the fiasco of the individual learning accounts; and given that no resignations are occurring in the present context, some might say that the cat's nine lives are beginning to run out. However, I acknowledge that I said today that resignation is a subjective matter.

Perhaps I may ask a practical question. The Statement refers to the 168 students who might be able to apply to a university on the basis of the results that they have been given. I followed that advice. However, in terms of students entering a university which they have not previously been able to enter, the Statement refers to a small number of students among the 689 who are already at their first-choice university and to a small number who are not on their first-choice course. As no advice is given on that matter, is it possible under the system for those students to ask whether they can be put on their first-choice course?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, the most recent figure I have indicates that 73 students are currently at the university of their first choice but not on the course of their first choice. They will be getting in touch with their tutors and with the university admissions body to see whether a transfer would be possible. They will be making a decision in the same light as the 168 students; that is, considering whether the university can accommodate them this year, whether they should take a gap year or whether to apply next year. That is the number in total.

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe

My Lords, perhaps I may assist my noble friend. I believe that the same criteria will apply. If there is a place available I am sure that that will be accommodated. However, it may be enormously difficult because of over-recruitment.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, I am not sure that it is in order for a Back Bencher to answer another Back Bencher, even when the chief executive of Universities UK happens to sit on the government Benches. I am not sure that that is correct, but if I am wrong I shall stand corrected.

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe

My Lords, I apologise.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, I ask a question as someone who lives in another part of the United Kingdom and has not had direct involvement in A-levels. Listening to the whole debate and following what has happened, I can understand why the universities are relieved that the changes do not affect them a great deal. I can also understand why students are fairly satisfied that not too many of them will have to change their plans. However, in view of the massive operation of marking A-level papers and grading them, and the way in which that is done, and in view of the fact that adjustments had to be made to the marking when the results were published, how do we know that the re-grading is right? Have all the marks of the thousands of students been looked at or only those up for remarking?

What about the people who did better than the staff expected and therefore did not ask for re-grading? Could many of them have had better marks but did not? How do we know that the re-grading is correct? The process makes me anxious.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, the issue for the re-grading is to look at the way in which the A/B and E/U boundaries are determined. We begin working out the grading around those two boundaries and, in a sense, the other grades are then slotted in. The question raised was whether, after all the papers had been examined, the recommendations the examiners put forward for the boundaries were not what was expected.

After all the exams had been marked and all the students examined, the process looked at what happened to the boundaries to fit in the various grades. Mike Tomlinson's team went back and looked at that issue in order to ascertain whether it was done in a way that deflated the grades. The process was therefore looked at across the board; it was not restricted only to those students who had asked for remarking because that is a separate process. The process looked at specific areas of concern in relation to specific subjects.

Mike Tomlinson could give the noble Baroness a better technical answer and I am sure that he would be delighted to do so if she would like that. However, I am confident in saying to the noble Baroness that the boundaries have been examined, that the re-grading has been effectively done and that students can be absolutely assured that the marks they now have are accurate.

Baroness Walmsley

My Lords, I am surprised to find that this year's group of A-level students have not sprouted whiskers and tails because I know of no group of students who have been treated so much like guinea pigs. These students have been experimented on from the beginning of their school life. In view of that, it is surprising that they have achieved so much. We appear to have a very able group of students.

I am also surprised that their achievements were not predicted, given the explanation outlined by my noble friend Lady Sharp about the number of people who dropped out after the AS-level. Often the best predictor at A-level is the achievement of the same group two years previously at GCSE-level, when these students achieved a pass rate of 94.4 per cent. And guess what—at A-level they achieved 94.3 per cent. That is about 4.5 per cent higher than the previous two years. There was therefore two years' notice of the problem and clearly there was no need to worry about a perception of grade inflation. The group was achieving and from the beginning it was expected to achieve.

How will the Minister ensure that no future cohort of able children will be suffering from the same concerns about grade inflation and the same perceived pressure to change the grades around? Furthermore, can she reassure the House that no group of children will go through their school career as guinea pigs, as has been the case with this group?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, the noble Baroness will not be surprised to hear me say that I would not describe this group of students as guinea pigs but rather as recipients of a new strategy. It is interesting that despite the fact that noble Lords and the press have described the group as guinea pigs, they have been great achievers. One might therefore say that they have achieved so much not despite the new strategy but because of it. I am sure that we can debate that matter another time and no doubt at length.

I recognise the noble Baroness's understanding that one of the outcomes of the AS-level should be that students would be either awakened to work harder for the A2 or to make decisions about which subjects to continue with. That is one of the issues that Mike Tomlinson and the QCA need to examine very carefully. A perceived problem is also a perceived success and we must ensure that we address these issues firmly and properly. We have great faith that Ken Boston will be able to look at the issue constructively. He had been in post only a week or two at the beginning of the problem and he is now dealing with it most effectively.

We must look at the matter carefully to ensure that we recognise the achievements and that Curriculum 2000 delivers for us and our students some good results.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, following a matter raised by my noble friend Lady Carnegy, if the whole exercise has been totally even-handed and not just a patch-up, there will have been a number of "downs" in the re-gradings as well as all the "ups". How many "downs" were there?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I do not have the information about the downs and the ups. The issue was, as I said, whether students who should have received higher grades received deflated grades. The question of regrading has therefore focused on what happened at the boundaries between A and B and between E and U. We have made it clear that no student will suffer as a consequence of the regrading in relation to the results that he or she has already received. If I subsequently find more information which is relevant to the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, I shall indeed write to him and place a copy of the letter in the Library.

Baroness Seccombe

My Lords, if there was only a perception that there had been pressure from the QCA, and if the outcome of the exercise reveals that there had been no large-scale downgrading of examination results, would the Minister, with hindsight, think that it was right that Sir William Stubbs was dismissed so quickly? Why were the Secretary of State and the former chief inspector not aware that the standards expected for AS and A2 levels had not yet been determined?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I turn first to the noble Baroness's second point. The issue of paramount importance raised by Mike Tomlinson is the guidance issued by the QCA on how the standards should be applied. Although that issue by itself might seem minor, it is absolutely critical in ensuring that the grades are applied effectively. We and the QCA will have very carefully to examine its future in relation to that point.

On Sir William Stubbs, as I have said in your Lordships' House several times, my right honourable friend believed that there had been a loss of confidence in the leadership of the QCA and, after much deliberation, determined that the best way forward would be to have a new chairman to lead the organisation. On that basis, she dismissed him.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, may I point out that the question that both my noble friend Lady Seccombe and I asked was why the former chief inspector and the Secretary of State were not aware of the standards expected by the QCA?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, the noble Baroness needs to understand that, in all the dialogue with the QCA, there was a great amount of information and understanding about what was happening. We are saying that it is the QCA's responsibility to issue the guidance on standards. As I said, when Mike Tomlinson has completed his work, I shall undoubtedly have more to explain to the House and be able to examine these issues in detail. I am giving the noble Baroness the benefit of all the information that I currently have. The issue for the QCA is the guidance that accompanied the standards. As Mike Tomlinson and Ken Boston continue their work, we shall be able to provide noble Lords with more information. I shall do so with pleasure.