PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES

HOUSE OF COMMONS

OFFICIAL REPORT

Third Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.

EDUCATION (INDIVIDUAL PUPILS' ACHIEVEMENTS) (INFORMATION) (WALES) REGULATIONS 1993

EDUCATION (SCHOOL CURRICULUM AND RELATED INFORMATION) (AMENDMENT) (WALES) REGULATIONS 1993

Tuesday 13 July 1993

LONDON: HMSO

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1

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody

Campbell, Mrs. Anne (Cambridge)

Dafis, Mr. Cynog (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North)

Evans, Mr. Roger (Monmouth)

Gordon, Ms. Mildred (Bow and Poplar)

Hall, Mr. Mike (Warrington, South)

Harris, Mr. David (St. Ives)

Hawkins, Mr. Nick (Blackpool, South)

Heald, Mr. Oliver (Hertfordshire, North)

Jamieson, Mr. David (Plymouth, Devonport)

Jowell, Ms. Tessa (Dulwich)

Lightbown, Mr. David (Comptroller of Her Majesty's Household)

Murphy, Mr. Paul (Torfaen)

Oppenheim, Mr. Phillip (Amber Valley)

Pickthall, Mr. Colin (Lancashire, West)

Roberts, Sir Wyn (Minister of State, Welsh Office)

Sweeney, Mr. Walter (Vale of Glamorgan)

Tredinnick, Mr. David (Bosworth)

Waller, Mr. Gary (Keighley)

Mr. F. A. Cranmer, Cttee. Clerk.

2
3 Third Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. Tuesday 13 July 1993

[MRS. GWYNETH DUNWOODY in the Chair]

Education (Individual Pupils' Achievements) (Information) (Wales) Regulations 1993

4.30 pm

Mr. Paul Murphy (Torfaen): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the Education (Individual Pupils' Achievements) (Information) (Wales) Regulations 1993 (S.I., 1993, No. 835).

The Chairman: With the agreement of the Committee, it will be convenient to discuss at the same time the Education (School Curriculum and Related Information) (Amendment) (Wales) Regulations 1993 (S.I., 1993, No. 998).

Mr. Murphy: May I say that it is delightful to have you, Mrs. Dunwoody, as a person with great connections with the Principality, to chair our proceedings this afternoon, which I am sure will be extremely brief. The Committee's attention should be drawn to the 13th report of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, which makes special reference to the regulations and draws the attention of both Houses to the fact that they are defectively drafted. In an undated memorandum to the Committee, the Welsh Office said that the proviso to regulation 3(2) should have been a proviso to regulation 3(1), as it deals not with the report's timing, but with its content, which is the matter dealt with by regulation 3(1). In the memorandum, the Welsh Office also states that it is willing to amend the regulations accordingly, but as their meaning is not in doubt, it does not consider it necessary to amend them until the next occasion on which, for other reasons, they are required to be amended or replaced. I expect that the Minister will refer to that drafting defect in that regulation, but that is not the reason why we are debating the regulations today. They are important, and we do not intend to divide the Committee on them. We do not oppose the idea of testing the achievements of individual pupils in Welsh schools, at whatever level the school. However, there are points to be made and I hope that the Minister of State will be able to answer them. Regulation 3(1)(b) includes the national curriculum levels of attainment, while regulation 3(3) refers to public examination or national curriculum test results. Regulation 5 refers to a record of school achievement. I think that all members of the Committee would agree that the new format of school achievement records, which I recently had the good fortune of observing in my own constituency at Trevethin comprehensive school, where they were being given to all the young men and women of the fifth form, is indeed infinitely superior to the sort of school reports that all of us in the Committee were given when we were at school. They were full, they outlined the career of the pupil at that school and, I understand from the 4 regulations, if pupils decide to move from one school to another, they will take those records of achievement with them. We agree with all of those things. However, something troubled me when talking to parents, teachers and pupils about the records of achievement, which I think that the Welsh Office could investigate with some profit. That is the value which employers in Wales—and, for that matter, throughout the United Kingdom—place on those records of achievement. I was told by more than one person that employers did not want to see records of achievement. They still preferred to look at examination results—which are still included in the achievement records—but not at the rest of what the Government have introduced. I hope that there will come a time when the Welsh Office and the Department for Education will consider the way in which employers and employer organisations regard records of achievement. There is unease at the moment in the Principality regarding what is happening to the national curriculum. The records of achievement refer specifically to the national curriculum in Wales and to the fact that those achievements must be recorded. We are, therefore, anxious that any such recording would reflect changes that the Minister might be planning in the national curriculum. I refer not just to the teaching of English, a controversial matter on which the Welsh Office and the Department for Education differ, but to the Welsh Office's approach to the national curriculum and to other matters. The regulation refers to the recording of examination results. I am worried, first, that the national curriculum tests have fallen into disarray in Wales, as they have in England. What will happen when Welsh pupils receive their records of achievement if national curriculum test results are not included? Secondly, although the regulation refers to A-levels, O-levels, GCSEs and so on, it does not refer to the certificate of education, which the Minister wants to phase out, in the face of opposition from headteachers, teachers and the Welsh joint education committee. The Minister said in the Standing Committee on the Education Bill that the certificate of education is being phased out because the record of achievement that these regulations implement is a proper substitute. A record of achievement is a much broader concept than performance in examinations. It is designed to record examination certification and students' achievements in sport, which is very important in the Principality, and in the arts. Records of achievement will not compensate for the phasing out of the certificate of education. We shall not vote against the regulations, but we have misgivings about them in respect of the national curriculum, of how employers see the records of achievement and of the certificate of education, which is so valued in Wales and beyond. The other regulations are not controversial. They amend regulations that were not properly drafted. The Minister will explain precisely what they mean.

4.38 pm

The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Sir Wyn Roberts): At first, I was disappointed to hear that the Opposition had decided to pray against the regulations. However, it is clear from what the hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) said that the Opposition's bark is worse than their threatened bite and I am glad about that. The regulations would ensure that parents receive information about their 5 child and about their child's school. That is entirely in line with the Government's commitments in the citizens charter and in the education charter for parents in Wales. Similar regulations for England have been passed without demur. I cannot believe that the Opposition are against supplying the information to parents. Let me explain the Education (Individual Pupils' Achievements) (Information) (Wales) Regulations 1993, which are entirely positive in their purpose. They require headteachers to provide annual reports to parents about their child. School reports are nothing new, but too many schools were not providing reports to parents as of right, and in many cases the quality of information was capable of improvement. The regulations, therefore, specify the minimum that must be provided. I am sure that we all regard that as a laudable aim. The reports must set out brief particulars of each pupil's progress in all subjects and activities in the school curriculum; the results of any national curriculum tests that have been taken; the results of any public examinations entered by the pupil; and qualifications achieved or credits gained towards vocational or other qualifications. We are all aware of the situation that exists this summer. The majority of seven-year olds have probably been tested and the information gained from the tests will, we hope, be supplied to parents by teachers. Whether they will supply that information to the Welsh Office is another matter. That applies also to certain other tests. A specific requirement is that parents should have the right to know how well the child is progressing in each of the national curriculum subjects, and that they should be given a report of the level attained at the end of each key stage. That means that parents of seven, 11 and 14-year-olds will be told what level their child has reached in the existing 10-level scale. That information will give parents a broad indication of how well their child is progressing and what standard has been achieved. In all the discussions about the national curriculum that have taken place recently in the House and elsewhere, one significant feature seems to have been forgotten by the Opposition. The national curriculum was introduced by broad consensus to raise overall educational standards and individual pupil attainment. We shall not know whether standards are going up unless we have a reliable and objective means of measuring what a child has learnt and understood. Testing provides the only reliable and objective measure. National tests allow a pupil's performance to be judged against common standards. That is the only way in which parents and the public can have confidence that the results in any one school and for any one pupil are comparable to results in other schools and for other pupils. We believe that parents will want to know how their children are performing in the national curriculum, compared with other pupils at the same school and nationally. The regulations require that information to be provided in the child's report so that parents can get a good idea how well their child is getting on. I know that our time is limited, so I shall be brief about the other items that must be included in reports to parents. Curriculum progress is not everything—we would all agree on that—so the report must describe the pupil's general behaviour as well as contributions to school life and special achievements. Those are vital pieces of information for any parent. In addition, we have always made it clear that 6 parents should be encouraged to discuss with teachers any concerns about performance. That is why the regulations require the report to spell out the arrangements under which any item in the report may be discussed and with whom. I know that many parents are worried that their child's achievements might not be passed on if there is a change of school. Again, that is covered in the regulations. The transferring school has to send a report as soon as is reasonably practicable to the new school, setting out progress in the national curriculum and any public examination results. I have explained the pupils' achievement regulations at length because it shold come as no surprise that not only were they the subject of wide consultation last summer, but they were also the subject of wide agreement. The purpose of the regulations was to build on the best of existing good practice of many schools developed over a number of years. The reports from schools to parents now provide better information, more information and comparative information. The purpose is to enable parents to play an increasing and informed part in their child's education and to know to whom they should turn if something goes wrong. The main purpose of the Education (School Curriculum and Related Information) (Amendment) (Wales) regulations is to ensure that parents are informed of their right to appeal against decisions by local education authorities to reject their first choice of school for their child. The regulations provide for parents to receive information about their right of appeal, should they decide to prepare a case for appeal to the independent admission appeals committee. I know that some LEAs have already adopted that practice even before the regulations come into operation. When we published "Education: A Charter for Parents in Wales"; we promised to make notification to parents of their right to appeal against rejection of the school of their choice a formal duty on LEAs. That is precisely what the statutory instrument provides. The statutory instrument provides a fundamental right for parents. It will enable them to receive essential information that will enable them to prepare an appeal against the school allocation of their child where they are dissatisfied. I hope that the Opposition will offer their congratulations to us for spotting that gap in provision and doing something about it. It will assist the Committee to know that the main regulations, which came into effect in August 1991, to which the amendment relates, require schools to provide basic essential information related to the educational provision and organisational structure within the school. That information has to be provided within the school prospectus. Again, surely that is right. It is at the heart of our commitment to assist parental choice. The school prospectus will need to provide, for example, information about school curriculum aims, the hours devoted to curriculum teaching including religious education, its policy on the teaching of the Welsh language, its approach to the delivery of the national curriculum and, where appropriate, the range of qualifications being pursued. In addition, it should indicate to parents how they can go about making a complaint about the school and its educational provision. 7 The main regulations also require the minimum information that should be included in governing bodies' annual reports. That includes information on any significant changes to the school organisation since the production of the last school prospectus. They also set out the right for parents, as a matter of public access, to see a range of documents such as statutory instruments, including those that we are discussing today, inspection reports and the LEA complaints procedure documentation. Again, in drawing together these regulations, the Government simply consolidated previous existing school practice updated to take account of changes brought about for the implementation of the national curriculum and the reforms of the Education Reform Act 1988. I regard this information as a fundamental requirement for parents to know how their school is organised, its aims, its proposed educational provision, and to be kept regularly informed of any substantive changes. The provisions inform choice, encourage the partnership role between parents and teachers and support the work of the governing body. The regulations refer to information and parental choice. I know that some parents and teachers are genuinely concerned about the potential work overload that will arise from the implementation of the national curriculum and its associated reporting and information requirements. We have said that we would keep that under review in the light of experience and the feedback from teachers. In May, I announced a more fundamental review of the whole framework of the national curriculum in Wales together with its testing regime. This is being carried out by the Curriculum Council for Wales in close cooperation with the School Examinations and Assessment Council. The review will be wide ranging but will specifically focus on the overall manageability of the national curriculum and its assessment requirements. The decisions taken as a result of that review will also influence the amount of information that has to be recorded and reported. Much depends on the review. I am glad to say that it has been welcomed by teachers, and I hope that they will continue to play a full part in putting forward constructive views that will ensure that the balance is right and meets the specific needs of our particular requirements of schools in Wales. The hon. Member for Torfaen referred to my decision earlier this year to phase out the certificate of education. I know that he was reflecting the worries of many schools and the Welsh Joint Education Council. Schools fail to recognise that within the context of the standards being implemented by the national curriculum, the vast majority of school leavers in Wales will in future be well capable of GCSE success. The certificate of education performance already suggests that a large proportion of pupils could be entered for the higher award of the GCSE. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree that Wales has some way to go to catch up with England's GCSE results. I believe that the deferment, which I am proposing today, for a further year, and the elimination of the certificate of education, will assist in that process and enable us to improve our GCSE results. I know that low-attaining pupils and those with special education needs may require particular recognition. That will be considered in the light of the outcome of the review 8 of the national curriculum assessment arrangements that is currently being undertaken. But we must try to enhance the overall GCSE comparative performance in Wales, and the revised arrangements under the national curriculum will move us significantly in that direction. I have announced that I intend to defer the withdrawal of the certificate of education until 1996, to allow detailed consideration of the outcome of Sir Ron Dealing's review of the national curriculum, in conjunction with the Curriculum Council for Wales. I believe that the information requirements of these two regulations are essential to secure the active involvement of parents in children's education and to support their right of choice in the selection of their schools. The regulations will improve significantly the open availability of pupil and school information, so I commend them to the Committee.

4.54 pm

Mr. David Jamieson (Plymouth, Devonport): Is it not refreshing to come to such a Committee to hear old ideas spoken about with such freshness by the Minister? I thought that reports from schools and that reporting to parents had just been invented. These ideas have been in place for many years and schools have written many good reports over the years. It may sound fine in theory to talk about raising standards of education and providing better quality reports to parents—we are all in favour of that—but, as with so much of this Government's policy, the measure would fall down in practice. I believe that it would lower the standards of reports to parents. I shall make a few serious observations about the matters raised in statutory instrument 835; I refer especially to regulation 3(2) and the timing of the reports. The fundamental weakness in this statutory instrument is that all the reports will appear at the end of the school year. They will be very full reports, and that is proper; they will deal with many matters relating to behaviour and achievements, and that is absolutely proper. I have seen reports, going out over 20 or 30 years, that have successfully dealt with such matters. I should like the Minister to consider the weakness in the measure; all the reports at key stages 1, 2, 3 and 4 will be produced in the last six weeks of the summer term—in other words, at this time of the year. I draw the Minister's attention to regulation 3(2)(b), which relates to the final stage of key stage 3—year nine in secondary schools. In most schools in England and Wales, reports for that year would usually be produced considerably earlier. It is common to produce such reports around or just after Christmas. Schools produce such quality information to assist parents and pupils in making choices about GCSEs and courses that will be followed in years 10 and 11. If another full report has to be produced at the end of the school year, there will be considerable duplication of the reporting process. Many schools do not fully report on year nine at that stage in June or July; they report much earlier in the year, for those practical reasons. A second set of reports in June or July would, I believe, substantially reduce the quality of reports to parents or would merely repeat many things that were said in reports earlier in the year. Will the Minister re-examine that aspect? The end of key stage 4 is usually year 11 in schools. This is an important time and reports on students are often produced much earlier than suggested by the Minister. For 9 reasons that will be obvious, at the age of 16—coming to the age of key stage 4 in year 11—many youngsters will apply for further education in the sixth form or will consider training and job opportunities. Schools quite properly produce very full reports much earlier than is suggested by the Minister. Often, such reports are produced in February or March and sometimes even earlier to assist the careers service. There will be an extra burden on a school to produce yet another set of full reports to go out either at the end of the school year or probably, and more practically, in September, after students may have left the school or embarked on the sixth-form part of their education. There may be much duplication and, I fear, a watering down of the quality of the reports available at that stage. Teachers will have already gone through that process with parents—often with a view to having parental consultation evenings which, plainly, could not all take place in the last weeks of the summer term. Schools spread the load over the year for that reason. In June and July, in a secondary school with year seven to year 12, standard assessment tasks will have to be marked, GCSEs will be taking place, teachers and students will be completing course work, which will be marked and assessed carefully, and A-levels will be taking place. In schools with sixth forms, vocational courses will be assessed, which will take a lot of time. Schools will be giving advice to students who are about to move from year 11 into either the world of work, or into the sixth form or a tertiary college. That will be a very busy time in the school year, not to mention all the other activities that will also be taking place, such as sports days and summer fairs. In addition we will expect this detailed report every year. Most schools will be so overloaded that they will provide in these reports only the minimum to comply with the law. At the moment, many schools go well beyond what is laid out in the statute. The Minister says that he intends to provide parents with higher-quality reports, but I fear that this measure will result in the reverse. It will actually lower the standard by cramming the reports together at the end of the year. They will be done in great haste which will create considerable work overload.

5.1 pm

Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North): I respond first to the Minister's decision to postpone the abolition of the certificate of education. That is welcome because it is well known to teachers that that examination is an important motivating factor for that category of pupils. It is idle to believe that a means of testing and a way of providing instruction within the range of the GCSE is possible. I do not think that that is possible as the GCSE is currently targeted. I trust that the year's postponement that the Minister proposes will be used to ensure that such instruction is provided, because it would be a tragedy if there was no specific—and I mean specific—provision for those pupils. My view is supported by teachers who have been very cross about the Government's decision to phase out that examination. I hope that appropriate alternative provision will be made for that category of pupil. My second point concerns standard assessment tasks for Welsh at key stage 3. An announcement was made in March that next year, standard assessment tasks would be required for the core subjects only. First-language Welsh is a core subject, but second-language Welsh is a foundation subject. Therefore, SATs will be provided for first-language 10 Welsh next year, but not for second-language Welsh. The distinction between those two levels of teaching and the division of those two categories of pupils is regarded with considerable anxiety in Wales. Teachers of Welsh have made considerable progress in raising the standards of second-language Welsh teaching. In the past two years, people have seen a considerable improvement in standards and in pupil motivation. In 1995, the curriculum and assessment authority for Wales will take responsibility for assessing Welsh at all levels, including key stage 3. It may decide that second-language Welsh should be tested at that stage. It may report that second-language Welsh should be treated in the same way as first-language Welsh. It is not sensible for a distinction to exist between first-language and second-language Welsh for a year before again treating first-language and second-language Welsh in the same way. It would be sensible to treat first-language and second-language Welsh in the same way for standard assessment tasks next year. It is strange for me to advocate standard assessment tasks for any subject. However, the distinction between first-language and second-language Welsh is unnecessary and unhelpful. Teachers of second-language Welsh, who are motivated and making important progress, would appreciate regularisation of the position, so that first-language and second-language Welsh can be treated in the same way.

5.6 pm

Sir Wyn Roberts: I am grateful to hon. Members for the points that they have made. I shall deal first with the last point about testing Welsh as a second language. The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) will know about the general complaint that teachers have been overburdened. We have instigated Sir Ron Dearing's review to examine the curriculum, testing and the involvement of the Curriculum Council for Wales. It seemed wise to slim down the testing for Welsh for next year. We shall decide how to proceed in the light of the Dearing review, and of establishing the curriculum and assessment authority for Wales, which will operate from 1 April 1994. To reply to the question about the certificate of education, I have decided to defer the decision until 1996 because the change that I announced was related to the 10-level scale. That scale is subject to review. Therefore, it is wise to await the outcome of the review. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) referred to the timing of regulation 3(2). I accept his comments about pressures on schools, especially in the summer term. We are anxious to supply to parents and others who wish to have it, information that is based year on year. We must be able to compare like with like. However, I accept the hon. Gentleman's point about the problem of timing the test, especially as most children at key stage 3 will have selected their GCSE subjects. The tests will serve to confirm their choice.

Mr. Jamieson: To pick up the Minister's point about comparing like with like, who makes the comparison? Is the information intended for the Government, and other parties, or for parents and students? If it is meant for parents, the precise part of the year when the information is provided does not matter. The year could run from 11 March to March. It does not need to run from June to June. Is the provision for the Government's convenience rather than for parents?

Sir Wyn Roberts: I shall not go into all the arguments about the optimal time for testing but, in general, I should have thought that it was advisable to have a similar intervening period between tests at different stages if one is to ensure that those tests produce valid and comparable information. The hon. Member for Torfaen referred to records of achievement. I am sorry that I missed the point but it is a statutory requirement under the regulations for individual pupils' achievements to be recorded. That has been widely welcomed by employers and schools, so I am satisfied that it provides an adequate means of reporting all pupils' achievements, including those at the lower levels. The position of pupils at levels 1 to 3 will be considered as part of the review of the national curriculum. Like the hon. Gentleman, I am anxious that the records of achievement should gain in strength, validity and recognition by employers. 12 I believe that I have dealt with most of the points that were raised, and I end by again commending the regulations to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Committee has considered the Education (Individual Pupil's Achievements) (Information) (Wales) Regulations 1993 (S.I., 1993, No. 835).

Education (School Curriculum and Related Information) (Amendment) (Wales) Regulations 1993

Resolved, That the Committee has considered the Education (School Curriculum and Related Information) (Amendment) (Wales) Regulations 1993 (S.I., 1993, No. 998).—[Mr. Murphy.]

Committee rose at twelve minutes past Five o 'clock.

THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:

Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Chairman)

Campbell, Mrs. Anne

Dafis, Mr.

Evans, Mr. Roger

Harris, Mr.

Hawkins, Mr.

Heald, Mr.

Jamieson, Mr.

Lightbown, Mr.

Murphy, Mr.

Oppenheim, Mr.

Roberts, Sir Wyn

Sweeney, Mr.