Schools and Colleges: Qualification Results and Full Opening - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:31 pm on 2nd September 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Berridge Baroness Berridge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade) (Minister for Women), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 1:31 pm, 2nd September 2020

My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Watson, in thanking young people for their resilience during a crisis this summer that no-one intended them to have to go through. I repeat to your Lordships’ House the apology made by the Secretary of State and in my letter to noble Lords. I thank the noble Lord for his wish to work constructively on these matters.

On schools reopening, the main guidance to put in place the hierarchy of controls, on the need for bubbles or for year groups to be kept separate in secondary schools was issued on 2 July—well in advance of the end of summer term—and enabled schools to prepare. However, for the thankfully very small number of situations where there are additional restrictions, the guidance was issued only recently.

On the noble Lord’s questions about exams, it is important to remember the principle that Ofqual was a body created by Parliament. It was created by statute and is answerable to Parliament. There are good reasons in principle why the regulation of public examinations in this country is not subject to direct government interference. It was Ofqual’s responsibility to have the data to develop the algorithm and then send that algorithm to the various examination boards. There was a reaction at the stages at which the department was made aware of additional concerns and Ofqual met regularly with the department even from before the announcement was made for exams to be cancelled. The department reacted, but Ofqual is the independent regulator.

On sharing data, in the week running up to the A-level results the system was as per any normal year. On the Monday or Tuesday some headline data is given to the department. On the Wednesday that data is shared with schools and is then published on Thursday. To respect the normal division of responsibilities between the department and Ofqual, that long-standing practice was abided by and Ministers did not see the detail of results for individual students or the schools that would have been affected.

Only a tiny fraction of BTEC examination results remains to be communicated to students. That is where further information is needed. Each year there are normally, unfortunately, a small number of results outstanding. Pearson has assured us that it is working to issue these remaining results as soon as possible.

It is envisaged that the first services from the national tutoring programme, which is being delivered by the EEF and Teach First, will be delivered in the second half of the autumn term.

On the specific questions on early years catch-up, of the £350 million tutoring programme, £8 million has been awarded to Nuffield for early language development and there was an announcement that there will be small-group tuition for disadvantaged 16 to 19 year-olds. They are now included in the catch-up.

On the issue around special educational needs students, as noble Lords will be aware, the Oak Academy’s provision of online lessons has of course included some for those with special educational needs. The guidance and the links to the various resources on the Department for Education’s website include links to these. We have been working closely with the sector. Over the next year an additional £730 million will go into the high-needs budget, meaning that it will have grown by £1.5 billion, or 24%, in just two years. We are responding on special educational needs. The £650 million of main catch-up funding going out to schools has been weighted per pupil for specialist schools, because we recognise the higher per pupil costs in those settings.

There will be a contingency plan for examinations next year. There has already been guidance on the curriculum so that schools knew what they were doing from the moment they came back. For instance, in English literature they know that pupils will potentially be examined on only three of the four set texts and there have been changes to field work in geography, et cetera. The question of whether there will be a delay was part of Ofqual’s consultation on the 2021 series, and that will be confirmed as soon as possible.

There is now a higher education task force, chaired by Michelle Donelan, the Minister for Universities, which meets regularly with Universities UK and other stakeholders to work with the sector on the implications of the change in the awarding of grades for A-levels.

Turning to the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Storey, I specifically checked and, while it is my personal preference to read the Statement, I was told that in this hybrid situation I do not repeat it. However, I put my view that I want to read it to noble Lords because it helps.

A lot of specific guidance has had to be set out for the sector. Officials and the sector have worked very closely to try to get the right boundary in not being able to be prescriptive, because we have over 20,000 schools in about 70,000 buildings. There must be the framework and the principles for head teachers and other school leaders to make their risk assessments and the changes to their buildings.

Masks are recommended only where we have something such as a tier 2, where there is a local lockdown, but schools can advise their students on that. I hope that the guidance is not contradictory on that matter.

Disadvantaged pupils are of course a concern for noble Lords and for the department. That is why there is the £1 billion catch-up fund. On excluded pupils, many of whom will have been in alternative provision, all schools reopening includes AP schools. At the end of the summer term we announced additional funds for those leaving AP to make sure that they had additional support and did not end up not in education, employment or training. We are working to ensure that they do not fall within the gaps.

On home education specifically, yes, we are particularly concerned. Going back to the cancellation of exams and the work the exam centres did, obviously some home-educated students then register at a school and sit their examinations in that school. As far as possible, we asked those schools to evaluate the performance of that student if they had any data on which to do so, but of course there were situations in which it just was not possible. That is also about the integrity of head teachers and teachers who did not feel they could give a grade. That is why the autumn series of resits in all subjects will be so important, particularly for home-educated students.

There was a recent consultation from the department on whether to have a register with local authorities and whether to pay exam fees for home-educated students, because we are concerned about the rise in the number of home-educated students. The reasons are not, as perhaps they were 10 or 20 years ago, well-meaning parents. Some who are in home education are potentially not getting the education they deserve, but we do not have the data. I will update the House as soon as I can on what is happening with that consultation.

Finally, I thank noble Lords for their support. I hope we can work constructively, going forward.