New watchdog won't stop debate

28th September 2007 at 01:00
The annual dumbing down debate will not be resolved by setting up an independent exams regulator reporting to Parliament, according to Government observers. Teachers can expect continuing questions about whether rising grades really testify to improvements in teaching and learning, despite impending changes at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

Teachers' leaders said the change might reassure the public but there were also calls for a wider Government inquiry into the effects of assessment.

Under the plans announced by Ed Balls the authority is to be split. Its regulatory division will be turned into a new body, to report to Parliament. It will be responsible for ensuring that national test and exam standards are maintained from year to year.

The rest of the its functions are being retained under the current arrangements, under which the authority reports to ministers.

The National Assessment Agency will remain a division of the QCA and will still set the national tests and decide how many marks pupils need to achieve a particular level.

Ministers will also maintain responsibility for the national curriculum. And the current QCA will continue to oversee the development of new GCSEs, A levels and diplomas.

The changes will take up to two years to implement in full, as they require primary legislation. The new regulator will exist in unofficial form by next spring.

Alan Smithers, of Buckingham University, said the change did not go far enough. "To provide the reassurance that everyone has been looking for on exam standards, the new body would need to adopt a much more vigorous monitoring function than appears to be being proposed," he said.

Professor Smithers is calling for an independent body to set small numbers of pupils tests that do not change every year, as a better check on national standards.

David Laws, Liberal Democrat education spokesman, said the whole of the authority should be made independent to stop politicians "meddling" in education.

Leading article, page 28

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