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Qualifications Regulation

Volume 474: debated on Wednesday 2 April 2008

I announced plans last September to set up an independent regulator of qualifications and tests. In December, along with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills I announced, for consultation, more detailed proposals. Subject to legislation, the new Office of the Qualifications and Examinations Regulator (Ofqual) will act as independent guardian of standards across the tests and qualifications system in England. The Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA) will develop curriculum, assessment and qualifications. I wish to update the House on progress with these plans.

As we develop and reform qualifications and tests, it is critically important not only that they are of the highest quality, but also that they are seen so to be. The new arrangements that we are putting in place will help to achieve this, underpinning high quality qualifications and tests with high levels of confidence. In making this change, we are building on the principles that underpinned the establishment of, for example, the Monetary Policy Committee and the Statistics Board, which have improved public trust in the systems they regulate through a combination of independence, clarity of remit and a transparent accountability framework. The joint command paper (Cm 7281) “Confidence in Standards: Regulating and Developing Qualifications and Assessment” published in December sought views on the roles and powers of the independent regulator and of the development agency for curriculum, assessment and qualifications into which QCA will develop. The consultation period closed on 10 March. The proposals were generally well received, and there were lots of valuable and detailed points on which we will need to reflect as we develop our detailed proposals. We will publish a formal response to the consultation paper by mid-June.

In the meantime, we will continue as planned to make those changes we can achieve within the existing legislative framework, so that we can secure benefits from the reforms as soon as possible. As a first step the Office of the Qualifications and Examination Regulator will shortly be established on an interim basis carrying out the QCA’s regulatory functions across this spring and summer test and examination period. While working within current legislation, Ofqual will be operationally independent. These interim arrangements will be an important step towards the new regulatory landscape that we are developing, and in themselves will contribute to confidence in the standards of the tests and qualification system in England.

In the consultation paper on the reforms we confirmed that we were setting in motion an appointments process for a chair of the regulator. Following a process overseen by the Office for the Commissioner of Public Appointments, I am delighted to tell the House that Kathleen Tattersall OBE has been appointed to be the first chair of the new independent regulator. Kathleen is the chair of the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors (which today receives its Royal Charter). Until 2003 she was director general of the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA), having been chief executive of a succession of awarding bodies over the previous 20 years. She will join the QCA Board and lead Ofqual in its interim form. Subject to legislation, she will become the regulator’s first chair when it is established as an independent statutory body. Kathleen Tattersall and Ofqual’s acting chief executive, Isabel Nisbet, will play critical leadership roles in setting up the new organisation, setting its strategic direction and developing the new regulatory framework which it will operate.

Setting up a new regulator will help ensure that learners of all ages and their teachers feel that their hard work and achievements are properly recognised. We are confident that these reforms to the regulatory landscape will both provide greater transparency in the arrangements for regulating and developing qualifications and tests, and secure the confidence in standards on which they depend.