In November 2013, Ofqual, the exams regulator, published a regulatory assessment of the potential cost and delivery impact of the reformed general qualifications. As part of its ongoing work, Ofqual is committed to overseeing the introduction of the new exams and to evaluating their effectiveness. I want to add that we have recently consulted on the future of primary assessment, setting out our plans to establish a settled and trusted system.
The new vocational exam framework assessment will need to change. Those who study tree surgery can fell trees only in the autumn. Harvesting is likewise seasonal, and animal husbandry assessment periods do not match the assessment framework. Such assessments should occur at a time when they are appropriate, and other sectors are saying the same. Will the Minister relax the tight assessment periods, so that colleges can assess their students’ skills properly?
We have to ensure that the assessment system is robust, so that students can be sure that their hard work is properly recognised and employers understand that the qualifications presented to them reflect the quality of their studying and the skills that they have acquired.
I wonder what the Minister’s reflection is on the fact that in the maths higher paper for this year’s GCSE, the pass mark was just 18 out of 100. Does he think that pupils sitting that exam would have been given the confidence to go on to do maths A-level? I can tell him that as a 16-year-old, I was the only girl in my sixth-form college to do further maths and maths A-level. Had I sat a GCSE paper that was impossible—not rigorous—I would not have chosen those subjects.
The new GCSE is significantly more demanding academically. That is to ensure that there is a better fit with maths A-level and more preparation for students to go on to study it. The comparable outcomes system ensures that roughly the same proportion of students achieve grades 1 to 9 as achieved A* to G last year. That is why students might get a lower mark for a C grade or grade 4 this year, but as the students and schools become used to the new curriculum, I expect that figure to rise in future years.
I tried for many years when the Minister was on my Select Committee to get him to be more pragmatic and less ideological about these things. On this day of all days—the 25th anniversary of Ofsted—will he talk to Ofsted about what is going on? We are silo-ing so many young people in further-education colleges up and down the country. They cannot get on with their lives and cannot get on to apprenticeships because they cannot get a GCSE in English and maths.
Maths and English are key skills that young people need if they are to get on in life. There is a direct correlation between the income young people and adults earn if they have those GCSEs and if they do not have those GCSEs. The rules say that those with a D or grade 3 in those GCSEs are expected to continue studying them. Those with lower grades can take stepping-stone qualifications in English and maths at further-education college. That is the best preparation for a long-term, successful career.