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National Curriculum Tests 2008

Volume 707: debated on Monday 2 February 2009


Last December, Lord Sutherland completed his independent inquiry into the delivery of national curriculum tests in 2008. On 16 December I laid a copy of his report before the House and made a Statement accepting all his recommendations in full.

Lord Sutherland’s report made recommendations covering the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA); the Department for Children, Schools and Families officials and Ministers; and Ofqual, the independent qualifications regulator.  In December I set out the actions my department was already taking to implement his recommendations, and committed to a further detailed response—which I am publishing today. I have laid a copy of this in the Libraries of the House.

Where Lord Sutherland’s recommendations included specific actions for my department to take forward, all have been completed or are under way. Prior to Lord Sutherland's December report I established an expert group to advise on future testing and assessment arrangements and their delivery. I have taken steps to clarify further the reporting lines, information sharing and risk escalation arrangements between the QCA and my department and the role of DCSF observers. My department will ensure that the legislation that establishes Ofqual and the QCDA gives Ofqual the powers to regulate national curriculum assessments effectively. In the interim period, my department is developing and agreeing a protocol on the reporting arrangements for Ofqual. My officials will discuss with QCA possible technological advances, such as on-screen marking and data capture, for possible use from 2010 onwards.

While Lord Sutherland made no specific recommendations in relation to the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) Gateway process, I asked my officials to liaise with the OGC to consider whether there were wider lessons from the report for Gateway reviews. OGC has identified some areas where aspects of current guidance and practice can be improved, and these are included in our detailed response.

On 16 December I wrote to the new chair of the QCA board, Chris Trinick, asking him to implement all Lord Sutherland’s recommendations relating to the QCA in full and to provide me with a full report on progress by 16 January.  He has done this, and I have laid a copy of his letter to me including the QCA’s action plan and update on implementation in the Libraries of the House, together with my reply to him. My officials will work closely with QCA in the coming months to monitor progress against its action plan.

Following its initial response to Lord Sutherland’s recommendations on 16th December 2008, Ofqual has also published its action plan detailing how it intends to implement the recommendations relating to it as the independent regulator, and I am placing a copy in the Library of the House.

I made clear in December that where we have national tests, they must be delivered successfully and on time, as they have been in the past. I am very grateful to Lord Sutherland for his detailed and comprehensive work, which will significantly strengthen the future delivery of national curriculum tests. His report, and the measures set out in this Statement and accompanying action plans, will help ensure that we achieve this in 2009 and in future years, so that children and young people, and their parents and teachers, all benefit from the testing and assessment system they deserve.