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Education for 11-16 Year Olds Committee

Corrected oral evidence: Education for 11-16 year olds

Thursday 13 July 2023

11 am


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Members present: Lord Johnson of Marylebone (The Chair); Lord Aberdare; Lord Baker of Dorking; Baroness Blower; Baroness Evans of Bowes Park; Baroness Garden of Frognal; Lord Knight of Weymouth; Lord Lexden; Lord Mair; Lord Storey; Lord Watson of Invergowrie.

Evidence Session No. 14              Heard in Public              Questions 142 – 161



I: The Rt Hon Nick Gibb MP, Minister of State for Schools, Department for Education; Juliet Chua CB, Director-General for Schools, Department for Education; Stuart Miller, Director of Curriculum & General Qualifications, Department for Education.



  1. This is a corrected transcript of evidence taken in public and webcast on



Examination of witnesses

Nick Gibb, Juliet Chua and Stuart Miller.

Q142       The Chair: Good morning. Minister Gibb, Juliet Chua and Stuart Miller, it is terrific to have you before us. This is the Education for 11-16 Year Olds Committee. We have been taking evidence for many weeks now. This is almost the grand finale of our evidence taking and it is great to have you with us. A transcript of the meeting will, as usual, be available for correction at the end of the session, should that be necessary. I am told that we may have votes at some point during the allotted time. We will pause to do that if we have to and will come back as soon as we can.

Minister, before I ask my opening question, could I ask you and your fellow officials to introduce yourselves?

Nick Gibb: I am the Minister of State for Schools.

Juliet Chua: I am the director-general for schools.

Stuart Miller: Along with my job-share partner, I am responsible for the curriculum and for general qualifications.

Q143       The Chair: Thank you all very much. As a general opening question, Minister Gibb, what is the purpose, in your view, of 11-16 education, and how does the current system for this phase of our education, including the curriculum assessment system and accountability measures, support this purpose?

Nick Gibb: We want children to be as well educated as possible, so that they inherit the great cultural knowledge that has been accumulated over centuries and know the best of all that has been thought and said in the past. We want their cognitive abilities developed so that when they leave school at either 16 or 18 they can go into almost whatever field they feel most comfortable in.

We need an education system that introduces young people to all the core elements of the academic subjects—maths, English literature and English language—which is why I believe so strongly in the English baccalaureate. They need to be able to read fluently and in a sophisticated way. They need a sophisticated understanding of mathematics for whatever field they want to go into after their 11-16 education. They need a good knowledge of the world, so that they can navigate their way around and feel confident understanding the world. They need to understand something about our history and the history of the world, so that, again, they have a clear understanding of the world they are emerging into and can hold their own in conversations with others and contribute to society.

Children should also be introduced to a foreign language. We are a great trading nation. We are at the bottom of the European league table in languages, and it is important that young people are at least introduced to the study of a language.

The Chair: How does the current system support that purpose through the curriculum, the assessment system and the accountability framework around it?

Nick Gibb: We have a national curriculum, as you know, which encompasses those subjects. There is space in the school timetable beyond the national curriculum to study other subjects, such as music, sport and the arts, and vocational and technical subjects beyond the subjects I have mentioned.

The accountability system seeks to do two things. It seeks to hold primary schools to account to make sure that young people are leaving primary school as fluent readers with a proper, sophisticated understanding of arithmetic as well as general knowledge. At 16, the accountability system measures a number of things, including English and maths, which are core to the future of every young person. In addition, it measures Progress 8, which looks at what progress they make in their eight best GCSEs or equivalents by the time they leave school, based on their key stage 2 results. The English baccalaureate provides a core range of academic GCSEs that young people from advantaged homes take for granted and which are taken for granted in most countries in the world.

Q144       Lord Mair: Minister, we have heard a lot of evidence that too much emphasis has been placed on exam results and that this has impacted young people’s bandwidth for the sorts of activities that would support them in pursuing their ambitions. We have heard repeatedly that the system is not equipping young people with the skills they will need for the future, including for employment in the digital and green economy.

How does the current system support the Government’s priorities to boost those kinds of skills and develop the talent supply needed to support economic growth? I am trying to explore, beyond exams and the curriculum, what scope there is to equip young people for the modern economy.

Nick Gibb: Exams are the fairest way of assessing what young people know and can do. As we experienced doing the Covid pandemic, other forms of assessing young people’s achievements are never as fair or as satisfactory as an externally assessed examination. They also help to ensure that young people can retain and remember. Just the fact of preparing for examinations and knowing that they are coming helps young people to remember.

Daniel Willingham’s Why Don’t Students Like School? is a very important book about cognitive load and how children learn. To be an educated person, a critical thinker, a problem solver, to be creative, you need to retain knowledge in your mind so that you can retrieve that knowledge in your working memory, which can handle only six or seven new pieces of information at once. We need to make sure that our young people have that retained knowledge if they are going to be all those things that future employment needs: a creative, critical-thinking problem solver. That is why our education system is designed to ensure that young people have that knowledge and those skills.

On the specifics that you raised, we were one of the first countries in the G20 to introduce coding into primary schools. Our computer science and computing curriculum is ahead of most countries in the G20; it certainly was when we introduced it.

Lord Mair: You mentioned creativity, problem solving, critical thinking, cultural subjects, practical skills. Is it a fair criticism that there is not enough bandwidth and that there is so much content in the current GCSEs that students do not get the time and ability to pursue those rather important topics? Is there a problem in not being able to allow those sorts of things to be properly addressed?

Nick Gibb: They are properly addressed. Design and technology, for example, is compulsory in the national curriculum. We always kept the English baccalaureate small enough—it is seven or eight GCSEs, depending on whether you take double or triple science—to enable young people to continue studying those other subjects. If they are a musician and want to study music, there is scope for that. There is scope for vocational and technical subjects.

If you look at the content of the English baccalaureate, it is made up of maths, English language, English literature and at least two sciences. All those subjects have always been compulsory to 16, so the debate about this issue is about history or geography and a foreign language. Until 2004, foreign languages were compulsory to 16. If you look around the world, you will find that that combination of subjects is compulsory, not just to 16 but very often, in some jurisdictions, up to 18.

Critical thinking, problem solving and creativity are best obtained by some of those EBacc subjects. If you want to be a problem solver, you need a sophisticated understanding of mathematics and science. If you want to be creative, you cannot just have a lesson on creativity; you need to have read English literature widely, and to have been introduced to the great composers and artists of the world. A knowledge-rich curriculum will help young people to become creative problem solvers and critical thinkers. You cannot teach these skills in isolation; they have to be part of and come from a knowledge-rich curriculum.

I do not know whether you have taken evidence from Daisy Christodoulou, but she is brilliant on this. If you try to teach the skills of an expert to a novice, you simply will not succeed, because an expert has taken 30 years to acquire the knowledge that gives him or her those skills or that expertise. To help young people to become experts, you need to make sure that they begin the process of acquiring the knowledge that will enable them to be an expert down the line.

Q145       Baroness Blower: This is a three-part question, harking back to the three-part lesson. It is about the composition of the EBacc. First, on what basis was it decided that EBacc subjects are more valuable or important than those that are not included? You referred to that to some extent in your previous answer.

Secondly, the Government have an ambition for 90% of year 10 students nationally to be studying the full complement of EBacc subjects by 2025, but we have heard from a variety of witnesses that this subject combination is not appropriate for many people. Why should 90% of students study the EBacc, and will this target be dropped, given that only 38.7% were entered for EBacc in the last academic year?

Finally, the Government have said that the EBacc is designed to help to ensure that students keep their options open to follow any path post 16, but how does the EBacc support students who want to study technical qualifications post 16 or pursue an apprenticeship, given the particular style of academic subjects in EBacc?

In particular, I note that you were quoted at some point, Nick, as saying that it was a difficult judgment call whether to include music and art, presumably in the humanities and arts bucket. I would like to know why that was and, while I am on the subject, why you chose not to include RE, which I remember at the time was a highly contested area and there were definitely people lobbying for its inclusion.

Nick Gibb: These are all good questions. Can I just talk about the EBacc? The EBacc composition is based on what used to be called the facilitating subjects.

Baroness Blower: Warwick dropped that.

Nick Gibb: Yes, the Russell group stopped using it after 2019, because it became so political in the discussion about the EBacc, but the truth remains that those are the subjects that are most likely to secure you a place at a hightariff university.

The EBacc is not just about that choice of subjects. It is a social mobility/social justice issue. Why, if you come from a disadvantaged background, should you be studying a different curriculum from those who come from more advantaged backgrounds? In 2010, only 8.6% of disadvantaged pupils who were eligible for free school meals were entered for that combination, whereas it was a quarter for advantaged pupils. It was presumably higher before we dropped the compulsion to study a language in 2004.

As a consequence of the EBacc policy, that 8% has gone up to 27%. For advantaged pupils, it has gone from 25% to 43%. If you break it down and look at the subject content, this is one of the most spinetingling consequences of the EBacc. In 2010, 61% of the cohorts in that year studied at least two sciences at GCSE. By 2020-21, that had risen to 96%. If you think about the other 30% who did not take at least two sciences, they were studying the core science GCSE. Now, there is almost nobody studying the core science GCSE.

We now know that 95%—it dropped a bit last year—are studying the EBacc combination of GCSE science. Guess who makes up that 30 percentage point difference: it is the most disadvantaged young people, who are now studying at least two GCSE sciences. If you are talking about wanting to go into all kinds of career routes after the age of 16, they are much more likely to have those opportunities kept open if they have two science GCSEs or if they have humanities. Humanities has gone from 47% studying it in 2010 to 82% in 2020-21. The attainment of those EBacc subjects by disadvantaged children went from 4.7% in 2010 to 16% in 2021, so what has happened as a consequence of the EBacc is an amazing achievement.

Alison Wolf is a great exponent of vocational education and wants the highest-quality vocational qualifications to be taken by young people. We asked her to conduct a review, if you remember, in 2011. On the back of the review’s recommendations, DfE removed a whole swathe—thousands, actually—of vocational qualifications pre 16 because of their low market value. The ones that we kept in are very high value and command the respect of the labour market.

In her report, she says, “In practical terms, the English heads, principals and other education professionals interviewed for the review almost all believed that a common core curriculum throughout KS4 could be delivered in 80% (four days a week) of students’ time. This pattern would not, and, if they had experienced it, did not, preclude important later choices and was consistent with government curriculum priorities. This left 20% for options including vocational courses”.

I am in favour of that 20% being available for vocational, technical, practical or, indeed, more academic subjects; if a young person wants to take a second foreign language, there is scope in that 20% for doing that. She says, “If more than 20% was given to specialist/vocational content, it would, in normal circumstances and with a conventional teaching week, be at the expense of core general education and maintaining wide progression opportunities”. The EBacc combination is about maintaining wide opportunities.

On the music and art issue, music is quite a specialised subject. I want there to be a higher uptake of music, but for many years only about 5% to 7% have taken a GCSE in music, so it would not be right to expect a high proportion to be taking music GCSE. Again, we kept the EBacc small, so that there is scope for those who want to study music to continue to do so at GCSE.

RE is a subject that I have thought a lot about. We had a lot of lobbying from faith schools and from people who are teaching RE. RE is compulsory right through to 18[1], so it was already compulsory and did not need the lever of the EBacc to promote uptake in the way we did for history, geography and double science. I also feared that if it was an option in the humanities pillaryou could take history, geography or REgiven that RE was already compulsory we would see a drop in history and geography in the weaker schools as a consequence of including RE. That was why we did not include it in the humanities pillar of the EBacc.

Baroness Blower: What about art?

Nick Gibb: Art and music are not necessarily for everyone, but both those subjects are compulsory in key stages 1, 2 and 3. The question is whether they should be compulsory through to 16. No Government have said that music and art should be compulsory. There is an entitlement to study them, but they have never been compulsory to the age of 16, so that was really the issue there. They are not subjects that every young person wants to study to 16.

Q146       The Chair: In your answer just then, you mentioned the Russell group a couple of times. I am a little concerned that you are fixated with the Russell group as a measure of good outcomes for the school system. Indeed, DfE performance indicators asked schools and colleges to report the proportion of their pupils who go to Russell group universities. Why are you disincentivising schools from sending their best pupils to non-Russell group universities by focusing on this particular metric?

Nick Gibb: My understanding is that we also have a measure for university entrance.

The Chair: Why are you picking out the Russell group?

Nick Gibb: There is a tariff in universities. We could have said high-tariff universities as well. “Russell group” is a widely known term in education worlds. We want to hold schools to account for the proportion of young people for whom they are securing an entry to high-tariff universities. We could have used the phrase “high tariff”.[2]

The Chair: If you wanted to focus on that, that would be a better way analytically of doing it. The Russell group, as you know, is 24 self-selecting organisations that are researchintensive and come together on a membership basis. There is no real coherence to that group, other than the fact that they are research-intensive, so I do not see why that is a relevant performance indicator for schools.

Nick Gibb: I understand that, but it was chosen because it is a term of art that is widely known in the system.

The Chair: Given that it is a prominent performance indicator, it is probably not the best measure that you could use in the system.

Q147       Lord Watson of Invergowrie: Minister, you mentioned the EBacc and said that it has been widely welcomed, but it has not. Surely, the take-up must have disappointed you, because it has rather flatlined since 2014 at around 40%. Even after the pandemic, the figure is pretty much the same. As a general question, are you looking to find some way to put rockets underneath it, or are you going to review it with a view to seeing whether it is suitable as it stands?

The second point is, to some extent, a development of what Baroness Blower said about the pillars. I have raised this question in Parliament before. Have you thought of introducing a sixth pillar, which could incorporate some of the arts and creative subjects?

I am particularly concerned about D&T. You mentioned that it is compulsory up to key stage 3, but the point is that GCSE take-up of design and technology is something like 13% of the total, which is a very low proportion. If young people do not pursue it beyond key stage 3, there is very little chance that they will take it up again after their GCSEs, so it will be lost. That could be damaging for the sorts of skills that the economy will need.

Nick Gibb: The danger of a sixth pillar is that the EBacc becomes very large and there is no scope beyond it. I was always conscious of that and resisted repeated attempts by numerous colleagues in both Houses to expand it. The danger is that you exclude any choice for students, so that is why I was always resistant to a sixth pillar in the EBacc. Design and technology was in decline before we introduced the EBacc. The numbers were also falling in Wales, which never introduced the EBacc.

Lord Watson of Invergowrie: That is only since it stopped being compulsory in something like 2004, after which it fell off a cliff. Maybe that was understandable.

Nick Gibb: What we were seeking to do with design and technology was to improve its content. Its reputation was not as strong as it should have been, so we worked with the James Dyson Foundation to improve the content of the design and technology qualification. My hope had been, and remains, that it will encourage more young people to take the subject.

Stuart Miller: We have talked about the 90% ambition for the EBacc. The ambition for 2022 was 75% uptake of the EBacc. Four of the five pillars met that ambition, and what was holding back achievement of the ambition overall was the modern foreign languages pillar. As the Minister has noted, that was made not compulsory from 2004. If you go back to 2002-03, pretty much the whole cohort was taking a modern foreign language. That was about half a million students, which dropped off to about 250,000 by 2011. It is now back up to something like 320,000, so you could argue that the EBacc is a driver of that recovery in language uptake. It is not yet back to where it was, but it is on an upward path.

There has been quite a lot of focus in the conversation so far on GCSE uptake. It is important also to consider vocational and technical qualification uptake at level 2 and to look at the two things in the round. Some points were made earlier about music. There has been a decline in music GCSE uptake, but if you look at the uptake of technical awards at level 2 in combination with GCSE you see a flat picture. It is about 8% year on year. There may be some shift between GCSE and vocational uptake but not necessarily a shift away from the subject.

Q148       Lord Aberdare: Picking up the point on music, arts and, indeed, design and technology, I very much welcome the fact that you talk about a broad and balanced curriculum and how everybody should have opportunities to engage in those things, but it just does not seem to me to be working, because the contrast with what private schools are doing is stark. Increasingly, our future talent in areas such as music is coming from private schools.

The broader question, as raised by Lord Johnson, is that the focus so far seems to be entirely on the 50% of young people who may have aspirations to go to university. What about the other 50% who may not have the right talents or aspirations to do that? There has been no mention of those. We have had endless input from witnesses and employers that they are not getting the young people with the right preparation for the opportunities that are available with them. We have not heard anything about what the system is doing for the young people who are at the lower end, the famous forgotten third who do not get their grade 4 English and maths GCSEs.

Nick Gibb: Let me go through those separately. On independent schools, I want us to have a very high-quality music curriculum in our schools, which is why we worked with Baroness Fleet, who chaired a panel for us with Julian Lloyd Webber and a wonderful teacher from West London Free School called Ed Watkins, to improve the music curriculum in schools.

After two years of work, they produced the 100-page, very high-quality model music curriculum, which makes sure that children have been introduced to musical notation and the western classical tradition, as well as some of the great music from around the world. It goes year by year and is a wonderful curriculum. My aspiration is that once that is embedded in our system and into our schools, more young people will feel equipped and ready to study the music GCSE. As Stuart said, there is a whole range of arts and music non-GCSEs, which are equivalents in the performance tables, that young people are taking.

Do not forget that independent schools are not studying music at the expense of the EBacc combination of GCSEs. They take those combinations for granted in the independent sector, and what I am trying to achieve for the state sector is that we can assume that everyone is studying those subjects too.

You talk about progression for young people who may not want to go on to university, but this is the best preparation for whatever you want to do after the age of 16. The whole essence of it is that it keeps those opportunities wide. The EBacc is two English, maths, double science, a humanity and a foreign language. These are not rarefied subjects. This is the entitlement of every young person and does equip people.

We can talk about skills. We have improved the quality of qualifications post 16 through the technical route, whether that is improving apprenticeships or the T-level qualification. We put significant funding into improving skills in this country, because we want to make sure that, whatever route you go through, the route that you should take is clear.

We also sought to address through our reforms the complexity of the non-academic route post 16. I do not know whether Juliet or Stuart want to come in on that.

Juliet Chua: Coming back to the point that Stuart made, over 50% of the cohort are taking at least one technical award alongside their broad and balanced GCSE curriculum, which means that they are in a position to supplement their GCSE options alongside that. We see the range of qualifications available in the technical awards, which range from IT through construction, creative arts and performing arts to business and administration. Those technical awards have been reformed. They are recognised in the performance tables.

In addition, the core emphasis on maths and English remains. One of the reasons why it is double weighted in Progress 8 is to make sure that young people have the English and maths that they need by 16 in order to be able to make the transition post 16 into an apprenticeship, a T-level or an A-level route. It is critical to make sure that people have the maths and the English they need to be able to make that transition.

Lord Aberdare: I am sure we will come back to many of these things. On the music issue, it is a brilliant curriculum and a brilliant national plan, but the last one was not delivered, and I have serious questions about whether the current one will be, because schools are under such pressure not to do music and not to have music teachers. A plan is only so good as its delivery.

Nick Gibb: Yes, but I make the point regularly that the schools that achieve the best academic results are those that have a broad and balanced curriculum. I could cite Northampton School for Boys, for example, which has very high EBacc entry and achievements at GCSE in those core academic subjects, but also has 20 choirs and ensembles, and the most amazing sport curriculum. Frankly, one goes with the other. You get those high academic subjects if you have a really good arts curriculum. I have never said, “Let’s just concentrate on English, maths and science at the expense of everything else”. I want everything for young people. I want the kind of education that you were hinting at earlier to be available to every young person in this country, regardless of their background.

On the forgotten third, which I had forgotten to address, it is possible for the whole cohort ultimately to achieve a strong pass in English and maths. Michaela, to take a particular school, is well known, although controversial in some ways, and the education that it is providing to a significant cohort of disadvantaged young people is phenomenal. Some 95% of young people at that school achieve at least a grade 5 in English and maths. It is possible in our system, with the national reference test, for the proportion of young people getting a grade 4 or higher to increase year on year as the quality of the teaching and of achievement increases throughout the system. That is what we hope to achieve.

Picking up Stuart’s point about the 75% target, something like 80% have now taken a humanity. The limiting factor for the EBacc is foreign languages, where we have reached about 45% in 2021-22. We are doing a lot of work to improve foreign language teaching in our school system.

We asked Sir Ian Bauckham several years ago to produce a report about how best to teach a foreign language. That review of the pedagogy of foreign language teaching is now firmly in the system. We have established foreign language hubs to try to spread best practice based on the Bauckham review of pedagogy. I am confident that, over time, as the teaching of foreign languages improves, we will see that 45% continue to rise, which is what we need for a great global, outward-facing nation. We need our young people to at least attempt to speak the languages of our suppliers and our customers.

Lord Watson of Invergowrie: They all have Duolingo on their phones these days as well, which helps.

Nick Gibb: It should help them to learn it. The fact that Google Translate is on their phone is no reason not to learn a foreign language and become fluent in speaking it, as I am sure a number of people in this committee are.

Q149       Lord Baker of Dorking: Before I ask my question, you should be aware that 95% of the evidence we have received in this committee, both written and oral, has come to the conclusion that Progress 8, EBacc and GCSE are not fit for purpose. This corresponds to the eight reports, all of which you rejected, in the last year.

The first one was from probably the best head in the country, Sarah Fletcher of HMC, who said that it was not fit for purpose. This was supported by the report of the House of Lords Youth Unemployment Committee, which made 100 recommendations, all of which you rejected, including one to reduce it from Progress 8 to 5. There was the Times Education Commission, which you totally rejected out of hand. There was the report of the Institute for Government, which said that exams are, in fact, destroying the social mobility of schools. You ignored that. There was also a report from the finance and social commission supporting this. There was also a report from the Tony Blair Institute that supported this.

There is a huge movement for reform in the education system. These bodies are not full of cranky lefties and righties. They are educationalists, teachers, students, parents and professors. It is a huge wave approaching you. Do you ever feel it lapping around your ankles?

Nick Gibb: If this is not your actual question, I am looking forward to the actual question. There is a debate, in this country and internationally, about the best approach to education. We were worried in opposition that we were declining in the international PISA league tables. We went from seventh in reading in the year 2000 down to 17th in 2006 and then down to 25th by 2009. Since then, we have been rising in international league tables, including PIRLS, where we are now fourth in the reading ability of our nine year-olds, out of 43 countries that tested children of the same age.[3]

People around the world are looking at the reforms that Michael Gove and I introduced in 2010, because they are achieving the goals that we set out to achieve. The OECD is promoting the kind of education that you are talking about. We had that sort of education in Britain, in England particularly, before 2010. We had the competence-based curriculum of 2007, which led to these declines in our international standing. It widened the gap between children from disadvantaged backgrounds and their more advantaged peers. The evidence is contrary to everything that you have described. You and I have debated these issues together over many years. There is a fundamental difference of opinion on these issues.

Lord Baker of Dorking: Yes, I know, but you are alone in defending it now.

Nick Gibb: I am not alone.

Lord Baker of Dorking: You are the only person who has defended it in this committee, so who do you listen to? You wrote a piece—I want to make sure that your words are correct—that said, “We must strongly resist the calls from those who talk about ripping up our curriculum to make it more ‘relevant’”. Those are your words, are they not?

Nick Gibb: I do not think I said “relevant”.

Lord Baker of Dorking: Those are your words, are they not?

Nick Gibb: I do not remember saying them, but I do not disagree with them.

Lord Baker of Dorking: They are in an article that you wrote last year. You mentioned Dyson earlier. What is the percentage drop in design and technology since you have been steward of the curriculum between 2010 and 2022?

Nick Gibb: We will get you the figure, but it was dropping before 2010.

Lord Baker of Dorking: Yes, you always say that, but how much has it dropped by under your stewardship?

Nick Gibb: It went from 116,000 taking it in 2018. It is 77,000 now.

Lord Baker of Dorking: The figure is 66.5%. You should appreciate that. You are responsible for that.

Nick Gibb: It dropped in Wales as well.

Lord Baker of Dorking: You mentioned James Dyson. Do you know what James Dyson called this drop? He called it an economic disaster.

Nick Gibb: It is based on work with the James Dyson Foundation.

Lord Baker of Dorking: But that is what he thinks. Do you ever listen to businesspeople? Do you pick up the phone and talk to James Dyson, or the chairman of Rolls-Royce, BAE, Cisco or Microsoft, or even a bank, about their employment needs?

Nick Gibb: The whole reform programme that we introduced to the GCSE was based on dissatisfaction from employers and from the higher and further education sector about the level of knowledge and skills that school leavers have.

Lord Baker of Dorking: Could I say to you now that they are saying that they are equally disaffected by it? Some 76 CEOs in this country have said that the biggest restriction on their profit and growth is that they could not appoint data analysts, digital experts or software engineers. You have not done anything to fill that gap.

Nick Gibb: We have.

Lord Baker of Dorking: With very great respect, you have not. The gap is over 100,000.

Nick Gibb: We have a very strong economy that demands very highly educated people. A-level maths, under the stewardship of this Government, has now become the single most popular A-level choice for sixth formers.

Lord Baker of Dorking: I am talking about digital skills.

Nick Gibb: We were one of the first countries in the G20 to introduce coding into the curriculum through the subject of computing.

Lord Baker of Dorking: But how many children take computer science? What is the percentage? Do not ask your civil servants. What is the answer? What is the number of students who take computer science GCSE each year?

Stuart Miller: It is 88,530.

Lord Baker of Dorking: What is the percentage of students? It is 13%, is it not?

Nick Gibb: It is going up year on year.

Lord Baker of Dorking: Let us just deal with figures for a change. Some 80% of students in our schools are not taught to the age of 16 in computing and digital skills. If you say that they are, could you tell me how many schools teach virtual reality, which is a computer skill? How many schools teach computer-assisted design? That is not even in the curriculum of computer science.

Nick Gibb: The purpose of the education system—

Lord Baker of Dorking: I am asking you about digital skills.

Nick Gibb: Let me talk about the computer science GCSE.

Lord Baker of Dorking: There is a huge demand, and it is not really in your Progress 8 or EBacc in any significant way.

Nick Gibb: The computer science GCSE is in the EBacc.

Lord Baker of Dorking: But 13% of them take it; 87% do not.

The Chair: Lord Baker, thank you. Let us have a quick answer and then we will move on.

Nick Gibb: When we introduced the computer science GCSE, which delivers the kind of curriculum that you are talking about, we were criticised for removing ICT, which was no longer fit for purpose. We were one of the first countries in the G20 to do this. When we first introduced it, people said that it was far too demanding. In 2013, just over 4,000 young people took it. By 2022, that had increased to nearly 78,500. We know from Ofqual that, by 2023, pupil entries had risen.

Lord Baker of Dorking: But—

Nick Gibb: Let me just finish the answer.

The Chair: Lord Baker, let us hear the answer.

Nick Gibb: They had risen by 12% in one year to over 88,000, so we are seeing a very significant increase in the number of young people taking computer science. It is not an easy subject to teach, so we are spending hundreds of millions of pounds—we can check that figure—on teaching teachers how to teach computer science. Most of our teachers were trained way before this technology came along, so we have introduced the National Centre for Computing Education.

We are spending £100 million. We have 30 computing teaching hubs around the country, which are training teachers how to teach computer science. It is all very well saying, “Let’s have virtual reality in the curriculum”, if we do not have people with the knowledge and skills to teach it. That is what we are developing.

Lord Baker of Dorking: With very great respect, it is not really integrated into Progress 8.

Nick Gibb: It is.

The Chair: Lord Baker, we will move on at this point to Baroness Evans, who has a question about Progress 8.

Q150       Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: You mentioned in your first answer the importance of Progress 8 in the accountability structure, so it would be very helpful if you could talk a bit more about why it was introduced, on what basis it was devised and, in particular, what impact it is having.

Nick Gibb: It was introduced by my successor, David Laws, who was Schools Minister at the time. It was the correct thing to do, because the previous accountability measure was five or more GCSEs, including English and maths. It was Lord Adonis who added the suffix of English and maths, and thank goodness he did. That created a threshold, so there was a lot of focus in schools on the C/D border and less concern about the D/E border and the A/B border, which we felt was unfair. Every ability level should be pushed, helped and supported to reach the best it can.

Progress 8 takes the progress that a young person makes from key stage 2 up to their GCSEs in the eight best subjects at GCSE that they choose. By the way, computer science is one of the eight that they could choose from to incorporate into Progress 8. We think that is a fairer system. It is fairer for schools as an accountability measure. If yours is a low-ability intake, you can get very high scores at Progress 8 if you teach those children well, given where they have started from. It is a very fair accountability system.

Juliet Chua: It is worth saying that the national average is zero, so you can see how a school is adding value. If the score is above zero, that school is achieving higher than equivalent schools in moving that pupil from their key stage 2 outcomes to where they are at 16. As the Minister has described, it moves away from the thresholds that particularly disadvantage those who are not at the threshold and might not have been attaining or are from more disadvantaged groups. It is a fairer system. Also, to re-emphasise the conversation, there are the five EBacc slots, but you can add a further three on top, so we can recognise technical qualifications within that.

Q151       Baroness Garden of Frognal: Nick, you talk a lot about academic attainment and Russell group. Jo has already picked up on that. There are a whole load of youngsters who are not academic and who will never pass GCSE maths, however many times they are forced to retake it. They could be brilliant at the sorts of skills that Lord Baker has been talking about.

You mentioned Alison Wolf. There was one thing in her report that we heard criticism about. I was working for City & Guilds when NVQs first came in. She was incredibly rude about NVQ at level 1. From what we could see, people who got NVQ at level 1 were often people who had never been given credit for anything before. You could watch them grow because they had been given a national certificate. Dismissing lowerlevel vocational qualifications is a huge mistake. I am still not quite convinced as to how you see your curriculum serving all the young people who have tremendous skills but not academic abilities.

Nick Gibb: That is not what I have been saying. I have been saying that, up to the age of 16, young people need to study English and maths. They need to get their reading and their English to as sophisticated a level as possible, so that at 16 they can choose the route that they go into, whether it is technical, vocational or academic. They need sophisticated maths. They need a really good ability to read. They also need some general knowledge and to understand science, whatever route you go in.

Post 16, we have improved those technical routes for young people. We have not removed lower-leveli.e. level 1qualifications. There are lots of level 1 qualifications of very high quality that we have retained. We have ensured that when a young person takes a technical or vocational subject before the age of 16, it will be of a high quality, whether it is level 1, 2 or 3. That is what we did following Alison Wolf’s review.

Baroness Garden of Frognal: Schools are still measured on GCSEs, Alevels and university entrance. We hear constantly from apprentices how their schools were incredibly rude to them when they said that they wanted to do an apprenticeship, because it did not meet the criteria for university entrance. You talk to so many young people and say, “Did you hear about apprenticeships at school?” “No, I didn’t, but my mate knew about them”.

When I was in Michael Gove’s team with you, I asked him at one point why he did not get schools to celebrate apprenticeship leavers with the same enthusiasm they celebrated university leavers with. “What a very good idea, Sue”, he said, and did absolutely nothing about it. You are not encouraging young people who have the skills that employers need, as Lord Baker has set out. They are not encouraged in school to do that, because the schools are pushing and pushing them to try to get them into universities.

Nick Gibb: We introduced the Baker clause, as it is called.

Lord Baker of Dorking: I introduced the Baker clause. You resisted it, for the record.

Nick Gibb: It requires schools to focus on making sure that the information about apprenticeships is made available to young people.

Baroness Garden of Frognal: They are still barely told about them. They are certainly not encouraged to take them.

Nick Gibb: The law says that they should be, and it gives further education colleges and UTCs access to come in and discuss the availability of those options for young people. We have a Skills Minister in Robert Halfon and a Secretary of State who are very committed to apprenticeships. We have improved the quality of apprenticeships. It is now a route that many young people take. It is regarded as a very high-quality route into high-level, high-paid employment. This is a Government who can be proud of restoring the reputation of apprenticeships, which has declined over many decades.

Q152       Lord Knight of Weymouth: It is good to see you, Nick. Before I move on to detailed questions on the curriculum, I want to touch on the creative end of the curriculum. I was struck by the announcement about Baroness Bull leading a review on cultural education. That was reconfirmed with an announcement last week to properly kick it off. Why did you feel that it was necessary to have that review, and why did it take so long to then kick it off?

Nick Gibb: We always review the curriculum. There will be a cultural education plan. In the music curriculum, there is the national plan for music education. We have just launched the activity action plan for sport, so we continually keep these things under review.

We wanted to make sure we had the right people on the panel. I have come into this late. I was appointed only in October and I had a huge number of issues to deal with. We then wanted to make sure we had the right panel and now it has launched. I am very excited about the work it will do.

Lord Knight of Weymouth: This is a supplementary question on that review. I do not know whether Lord Mair wants to come in on that particular issue. Have you allocated any resources so that they can make recommendations that have a resource implication? How will you judge the success of her review?

Nick Gibb: Resources are always an issue in every field, whether it is the EBacc, the arts or sport. There are terms of reference for her group.

Stuart Miller: No resources are identified now. We are waiting to see what the recommendations of the panel will be.

Lord Knight of Weymouth: It is open for it to recommend things that cost money, but you will make that judgment at the time.

Stuart Miller: Yes.

Lord Knight of Weymouth: How will you judge its success?

Nick Gibb: We want to make sure that young people have access to the world of culture that is available to the most advantaged young people in the country. That has always been my drive. We want young people to visit the theatre, go to the ballet, go to concerts and to understand the rich heritage of our nation. I am confident that this review will make suggestions that will help to make that possible for more young people. It is a joint initiative between DCMS and us. Our objectives are the same. That is the essence of everything I believe in in the EBacc. We need a knowledge-rich curriculum, and we want young people to be exposed and introduced to the great culture of this country and around the world. That is what I hope will come out of the cultural education plan.

Q153       Lord Knight of Weymouth: That is exactly what I want to come on to. Your department’s written evidence to the committee states that the national curriculum focuses on the key knowledge that should be taught. You have very much reiterated that sense of the knowledge-rich curriculum in the answers you have given. It allows maintained schools flexibility, but 80% of secondary schools are now academies and do not have to abide by the national curriculum. Is that something that you would like to revisit, or are you content that the accountability system forces everyone to deliver the national curriculum anyway?

Nick Gibb: The funding agreement for every academy requires it to teach a broad and balanced curriculum. Most academies use the national curriculum as the basis for that. My aspiration is that they will teach at least the national curriculum and move beyond that as well.

Lord Knight of Weymouth: Within the context of a knowledge-rich curriculum, is it right that Ministers are the people who decide what the right knowledge is to deliver cultural literacy to children in this country? Should that be something that professional experts agree on?

Nick Gibb: We use professional experts.

Lord Knight of Weymouth: They are ultimately recommending for you, as Ministers, to make the decision.

Nick Gibb: Yes, because we live in a parliamentary democracy. The alternative is that you hand it over to experts who are not accountable to the public in any way to make those decisions. We saw that with the QCDA in your time, when it made decisions that I did not feel even Ministers were on top of. It certainly was not accountable to this place. It was not accountable to committees such as this or the Education Committee in the Commons.

As I said, when we conducted the curriculum review we appointed Tim Oates, an assessment expert, to chair it. We took evidence and consulted. Even once we had produced drafts in all the curriculum areas, we consulted widely. The notion that it was Michael Gove and I who sat down one night with a glass of wine and a biro and wrote it is just nonsense. We took expert evidence, including from around the world.

Lord Knight of Weymouth: No one was suggesting that. When I talk to head teachers and teachers around the country, as I regularly do, so many of them think that this is an area that we should take away from politics and that we should have a longer-term plan for education and the curriculum that is free from the political turmoil of changes of government. You are probably the embodiment of the lie of that, in that you have been there for 13 years, with a couple of sabbaticals thrown in, but that is the thinking.

Specifically on maths, when I speak to the Royal Society, the Institute of Physics, the Gates foundation in the United States and other people about why we cannot retain maths teachers and why people are struggling to learn maths, the answer I consistently get back is that, once you get into the secondary phase, into key stage 3 and key stage 4, the content of the maths curriculum is now largely irrelevant. It is boring to teach and learn.

It is time that we reviewed it to make it much more relevant to a computational age. For example, learning how to calculate calculus is a highly advanced mathematical skill that you need to be quite old to do, but you can teach the concept, the big idea of calculus, to primary school children around understanding curves. You might, for example, need to understand calculus in order to design the curve of the back of a chair. Is there a case for reviewing some of the core elements of the knowledge-rich curriculum to make them more relevant to the real world and then inform the economic needs of the nation in skills and growth terms?

Nick Gibb: You need stability in the curriculum, and that is what we have achieved since the curriculum review in 2011 to about 2015 or 2016. It took several years to do that work. Ofqual was heavily involved with it. We took evidence from around the world. There is a whole report on the international evidence that was relied upon by the curriculum review, about what is happening in other countries.

We wanted our age-16 and age-18 qualifications to be on a par with the best high-performing jurisdictions in the world. That is what we achieved from that review. Ofqual will produce what it calls a washing line that shows how our qualifications compare internationally. They very much are on a par. We are rising in those international league tables. Do not forget that our young people will be competing for business and jobs with the young people leaving education around the world. We need our young people to be on a par with those young people.

Our maths curriculum came out of that process. If you look at the content of our maths GCSE and maths A-level, you will find that it is on a par with the best countries in the world. I remember going to Shanghai, sitting in maths lessons and seeing the very high standard of mathematics that they were being taught, about two years ahead of this country at the time. It is not different from the content that you would criticise. They are learning these very sophisticated concepts.

Q154       Lord Knight of Weymouth: I am reflecting the criticism from the Royal Society, the Institute of Physics and those who are really having to apply the knowledge that people are leaving school with in academic and professional settings. We have talked about a knowledge-rich curriculum in the national curriculum sense. We have heard evidence from Andy Burnham about the MBacc model. Andy Street in Birmingham also has talked about the potential for some localised, more relevant curriculums to meet the needs of regions and subregions. To what extent should a secondary school’s curriculum be tailored to its locality?

Nick Gibb: Up to the age of 16, regardless of where you live in this country, you need to have that core.

Lord Knight of Weymouth: Why is it 16, not 14?

Nick Gibb: You could make it 14. There is no appetite for 14.

Lord Knight of Weymouth: There is appetite from some, including Kenneth Baker and Estelle Morris.

Nick Gibb: You can specialise too early. We looked around the world and I do not see other countries specialising at the age of 14.

Lord Knight of Weymouth: If you go back to someone you admire, ED Hirsch, and the cultural literacy argument that he set out so clearly, there is an argument that you could give people that foundational knowledge through primary and key stage 3. I am interested in whether you approve of schools that have only a two-year key stage 3. You could set out that foundation up to 14 and then free up key stages 4 and 5 to have more flexibility and more choice for learners, particularly the 50% that Lord Aberdare talked about, so that they could have more options by taking different routes. Surely there is a case for you being an innovator and advocating to end the national curriculum at 14, delivering your Hirsch dream and then freeing people up in key stages 4 and 5.

Nick Gibb: We live in a very sophisticated world where the quantum of knowledge has never been higher. To navigate your way through the regulatory systems of the developed world is challenging for whatever form of work you want to be in. The idea that universal academic education should finish at 14 would be a mistake. It is not consistent with international practice.

Lord Baker of Dorking: With great respect, it is.

Nick Gibb: You could argue that you need to go beyond 16 and not cease at 16, but I think 16 is the right age to specialise. No previous Government suggested that science should no longer be compulsory at 16. Your Government did not suggest that English or mathematics should no longer be compulsory to 16.

Lord Knight of Weymouth: Alongside GCSEs, for example, you could have TCSEs that lead you into T-levels, that have more applied learning, that allow you to find relevance in the academic curriculum and are still academically rigorous, as the T-levels are, but that are more applied in their field than the purely academic GCSEs.

Nick Gibb: It is a matter of how you teach it. These abstract concepts in mathematics do not change according to application in the real world. Young people still need to understand those concepts in the abstract, however you teach it and whether or not you want to use real-life examples.

Lord Knight of Weymouth: When did you last do a quadratic equation?

Nick Gibb: These are important concepts for young people to know.

Q155       Lord Baker of Dorking: Can I ask a supplementary to Lord Knight talking about 14? Are you aware that most of Europe is moving to transfers at 13 and 14, and that all countries in Europe teach some vocational subjects below 16? We had a professor from the Institute of Education. Are you listening?

Nick Gibb: I am listening and trying to answer your previous question.

Lord Baker of Dorking: He said very clearly that our education system, which you have been defending, is an outlier in Europe on content and exams. Europe is moving to 13 and 14. Germany and Austria stop the national curriculum at 14 and have the lowest level of NEETs. What is the level of unemployment today of young people aged 16 to 19 in the UK?

Nick Gibb: I do not have that. We will get that figure for you in two minutes.

Lord Baker of Dorking: You should know, as the Minister. Shall I tell you what it is? It is 10.9%. That is issued by your department. It is the figure announced about two weeks ago for 16 to 19.

Juliet Chua: For 16 to 17 year-olds, NEET rates have come down significantly. Some 6.6%—that is 84,000—of young people between the ages of 16 and 17 are NEETs. It is 4.5% at the end of 2022.

Lord Baker of Dorking: You announced just a fortnight ago that the NEETs were 10.9%. That is double the level of unemployment in Germany. You say that 14 is an outlier; it is not. Your system is an outlier and that is what the professor told us. You talked about disadvantaged children. How many disadvantaged children were there when you took over in 2010? The answer is about 300,000. I am sure that your civil servants will support that. The number of disadvantaged students today is about 300,000, so the same. Your whole theory of your type of education, and of Mr Hirsch in America, was that if you did this you would help disadvantaged children more, just as Baroness Garden was saying. You have not.

Nick Gibb: We have the highest proportion in history of disadvantaged young people going to university. If you look at state schools, the proportion of young people becoming NEET at the end of key stage 5 is 4.8%. We want that figure to be lower still, but we have some of the lowest levels of unemployment, including youth unemployment, and the highest level of employment in our country’s history.

Juliet Chua: We have seen a significant fall in the NEET rate for 16 to 17 year-olds. We have seen significant shifts in participation rates post 16. The Minister has described the post-16 investment in clear routes for T-levels and apprenticeships. We have seen that reduction in NEETs.

Lord Baker of Dorking: I understand that, but there are about 650,000 students 16 to 19 now regarded as unemployable.

Q156       Lord Storey: I want to ask you a question about teachers, but first I want to understand more about the creative subjects. Let me preface my question by reminding us that the creative industries have outperformed in terms of the British economy. There are true success stories. The creative industries presumably need to be fed by creative people.

We have heard from a whole host of witnesses who have bemoaned the decline in creative subjects in our secondary schools. I was pleased to hear you talk about the importance of music. A lot of them have pointed to the EBacc as being responsible for the decline in teachers in creative subjects, on this basis: if you are a head struggling with your budgets, which are the subjects you might let go of? “We don’t need three creative subjects. Well just have one”. I wonder, Minister, what you would point at as the reason why creative subjects have declined in our schools.

Nick Gibb: I do not accept the premise of the argument. If you look at GCSEs, the proportion of key stage 4 pupils in state-funded schools taking at least one arts GCSE between 2018 and 2021 has gone from 44.5% to 42%, so there is a small drop. Over that same period, the percentage taking at least one arts qualification, a GCSE or a technical award, has gone from 52.3% to 52.4%, with over 54% in the middle two years between those two dates of 2018 and 2021. Young people are taking those subjects.

I actually want more young people taking music GCSE. That is why I said earlier that we introduced the model music curriculum. It was the first example of the concept of a model curriculum. It is not compulsory; it is just an assembly of best practice from around the education system and from music education experts about what a really good music curriculum would look like in key stages 1, 2 and 3. If we had that implemented universally, I think we would find more young people wanting to take GCSE music.

Lord Storey: Does the same go for drama, art and dance?

Nick Gibb: Yes, we want to do the same for all those things. We need them to be high quality. The EBacc has not been the driver out of those subjects. As I said, there is nothing unusual about the EBacc. Most of the subjects are compulsory anyway to 16 and have been for decades. Maths, English and science are all compulsory to 16. Languages were compulsory to 16 until 2004.

The only issue of discussion is whether young people should be taking history or geography for two years in years 10 and 11. It is important that young people understand the rich history of this country and the world. If you want to be creativeand, indeed, if you want to understand the problems of the worldyou need to have a really good understanding of history and geography.

The other reason why we were worried about history and geography before the EBacc was because if young people knew that they would probably drop it at the end of key stage 3, they would not take it as seriously at key stage 3 either. I did not answer Lord Knight’s question about the three-year or two-year key stage 3. If you have a two-year key stage 3 and you drop history or geography at the end of key stage 3, you will have just two years of secondary history or geography. If it is not taught well at primary, you could go through the education system being taught very little history. That is not what an education system should be delivering.

In direct answer to your question, Lord Knight, it is wrong to reduce key stage 3 to two years. Young people need that broad array of subjects for those full three years. The GCSEs were designed to be taught in two years and it is not fair to young people to extend those GCSE courses, with the same content, over three years.

Q157       Lord Storey: We are talking about the 1116 curriculum, but to have a rich curriculum we need highly qualified teachers. This was the reason for me being late—my apologies—because we had a question on teacher retention in the Chamber. Some 40,000 teachers left the teaching profession in 2022, the highest number since records have been kept. We see 2,300 empty teaching posts and 3,300 teaching jobs filled by supply teachers. We have already heard that there is a 23% shortage of specialist teachers in maths and a 42% shortage of specialist teachers in physics. All our workand your work, Ministerif we do not have the teachers and the quality of teachers, is perhaps to naught.

Nick Gibb: We have 468,000 teachers today, 27,000 more than in 2010. If you look at the figures going back 13 years, you can see that the number of leavers and new entrants to teaching does not vary that much from year to year. If you go back to 2011-12, new entrants to teaching were 43,000 and the people who left teaching were 42,000. Today, 2022-23, it is 47,000 coming in and 43,000 leaving.

Lord Watson of Invergowrie: What about in the key subjects that Lord Storey mentioned?

Nick Gibb: We will come to that in a second. There have been some really good years, such as 2015, when 51,000 came in. Broadly speaking, it is in the mid to late 40,000s coming in and the mid-40,000s leaving. The challenge we have had is that, over those 13 years, we have created a million school places and those million school places need teachers. We also have a strong economy that is competing for the best graduates, who we want in our school system.

Let us take mathematicsto answer your question, Lord Watson. People say to me that 13% of maths teachers do not have a postAlevel qualification in mathematics. That is right. That is the figure today: 87% of maths teachers have a post-A-level qualification in maths or something related. If you go back to 2010, 74% of maths teachers had a post-A-level or equivalent qualification. I have to say this: because the methodology of producing these figures changed in 2012 and 2014, you cannot directly compare those two figures methodologically. From the figures that I have, it says 74% in 2010-11, albeit with a different methodology, and today that is 87%.

The Chair: There is a Commons inquiry into teacher recruitment, which we will defer to in its depth.

Q158       Lord Lexden: On qualifications and assessment, the committee has heard from many people that lots of GCSE subjects are overloaded with content that undermines the teaching of key concepts and has resulted in a large volume of exams to assess the content adequately. Could we have your comments on the concerns, how you react to them, and action that you may be thinking about or taking in response to them?

Nick Gibb: As I said, we had a very thorough curriculum review that went on for several years from 2011 really to 2015-16. Those GCSE reforms have been through experts deciding the content. Then we had Ofqual overseeing the assessment process. We took evidence and consulted widely. I am reassured and confident that the specification of the exam boards is of a quantum that is on par with highperforming jurisdictions around the world.

We keep these things under review. I was worried about the challenge of some of the foreign language GCSEs, for example. We did a review, in which we looked at the vocabulary that young people were expected to have. We have now specified the words that young people should know if they are taking French, German or Spanish GCSEs. We are not averse to tweaking the subject content of GCSEs where there is evidence that it is not right.

I am a little worried about the lower-tier maths GCSE. The way some of the questions are drafted does not necessarily allow young people to demonstrate their mathematical ability at the lower end of the ability range. There are all kinds of issues that I look at and think about. We will take action when we need to.

Q159       Baroness Blower: When the Institute of Physics gave evidence to us, the representative said that, in his view and the view of the institute, the way to teach physics was to present students with big questions rather than an incredible plethora of individual items of knowledge. We are not suggesting that no knowledge is to be taught in the curriculum, but the shape of teaching physics should be much more exploratory. We will disagree about this, so I do not necessarily want you to give me a long answer, but I would like you to think about it. Experts in physics are saying that this is a thing that would be helpful in the classroom.

The Chair: Maybe you could write to us if you want to come back to us on that point.

Nick Gibb: I will, but I will just give a two-line answer. Being knowledgerich is important, and you gain the skill of working scientifically from the knowledge. It goes back to what I said earlier. If you want to teach a novice the skills of an expert, what an expert has that a novice does not have is 10 or 20 years of accumulating knowledge. If you want those skills—how to work scientifically, how to behave like a historian—you need sophisticated knowledge.

This answer is not as short as I was anticipating. The problem with the 2007 competence-based curriculum was that it overemphasised those kinds of skills. As a consequence, young people were not being taught the sophistication of the history, the debates between the Executive and Parliament, or the ideas about religion. Those issues were lost at the expense of understanding evidence and sources. If you want a well-educated society, it has to understand the complexities of history, the sophistication of mathematics, and all the detailed knowledge of science, physics, chemistry and biology.

Q160       Lord Aberdare: I would like to ask about non-exam assessment. I benefited from a very highly knowledge-rich education, but I felt then, and I feel even more now, that the balance was skewed. I had very little teaching about key skills such as communication, creativity and collaboration. There was no team working. There was no project-based assessment. Those are things that I think I would have benefited from, even if it meant at the expense of some of the immense quantities of knowledge that was pumped into me.

What are your views on the role of non-exam assessment? I get a sense that exams are easy to measure and give good comparability. Maybe that is why there is a hesitancy about non-exam assessments, which admittedly are much more difficult to assess. That does not mean that they should not be assessed.

Nick Gibb: There are some subjects where non-examined assessment is used, such as art or drama, where you have to put on a performance or do some artwork that forms a portfolio, which is then assessed for your GCSE or A-level results. Where it is appropriate, non-examined assessment is used.

The problem we had prior to 2010 with controlled assessment was that it was absorbing hundreds of hours of young people’s time. They were being assessed, not taught. Jo Saxton, I think, told the committee that, prior to our reforms, some students could do up to 100 hours of non-examined assessment. Also, Ofqual was worried about the reliability of that non-examined assessment. The array of gradings for the non-examined assessment was very different from that for the examined assessment, so it did not feel reliable. That is why we changed the approach in our reforms to GCSE after 2011.

Lord Aberdare: That is exactly my point. The fact that it is difficult to do and perhaps takes a lot of resources does not mean that it should not be done and that schools should not be measured on what they are achieving in both the knowledge output and the skills and abilities.

Nick Gibb: It was taking up vast amounts of teaching time. They were not learning anything during those processes; they were just being assessed. You have to keep assessment under control so that it does not take up too much of young people’s time when they could be in a classroom being taught by their teacher, studying or reading. That was the problem with it. It was detracting from the education of young people.

A lot of the other skills that you talked about come from the knowledge, as I said earlier, and from other aspects of the school life and the school day. Tim Oates talked about the difference between the national curriculum and the school curriculum, and how you should not conflate the two. Extracurricular activities, extracurricular sport, the responsibilities you give young people or the clubs and societies that schools run are all part of the school curriculum, from which develop those other important skills of collaboration, teamwork and so on. You do not necessarily have to teach teamwork when you are learning maths.

Lord Knight of Weymouth: Do you think that Ofsted conflates the two? Given that 50% of the inspection judgment is the curriculum, does that account for the definition of curriculum that you have just given?

Nick Gibb: Under the new inspection framework, Amanda Spielman has put greater emphasis on the curriculum.

Lord Knight of Weymouth: Is it the national curriculum or the great definition you have just given of the wider curriculum of the school day?

Nick Gibb: It is probably both, but I suspect that in Amanda’s mind—I cannot speak for her—she is thinking about the academic curriculum: “What is the purpose of this lesson? What is the purpose of your curriculum?” Ofsted does inspect beyond the curriculum. It inspects the whole school, the behaviour, the safety of the school, and the cultural and spiritual development of young people.

The Chair: Lord Watson, we had a partial answer to what I think you were going to ask about: the grade 9 to 1 and whether a third had to be failing. Do you feel that we need further from the Minister on that?

Q161       Lord Watson of Invergowrie: No, not specifically on that point, but I had a spin-off from that on the question of grading. I have raised with several of our witnesses the question of grade reliability. Dame Glenys Stacey probably has nightmares still about the comments she made in 2020 about GCSE passes being reliable one grade either way. On the face of it, that does not sound too concerning, but the more you look at it, the more concerning it becomes.

When we asked Jo Saxton of Ofqual, when she was here a couple of weeks ago, she more or less said, “Nothing’s perfect in the world and we do the best we can”. I am being unkind to her; that is paraphrasing. But she did not see it as a problem. I think that a lot of teachers do see it as a problem. It may not matter when you are a 7 or an 8 pass if you go the other way. If you are around the 3, 4 or 5 mark, it can have a great deal of effect, particularly on the fact that grade 4 is a pass.

It also affects schools. One of the six performance indicators of schools is the number of their pupils getting a grade 5 or above. With that sort of issue, it is important to be confident in the system. When I asked Jo Saxton whether she was confident that grades would be reliable to better than one grade either way this year in August, when they come out, she did not feel able to say absolutely that she was. I wonder what you feel about the question of grade reliability. Do you, or either of your colleagues, have a feeling that the reliability could be improved?

Stuart Miller: Ofqual’s role, clearly, is about maintaining standards and confidence in qualifications. I watched the session with Dr Saxton and I think she demurred from commenting on the previous chief regulator’s comment.

The Chair: We have been interrupted by a Division Bell. I suggest that, if the Minister would be kind enough to write to us with replies to the outstanding questions, which we will provide, we can adjourn the session now. It has been a fascinating session, a bit stormy at times, but thank you very much for coming.

[1] Note by the witness: RE is compulsory for all pupils in each key stage in state-funded schools, up to the age of 18, unless withdrawn.

[2] Note by the witness: The Department for Education also includes as a performance measure the proportion of students progressing to universities that are in the top third based on UCAS tariff, as well as the proportion progressing to Russell group universities.

[3] Note by the witness: The witness would like to clarify that England’s 2000 and 2003 PISA results have been found to be statistically unreliable because of low school and pupil response rates and can therefore not be compared to subsequent studies; and that the PIRLS test of reading is separate from PISA and covers year 5 students, who are nine or 10 years old.