Monday 12th October 2020

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. The hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi), who opened the debate, talked about those who had had a private school education. As someone who had that, I am certainly not going to apologise for going to a school that my parents thought was best for me to attend at the time, when the two state schools nearby were both failing, and one was on the verge of closure. Before other Members chastise me as a Tory toff, they might be interested to note my backstory before they assign that tag to me and make a lazy assumption—

Stephanie Peacock Portrait Stephanie Peacock (Barnsley East) (Lab)
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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis
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I will not. Ofqual’s reaction was quite simple. It saw what was coming down the road. How do I know that? Because I am a member of the Select Committee on Education. After taking evidence, we made very clear in our report, published on 11 July, what the situation was: where we had large cohorts, kids would be disadvantaged; where we had disadvantaged children within those large cohorts, who were high achievers but were in low-achieving schools, they would see their grades brought down; and schools for children with special educational needs and disabilities, with small cohorts and variable results year on year, would also see an impact, so Ofqual had notice of what we thought would go wrong. Sadly, it appears that Ofqual chose to not heed the advice of the Education Committee.

What annoyed me even further was that when the chair of Ofqual appeared before the Committee after the A-level and GCSE results fiasco, I asked him whether he had run a dataset after what happened in Scotland on 4 August to see how results would be impacted in this country, and I got dodging and skirting from him. There was no answer to the fact that Ofqual chose at no stage to look at its data analytically enough to determine whether it would see a good outcome. I am led to believe that the algorithm itself was not shown to Ministers for an awfully long time. It certainly was not shared with the Education Committee and was not published, despite numerous people wishing to take part. In fact, an outside agency, the Royal Statistical Society, offered its services to engage with Ofqual and look at the algorithm, but that offer was turned down. Two fellows were blocked from joining the Ofqual technical advisory group of independent experts, even though they wished to advise. Again, Ofqual has answers that it needs to give.

In Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, which I am proud to represent, I had emails from young people who had worked tremendously hard and were unable to leave school in the traditional way. When they were unable to have a leavers assembly and to get the recognition that they deserve, I was deeply disappointed.

Stephanie Peacock Portrait Stephanie Peacock
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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

--- Later in debate ---
Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis
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I will not, unfortunately. To return to Ofqual, Tim Oates, the director of assessment research and development at Cambridge Assessment, raised issues with the Secretary of State and the Minister, whom, he said, were eager to hear about the problems the organisation uncovered regarding the algorithm. Sadly, when that was raised with Ofqual, it shrugged it off, as if to say, “We’re not interested in hearing from anyone outside.” Ofqual, therefore, has lost the confidence of the education sector.

As a former secondary school teacher in state schools for eight years, across London and in Birmingham, I can only imagine the pain teachers felt when they saw that their hard work ranking students—my partner, who is a head of religious education, worked for eight and a half hours ranking students—was simply ignored because of the size of the cohort. I do not think that is good enough. The lessons must be learned from Germany, where students sat exams and results fell in line with previous years or slightly exceeded them. Exams are an absolute must.

Before I finish, I must say that two young ladies in my constituency would like to know what is expected of them in terms of the curriculum and the exam content they will face, because they feel that while those three weeks are very welcome, six months of face-to-face contact was lost, which was awfully damaging to them. I beg the Minister to ensure that Ofqual does not move to an online model, as it mentioned in the Select Committee, because I believe that will only end in disaster yet again.