JOHN HUMPHRYS: The government has got itself
into the most almighty mess over 'A' Levels. Not that it's really anyone's
fault, or so they're saying, even though the man who chaired the Qualification
and Curriculum Authority has been sacked. But because of the shambles over
downgrading some exam results, tens of thousands of papers will have to
be re-graded and the government will have to take another hard look at
the whole system. The Conservative Party had called for the Education Secretary,
Estelle Morris, to resign. What are they saying now? The Shadow Secretary
is Damian Green.
Mr Green, the government
has had an independent inquiry as you wanted, concluded that really no
one was to blame although Sir William Stubbs has been fired, so you're
satisfied now are you.
DAMIAN GREEN: No, because what Mike Tomlinson's
inquiry said was that he, he acquitted the Secretary of State Estelle Morris
of malice, she hadn't directly interfered, but he convicted her of incompetence.
He said that the problem lie in decisions taken by the Department for Education
and the QCA, the exam watchdog. Now the head of the QCA has gone, the head
of the Department for Education is staying. And what we've learnt since
that report came out on Friday is that Sir William Stubbs said he explicitly
warned ministers that this was a disaster that was going to happen, indeed,
Mike Tomlinson's own words, this was an accident waiting to happen. So
what we have now is a minister who was warned by her own senior official
that if she carried on with the policy she wanted this would result in
damage, potential damage to thousands of young people. That's precisely
what has happened and I really do think she still should be considering
HUMPHRYS: Even though there was
no political interference? So you're saying she should go because she's
incompetent instead of politically interfering.
GREEN: That's right. I mean I think
it's the way she's run the department and the effects of that, that she
was warned that this was going to happen and yet here we are sitting this
week-end with tens of thousands of young people at the end of September
not knowing whether they've got a fair 'A' Level grade or not, therefore
affecting their entry into university, some of them will have already have
gone off to university, they don't know if they're going to be re-graded
and maybe they should then accept another university place next year, these
are decisions that will affect these young people for the rest of their
lives. The system has been messed up by the government and the Secretary
of State was warned explicitly that this might happen.
HUMPHRYS: So given that that warning
was issued by Sir William Stubbs, or we believe that warning was issued
by Sir William Stubbs, are you saying that he ought to be re-instated.
GREEN: No I think clearly relations
between him and the Secretary of State and the department have broken down
irretrievably, that in itself I think is something that we should consider
when we ask if the ministers involved are fit to do their jobs. But what
the most important thing now is to do is to clear this up, try and treat
as fairly as possible the young people who have been affected by this,
and restore some confidence in the exam system, because if you step back
a bit, 'A' Levels have served us well for about fifty years and by reforming
them, to use new Labour's own words, which we've been hearing a lot during
the course of this programme, the government has completely destroyed credibility
in them. We now have, I mean it's interesting, you were talking about tens
of thousands of young people, the Department for Education is still putting
out figures of about five-thousand people who've been unfairly marked.
So we don't even appear to know the scale of the problem yet, let alone
how we're going to deal with it, and that seems to me to be the urgent
thing that needs to happen over the next few days.
HUMPHRYS: But given that there
are those structural problems, does that mean that you would get rid, structural
problems with the AS Levels in particular which have the knock-on effect
that we've seen over the last few months, would you, would the Conservative
Party get rid of AS Levels?
GREEN: Yes, we said that some time
ago, even before all this scandal broke. I said that AS Levels were doing
more harm than good because they were putting young people on an exam treadmill
after sixteen. I think we do too much examination in this country, I think
particularly post sixteen where we're driving people away from other things
like sport and drama and music that they should be doing and enjoy doing,
and that education has become too focussed just on passing exams, so that's
one thing, so I would get rid of them, but clearly long-term, the whole
A Level system needs to be reformed. The other immediate reform I think
would help would be to give the QCA, the exam watchdog, the same sort of
independence that the government gave the Bank of England. I'm taking one
of the government's own ideas. I think at the root of a lot of this is
the fact that ministers and officials at the Department for Education interfere
in grade setting and in exams because ministers feel their political lives
are on the line if exam results don't get better and better year by year.
That's a nonsensical state of affairs to be in and the way to avoid that
is to have a genuinely independent exam watchdog, and that I think should
be a matter of urgency.
HUMPHRYS: Damian Green, Shadow
Education Secretary, many thanks.