Discount Codes – our open government

Well, here it is – the answer to my freedom of information request. I will now be appealing….

Dear xxx xxxxxxxx,

Thank you for your request for information which was received on 1 March 2013.
Your request was as follows:
I would like to formally request the following information under the Freedom of Information Act, so that we are able to pursue this with our local MP and the Department of Education:
• Please can you identify by name the subject experts you refer to who were consulted in relation to the application of discount codes to all subjects
• Please can you provide the written recommendations from all the subject experts regarding all the new discount codes
• Please can you provide the minutes of meetings where the decisions were made regarding the application of new discount codes and the final decisions in relation to the different recommendations from these subject experts
This will allow me to be able to pursue with those responsible further explanation, such as, for example, why two different Performing Arts disciplines are being treated as if they are the same, but two Design Technology subjects, which share the same specification heading, as is the case with “Design Technology: Food” and “Design Technology: Product Design”, are treated as separate.
I have dealt with your request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (“the Act”)
The Department is withholding names of subject experts who were consulted for advice about new discount codes under section 40(2) of the Act, on the grounds that release of the information would breach one of more of the principles of the Data Protection Act 1998. This exemption is ‘absolute’ in these circumstances, which means that it is not necessary for the Department to run a test to balance the public interest in release against that in withholding the information.
Furthermore, while the Department holds the information you requested in your second question, it is being withheld under section 35(1)(a) of the Act on the grounds that it relates to the development of government policy. Section 35 is a qualified exemption so the Department has applied the public interest test to your request, and has concluded that the balance of public interest falls in favour of the exemption in relation to the information you have asked for.

Considerations in favour of a decision to disclose are a greater transparency, making government more accountable to the public, the public interest in being able to assess the quality of advice being given and subsequent decision making. Considerations against a decision to disclose information are that there may be a deterrent effect on external experts who might be reluctant to provide advice if it might be disclosed, narrowing the advice available, and the impartiality of the civil service might be undermined if early policy advice was routinely made public leading to poorer decision-making.
The Department does not hold the information you requested in your third question.
As already outlined to you, the learning objectives and assessment requirements are generally adaptations of one another, designed to recognise the variations and options within the wider field of the performing arts but in most cases the knowledge base and the cognitive demands are very similar. Even where the skills focus is clearly different the specifications still explore similar learning processes and often highly interchangeable knowledge and skills. In comparison although all GCSEs in Design and Technology cover skills in research, design, development, planning and creating a product and testing and evaluation, the skills and knowledge required for eg Food technology and Resistant materials are very different with no overlap in knowledge and skills.

Following the current consultation on 16-19 vocational reform a list of high-value 16-19 vocational qualifications that will be included in the 2016 KS5 performance tables will be published and we will follow a similar process to update the discount codes used for the KS5 performance tables from 2016 as we did for the 2014 KS4 performance tables. We will continue with the existing discounting process in use in the KS5 performance tables until 2016.

Your correspondence has been allocated reference number 2013/0014523. If you need to respond to us, please visit http://www.education.gov.uk/contactus, and quote your reference number.
Yours sincerely,

Data and Statistics Division
http://www.education.gov.uk

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Discount Codes – the saga continues

For those of you who have read my previous post on the new discount codes, I have now had a response to my query from a statistician in the Department for Education. I will continue to pursue this until I have a response from an educationalist.

Their response to my concern and my response are below:

 

From: Attainment.STATISTICS@education.gsi.gov.uk [mailto:Attainment.STATISTICS@education.gsi.gov.uk]
Sent: 01 March 2013 08:50
To: (Me)
Cc: Attainment.STATISTICS@education.gsi.gov.uk
Subject: Discount Codes 2014

Dear (Me),

RE: Discount Codes 2014

Thank you for your email received on 22nd February regarding discount codes.

Historically, discounting has only been applied in the performance tables within qualification types or “families”.  For example, GCSEs and other qualification types have traditionally not discounted each other.  This is because in the past there has been little overlap in the subject content of qualifications from different families.  But over time discount families have become increasingly less meaningful as differences between the subject content of some GCSEs and other qualifications have diminished.  With the changes to the performance tables from 2014, the restricted number of qualifications that will count in the tables and each qualification only counting as “one”’, the Department has reviewed the discounting arrangements from 2014.

We have always made clear in any written information about discounting that discount codes may be updated at any time during the year without prior notice to improve the quality of discounting by ensuring that we continue to discount qualifications that cover the same material so that we aren’t crediting the same achievements more than once in the performance tables.  We do try not to change discount codes regularly once they are set.  The reason for changes at the moment is specifically to adjust to the changes to the Performance Tables from 2014.  This work is on-going.

A qualification is assigned a discount code on the basis of the subject area it covers.  The purpose of a discount code is to gather qualifications with similar content together and compare them to other qualifications with that code to ensure that where pupils take more than one qualification in the same subject area, the performance tables only give credit once for teaching a single course of study.  Some qualifications particularly in art and design and performing arts have until now had discount codes at the syllabus level (but only where AOs have provided syllabus information and results are provided at the syllabus level). 

With the help of subject experts, we have compared specifications of qualifications in the same or similar subject areas both across and within the old discounting families.  The advice we received was that these qualifications should discount one another due to the degree of shared and equivalent content and the similarity in the qualification objectives and assessment requirements.  The areas they explore are effectively permutations or varied interpretations of the same subject disciplines and vocational areas.  The current system allows a form of double counting which provides an incentive to pursue two similar qualifications in an inappropriately narrow field for educational development at this level.  The learning objectives and assessment requirements are generally adaptations of one another, designed to recognise the variations and options within the wider field of the performing arts but in most cases the knowledge base and the cognitive demands are very similar.  Even where the skills focus is clearly different the specifications still explore similar learning processes and often highly interchangeable knowledge and skills.   So new discount codes have been allocated at the qualification level which means that from 2014 only one GCSE (or GCE AS level) from one performing arts syllabus will count in the performance tables.

I hope that this provides the information that you require. If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Kind Regards,

xxxxxx xxxxxxxxxx

 

 

Dear (xxxxx xxxxxxxxx),

Thank you for your response. I appreciate your lengthy response, but unfortunately most of it is explaining what discount codes are. I already know what discount codes are. My specific concern was that decisions were being made which I believe are based upon inaccurate and ill-researched opinions.

The section of your response which seems to begin to deal with this is as below:

With the help of subject experts, we have compared specifications of qualifications in the same or similar subject areas both across and within the old discounting families.  The advice we received was that these qualifications should discount one another due to the degree of shared and equivalent content and the similarity in the qualification objectives and assessment requirements.  The areas they explore are effectively permutations or varied interpretations of the same subject disciplines and vocational areas.  The current system allows a form of double counting which provides an incentive to pursue two similar qualifications in an inappropriately narrow field for educational development at this level.  The learning objectives and assessment requirements are generally adaptations of one another, designed to recognise the variations and options within the wider field of the performing arts but in most cases the knowledge base and the cognitive demands are very similar.  Even where the skills focus is clearly different the specifications still explore similar learning processes and often highly interchangeable knowledge and skills. 

This section begins to address my concern, but I am very surprised at your reference to “subject experts” without going into further detail. It is clear that somewhere, the decision has been made that the performing arts “are effectively permutations or varied interpretations of the same subject disciplines”, but Biology and Human Biology are not. As a result, I would like to formally request the following information under the Freedom of Information Act, so that we are able to pursue this with our local MP and the Department of Education:

  • Please can you identify by name the subject experts you refer to who were consulted in relation to the application of discount codes to all subjects
  • Please can you provide the written recommendations from all the subject experts regarding all the new discount codes
  • Please can you provide the minutes of meetings where the decisions were made regarding the application of new discount codes and the final decisions in relation to the different recommendations from these subject experts

This will allow me to be able to pursue with those responsible further explanation, such as, for example, why two different Performing Arts disciplines are being treated as if they are the same, but two Design Technology subjects, which share the same specification heading, as is the case with “Design Technology: Food” and “Design Technology: Product Design”, are treated as separate.

Please would you acknowledge receipt of this request.

 

Yours,

Me