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100 pages of the bleedin'obvious

"To read or not to read...", one irritated headteacher said to me last week, tossing me a recent booklet. This heavyweight publication was from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, itemising arrangements for the administration of the 2003 key stage 2 tests.

It turned out to be a revelatory example of hyper-bureaucracy: a hundred pages of utterly pedantic instructions.

We now know, for instance, that when a child is booked to go on holiday on a test day they are not allowed to take the test evening before. If a general election is unexpectedly announced permission in writing should be sought to vary the timetable.

An entire page of instructions is devoted to unwrapping the tests. We learn that spellcheckers may be used in any test except the spelling test and discover, astonishingly, that when children use similar words or phrases it can result in work being reviewed for possible malpractice. In English, in case we didn't know, tests are designed to assess children's ability to read and write in English.

Second-language translations for mental maths must not be made by the child's family members, and special consideration should be given in the event of the death of a child's close family member. Naturally only one braille copy may be ordered for each blind pupil.

This Byzantine document - which adds to the mountain that clutters up every headteacher's office - is a classic case of what Onora O'Neil in her recent Reith lectures described as a chronic lack of trust of professionals today. It represents the audit society gone mad, with assessment mushrooming to preposterous levels.

Is the allocation of a handful of levels to 11-year-olds really of such life-and-death importance? Or anything like an exact science? And just think how much this document cost to produce and how many hours heads have wasting reading it.

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