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Fuss over exam fuzz

It would be grossly unfair to liken a school inspection team to the zombies in Shaun of the Dead. We could pun away about "Ofdead" inspectors and their lust for "outstanding lesions" but we know such a crude depiction is unworthy of us. It's not how we envisage Sir Michael Wilshaw and his team today, who in most cases appear to be decent, intelligent people without an appetite for human flesh.

However, there are unmistakable and eerie parallels between another of Simon Pegg's films, Hot Fuzz, and the equally dark comedy that is "Exam Board Fuzz". Both stories concern protective, closed communities in kneejerk denial about anything ever going seriously wrong. Various outrages are conveniently overlooked or explained away, supposedly "for the greater good". Any teacher currently suffering the seasonal frustration of examination re-marks will surely recognise that village.

But the similarities don't end there. Exasperated teachers may also sympathise with Pegg's character, PC Nicholas Angel, who moves into the village and tries to uncover the truth.

The new policeman's colleagues prefer to overlook a series of violent deaths in the village, just as exam boards seem resolute in denying any occasional midsummer altercations over marking or, for that matter, grading indiscretions.

Each gruesome fatality is dismissed as just another "terrible accident". No need to make a fuss. Or as one local CID officer wearily puts it to PC Angel in a rich Gloucestershire burr: "Oh 'murrderr, murrderr, murrderr'. Change the bloody record."

It does not seem to be in anyone's interest for the full horror of village life to be exposed, just as the exam system is rather like a house of cards that must not be disturbed.

There is a severe price to pay for delving into such affairs. The villagers in Hot Fuzz try to get rid of the troublesome, over-inquisitive new policeman. Exam boards similarly scare off many a cash-strapped school by charging #163;50 per student per requested re-mark (for one module) and then do their level best to play down any error in the initial marking.

Those running the village argue that a tight lid is for the "greater good" and I suspect exam boards share that philosophy, happy for people to believe that the only dark feature of today's exams is grade boundary adjustment.

Just think of the chaos that would be caused if the truth about inexpert, inconsistent marking and flawed moderation processes were ever to be fully revealed, as it nearly was by the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference recently. Although sometimes, in fairness, we teachers are the people in greater denial. We are silent when our candidates appear to get lucky yet, like those Shaun of the Dead zombies, we beat on the exam board door when some of them take a hammering.

There is a scene in Hot Fuzz when Pegg is distracted from his suspicions about the dark heart of the village by the need to chase down an escaped swan. Here, too, we can find a metaphor for real life. The swan is the neat political solution of abolishing GCSEs or shifting grade boundaries. While the swan needs catching, what we really must have is root and branch change in the form of vastly improving reliability. Perhaps it's time to call for PC Angel.

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire.

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