"Exams are the enemy of education," says Hector, the charismatic teacher in Alan Bennett's play The History Boys. Hector may be a hopesless romantic but his words will strike a chord with many TES readers. During the past decade, the debate about the conflict between the utilitarian and wider purposes of education has been reflected in the paper week by week.
Readers have a ready supply of examples of the effect of targets, league tables and tests on themselves and their pupils. However, our stories this week about examiners who tell teachers to script GCSE oral exams so that their pupils know what is coming up break new ground. Everyone will understand why schools send teachers on courses that will boost their exam results, but can it really be true that examiners are being paid to explain, in effect, how to cheat?
Sadly, we know it is. Our reporter was there. He heard the suggestion that teachers should be lenient with coursework marking, that they should spoonfeed their pupils with phrases kept in a "Burglar Bill swag bag" and that they shouldn't bother too much with the harder bits of the course because it's so easy to get an A*.
Examiners should not be paid to give detailed explanations to teachers of how to play the system. It gives some pupils and teachers an unfair advantage. It damages pupils who are cosseted by teachers so that they never learn to work independently. It also gives a false impression of the standards pupils have achieved. GCSE and A-level scores may be rising but standards for secondary pupils still lag behind many competitor countries in the developed world.
The issue isn't just about keeping a check on examiners' activities. It is much more important to look at the way schools are judged by the Government. At present, this is solely by number-crunching, exams and league tables. No wonder teachers are resorting to any stratagem that is to hand. Exams aren't the enemy of education, but they are only one part of it.