F-word is OK, irrelevance is not
We know the effing answer, but what exactly was the effing question? Isn't that what we are bound to ask in the wake of the great English GCSE F-word controversy?
In case you missed it, this was sparked by an article in The Times in which Peter Buckroyd, chief English examiner for awarding body AQA, admitted to having awarded marks to a candidate who simply wrote "fuck off" in answer to an exam question.
"It's better than someone who doesn't write anything at all," Mr Buckroyd said. "It shows more skills than somebody who leaves the page blank." This is true, of course, in the same way that someone who is alive tends to take more breaths than someone who isn't.
Mr B's revelation led to typical hand-wringing of the "What is the world coming to?" and "It wasn't like this in my day" variety. The Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells brigade were no doubt further incensed by the examiner adding: "If it had an exclamation mark, it would have got a little bit more because it would have shown a little bit of skill."
If that wasn't bad enough, there was also the refusal by Ofqual, the Government's examinations regulator (shortly, no doubt, to be renamed F- Ofqual), to condemn such liberal practices. "We think it's right that candidates are able to use appropriate language in a variety of situations," they said in a statement.
The student has retained his anonymity, but it can only be a matter of time before an enterprising producer tracks him down with an offer of his own reality TV show called Expletives Undeleted.
That still leaves the small matter of what question actually prompted the F-word. Assuming that the author was a lively 16-year-old male of average habits and inclinations, a number of possibilities come to mind.
Question 1: Your family sell their 4x4, in which you used to get rides to college. When you ask for the bus fare, they refuse and tell you it'll do you good to walk. What do you say in response?
Question 2: Your least favourite English teacher has said it's now compulsory to read at least one book that doesn't have the word "Potter" in its title before the end of term. Compose your riposte.
Question 3: Your mum emails you to say she's putting a block on your computer that will disable iTunes, Facebook and all known chat rooms. You click reply, but what's the message you send her?
Question 4: Imagine you fall asleep, only to wake up in a world where Big Macs and hanging around outside off-licences drinking alco-pops has been outlawed. What would you have to say on the matter?
Question 5: Your gym is prohibiting customers from spraying half a can of cheap deodorant - Dusk, Husk, or Midnight in Peckham - all over themselves and others after a shower. What would you write in its suggestions book?
Strangely, the real question was none of the above. Instead, candidates were asked to "Describe the room you are sitting in." So, unless the exam hall in question had a provocative way of labelling its exits, it's hard to see how the answer could be considered at all relevant.
In which case, perhaps "nil points" would have been more appropriate than the two marks awarded by Mr B.