Flippancy makes exam system look even less credible

14th September 2012 at 01:00

Say what you like about Ofqual's Glenys Stacey but, to paraphrase a former education secretary, she definitely puts the "offensive" into the phrase "charm offensive".

Our chief regulator made her name, I gather, expertly containing Britain's foot and mouth outbreak back in 2007. For that, a grateful nation pays tribute. But if I were advising Ms Stacey in her current role - with a clientele that is generally less bovine - I would suggest that she now drop the "got lucky" media sound bite with which she repeatedly caricatures the January cohort of GCSE English pupils and their teachers.

I'm not sure how becoming it is for the regulator of England's assessment regime to talk in this way, linking a high-stakes system with a game of lotto. It reinforces a growing sense that an already dysfunctional exam system is shedding layers of credibility faster than Prince Harry at the billiards table.

In our school, 50 pupils got a D who we expected to gain a C. We had nothing to do with January entries, so we can't blame those. Our stable English team, with a good track record in setting accurate target grades, cannot explain a 15 per cent drop in results. It was all - forgive my reliance on 18th-century jargon - bollocks.

The situation wasn't helped by the swirling psychobabble of this week's select committee hearings, with their talk of "route effects", "linear approaches" and "scrutiny programmes". I cattle-prodded myself back to consciousness to remind myself what this fiasco is actually all about: pupils and their schools.

That is where the big disconnect in all of this is. Our regulator and political masters see the imperative as managing "comparative outcomes". For them it's not about controlling standards, but controlling statistics. It's simply insane that teachers and schools are expected to show ongoing improvements in a system engineered to ensure results stay the same.

It didn't have to be like this. The Secretary of State, who often eulogises school leaders, could have taken our concerns seriously from the outset and demanded an independent inquiry. Getting Ofqual to undertake an interim investigation was like asking Year 11 smokers to police the bike sheds. Ofsted's Sir Michael Wilshaw could have declared that given the huge variability in results, Ofsted would not be sending in hit squads to those schools unexpectedly toppling below floor targets. And newly appointed schools minister David Laws might even have stuck a toe outside the Whitehall bunker.

In 2007, England's autumnal air was thick with smoke from piles of burning cattle. Now the stench drifts over an educational fiasco. How different it might be with a modicum of leadership.

Geoff Barton is headteacher of King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.

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