3rd September 2010 at 01:00
The policy wonk who creates the crap that hits your fan

MONDAY: It's that time again: the annual "hard look" at A-levels. The Departmental routine is always the same. Wait until all the fuss has subsided, then solemnly announce a Review. It's just something that has happened every year since the 1970s, like Earth Day or a new Fall album. Cynical outsiders imagine we invite friendly academics in and then cajole them into saying the A-level system is working brilliantly, there's room for a slight improvement, adjustments will be made, everything will be monitored, shut up critics. Nothing could be further from the truth. We just collect all the negative press cuttings about A-levels and try to work out how to get less flak from the Daily Mail next year.

TUESDAY: The newspaper review confirms that A-levels are hopelessly devalued although - hooray - the Department's blame quotient is down 7 per cent on last year. The media is divided over the best scapegoat for improving exam marks. They include: clueless regulators, spineless exam boards, brainless pupils, useless teachers, feckless parents. Clearly, our first task is to devise a phrase to counterattack the baseless charge that education is "dumbing down". This itself is a trap, as the phrase is Borrowed American. Its opposite would presumably be "smarting up" which sounds even stupider than "dumbing down". We decide to invoke the English meaning of "dumb", which will give us an opportunity to say that exam results are being "talked up".

WEDNESDAY: This time the defence of A-levels is awkward, because after years of taking the piss the Opposition are now in charge. Our advice to The Gove: create a diversion. The press office gimps are preparing a statement in which he seeks "fundamentally to redefine the Uniform Mark Scale". What they're NOT saying is that the UMS will from next year calibrate "acceptable levels (and provenance) of stains occurring on school uniforms".

THURSDAY: Sandra from Intelligence suggests we respond to criticism of the A* grade by introducing an A**. Idiot. No, this madness must be stopped before we get to A***, which looks like swearing. We need a genuinely competitive system, but one that reassures underachievers. I propose we rebadge E as A, D as A*, C as A+, B as A and A as A!.

FRIDAY: Resolving the North-South Divide is trickier. We may never know for certain why A-level candidates living in relatively affluent parts of the south east are consistently outperforming their counterparts on a Gateshead estate. The fairest solution is to move the North-South Dividing Line down a bit - running along the Thames, say - to ensure equal numbers of smartarse little shits on either side.

As intercepted by Ian Martin, one of the writers of The Thick of It.

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