Making me a liar

23rd November 2012 at 00:00

My eldest son sent me a book to read. Having graduated last summer with a joint degree in English and Being Smugly Superior, he's taken it upon himself to address the gaps in my education. Not only does he criticise my use of punctuation (he once told me my overuse of the Oxford comma made my writing "jejune"; I thanked him kindly, reflected on his advice, and then popped all his black chinos in a boil wash) but also my choice of reading matter. He's hoping that this "remarkable book on politics" will make me a better person. It's certainly made a refreshing change from learning off by heart Chapter 4 of Of Mice and Men.

Reading Tony Judt's Ill Fares the Land has been a salutary experience. His polemic against governments that value efficiency over fairness could easily be redirected at education: the clamour of injustice rings so loudly in teachers' ears that we're in danger of developing tinnitus. Nowadays fairness and education seem almost oxymoronic. Unethical practices are widespread; inequality is endemic. Think about the way failing private schools are allowed to squat cuckoo-like on free school funding nests, or - following the summer exams debacle - how Ofqual saved its statistical skin by sacrificing ill-starred students. So it shouldn't come as any surprise that, in the latest Trustworthiness League Tables, educationalists trail behind News Corp staff, the Pope's butler and anyone working on Newsnight.

Sadly, this fracturing of trust doesn't just rest at the top; its fissures splinter through the whole system, right down into our classrooms. How can you possibly maintain your integrity when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you? The answer is: you can't. And Ofqual's latest announcement, that "to protect standards of GCSEs in 2013, all January 2013 assessments (whether examination or controlled assessment) will be marked, but not graded", drags everyone into the mire. Not just by casting aspersions on our professional judgements by suggesting that if grades were released earlier we would strategically mark our controlled assessments to hit students' targets, but in a much more corrosive, personal way.

Thanks to Ofqual's volte-face, I have now lied to my pupils. And that's something they'll never forgive. I promised my disenfranchised bottom set that if they worked their socks off and got a C in their January exam, they could watch The Waterboy and Dodgeball all the way through to June. And it worked. The hope of early parole from the endless torture of writing PEE paragraphs about media texts spurred them into action. Even Bradley, a lad who spent two years quietly munching crisps, handed in salt and vinegary sheets of work. But this Ofqual thing is a deal-breaker, guaranteed to undermine trust: it's like giving a car an MOT inspection but not revealing that it needs new brake shoes until you've careered into the kerb. The kids will justifiably hate it, but the only sensible option for English teachers is to book their students in twice.

The exam boards must be rubbing their hands in glee. Without the reassurance of an actual grade for English, I suspect many schools will simply re-enter all the students in June. Indeed, judging by AQA's massive recruitment ad for new examiners, they're already smacking their lips. What a pity their market growth is financed by the short-selling of student futures and a final fire sale of English teachers' integrity.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the North of England. @AnnethropeMs.

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