The week

19th August 2011 at 01:00

And so it comes around again. Unlike the summer weather, A-level results day is one of the most utterly predictable occasions in the calendar.

Similar to a long-running play, it has a number of familiar lines and scenes that endure like hardy perennials. First we get the build-up, which features a series of ill-informed and handwringing articles, comments and reports from anyone with a passing interest in education about A-levels, the "gold-standard" and grade inflation. Next come the results, which have probably edged up by a tiny margin. Cue bouncing blondes on the front of national newspapers. Then act three. More newspaper, telly and think tank-based handwringing. More ill-informed comment. More damnation of our schools. And all the while, like frustrated figures in a Shakespearean comedy, heads and teachers quietly suggest that it's just possible our education system is getting a little better.

So, it was surprising last weekend to come across a genuinely unlikely story associated with exams: Edexcel somehow contriving to publish a whole bunch of results nearly a week early. D'oh! Except this phenomenon wasn't completely new. The same problem happened in exactly the same way in Scotland about a fortnight ago with pupils' Higher results. Quite extraordinary that this has occurred twice in one August, no? Surely, one might think that keeping results secret until, um, results day was the core, number one, basic function of exam boards? A bit like car manufacturing and wheels not falling off.

And all the while the growing debate about the causes, consequences and cures of England's moment of urban insanity rumbled on in the background. Inevitably, of course, schools became a touch point for political squabbling, with the whole political spectrum using education as a handy weapon with which to beat one another. From "Mad" Melanie Phillips on the right to Melissa "recognise my surname?" Benn on the left, all opined unhelpfully on how education policy and schools were or weren't to blame. If the looters on the streets need a decent wedge of double citizenship to sort them out, this lot could do with a PhD in common sense.

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