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Joe Baron: The education system is rotten – and the rot starts with the regulators

The author is a teacher. Joe Baron is a pseudonym.

On the odd occasion, small news stories prod and aggravate old, latent ones that many would rather remained buried in the past. Ofqual's recent decision to revoke its commitment to ban exam seminars is just one such occasion.

Back in December 2011, let's not forget, examiners were caught, amongst other things, revealing the content of exams to course deliverers in these very seminars. As a teacher well versed in the corrupt practices of my profession, the revelations came as no surprise. They had indeed been common knowledge for a very long time. But the widespread attack upon the integrity of our examination system by venal examiners touting for business, and teachers looking to improve results at any cost, still, some 18 months later, has the ability to render one speechless.

Surely though the real story, even today, is why it took a newspaper – the Daily Telegraph – to uncover a scandal that should have been uncovered by the regulator, Ofqual. Forget the lone voices of a few rebellious pedagogues willing to speak out, stubbornly wedded to the outdated, mistaken belief that teaching is a noble profession, the regulator should have been regulating.

As Michael Gove patiently awaited Ofqual’s conclusions – he, rather amusingly, asked the organisation that failed to spot these glaring transgressions in the first place to investigate the Telegraph’s allegations –, I couldn’t help but think he was barking up the wrong tree. He should have been investigating Ofqual. It failed in its primary duty to maintain examination standards and ensure that our qualifications remained among the best, most highly regarded in the world.

Of course, Gove would say that Ofqual was an untainted, relatively new quango set up in 2010 to replace the failing QCA. But surely it had more than enough time to investigate these deplorable practices. Why didn’t it?

The reality is that the entire educational system is rotten, and the rot starts, unsurprisingly, with the regulators. Teachers, schools, and examination boards dance to the tunes played by these powerful organisations. They set the agenda and dictate the standards. If standards decline – as they have – or probity is sacrificed at the altar of a venal educational clique – as it has been – it is down to regulatory shortcomings. These examiners were not lone renegades subverting an otherwise unimpeachable, functioning system; they were part of its very fabric, a fabric intricately woven by the shameless quangocrats of Ofqual.

And let's not pretend that the scandal stops there. Ofqual isn’t the only watchdog that needs to be investigated. Ofsted, the schools' inspectorate, is also deeply suspect. In my experience, and in the shared experiences of many of my colleagues and fellow professionals, its judgements often bear no relation to reality. For example, despite severe behavioural problems, poor examination results and, in some cases, falling attendance, I am aware of many schools that are still judged to be good, or even outstanding.

Inspectors – most of whom are paternalistic, condescending ex-teachers – arrogantly choose to ignore the opinions of local parents who choose to send their children elsewhere, and the opinions of many who write letters of complaint. They blindly reject the market’s judgement and tacitly assert that everyone else – bar them (the experts!) of course – is wrong. These schools are successful, they cry, no matter what local people think.

Ofsted’s myopia seems, in these cases, so flagrant, its judgments so inaccurate, that it raises my suspicions, and the suspicions of my fellow professionals and colleagues. Why does it not see what we see?

The alarming truth is that Ofqual and Ofsted are two sides of the same coin. Both are manned by ex-teachers responsible for many of the problems that pervade twenty-first-century education in Britain. One suspects that these bureaucrats were, during their teaching careers, purveyors of low expectations that led to poor behaviour and poor results. They would have been leftists determined to ensure equality, not of opportunity but of outcome. In practice, therefore, the inexorable decline of standards through dumbing down would have been desirable, in a bid to ensure that everyone passes.

Alas, it is only a small step from here to outright cheating in an attempt to realise the same objective. All must have prizes; all must succeed, no matter what the cost. Unfortunately for our children, the system has been Sovietised, and as in the Soviet Union, corruption is endemic. How can you expect these people to police the very system they helped create? So Ofqual has decided to revoke its commitment to ban exam seminars. Who cares? The real scandal is the survival of a failed regulator. Michael Gove needs to dismantle the entire rotten edifice.


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