Magazine article The Spectator

The Flunking Examiners

Magazine article The Spectator

The Flunking Examiners

Article excerpt

From Marks & Spencer to Network Rail, from Shell to Enron, this truth becomes daily more self-evident: it is not the poor bloody workers who cause the trouble, but the rich bloody management.

The latest 'senior management team' to prove the point is a GCSE and A-level examination board. Last week the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA) was, to its acute embarrassment, discovered to be nursing a closely guarded secret - that from June 2006, Latin and Greek would never again feature on its syllabuses. 'The unexamined life is not worth living,' said Socrates. He would have been surprised to find an examination board disagreeing, but why should it care (and who is this Socrates guy anyway)? Further, government has decreed there is no court of appeal against its decision. The 'public service' business does what it likes.

When its nasty little plan was revealed, AQA's response was telling. Its 'senior management' policy, it thrillingly argued, was never to discuss these matters with anyone, particularly anyone who knew about the subjects involved. The views of its chief examiner, its advisory panel, or the schools which used it were irrelevant; besides, they would only be biased. So that was why the scheme was under such tight wraps. Quite normal. Goodnight. And there is no court of appeal. The 'public service' business does what it likes.

This must be something of a world record for a 'senior management team'. It turns the secrecy and ignorance that lie at the heart of its decision-making into a management virtue, and proudly trumpets it abroad. And this from a body whose job it is to provide public examinations for our schools. One wonders what schools will make of a 'senior management team' driven by such compelling policy values.

It gets worse. Asked by a journalist why the decision had been taken, a 'team' member said 'because it makes business and educational sense'. Just pause and drink in those words. Here is an examination board, whose business it is to - yes - provide educational examinations, arguing that it makes not only business sense not to provide them, but educational sense too. One can see even Socrates clutching the draining board at that one.

And bear in mind that AQA is not some dodgy little operation under constant police surveillance run out of a back office in Manchester, though its paranoid culture of secrecy might suggest otherwise. It is the biggest board of them all, providing more examinations for more pupils than anyone else. …

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