A very public betrayal

I think it would be fair to say that the topic of this blog will, no doubt, be covered by a great many others. Many will be better connected than me and, in all probability, most will be more eloquent. Neither of these points will put me off although, having promised myself a proper relax this half term, I am feeling slightly guilty and weak willed. In my opinion, this issue needs as many voices raised as possible and, hopefully, @HeadsRoundtable and compadres will convince the media to sniff below the bath ring of rhetoric and see what has really happened.

Early headlines seem to suggest that OfQual, or at least Glenys Stacey (the £100+K head of that body) are placing the blame for this summer’s GCSE fiasco firmly at the feet of schools and, yes, teachers. This will come as a shock to many outside of education but few within. It has been evident from the start of the fiasco that honesty and integrity were going to be harder to find than Michael Gove’s copy of Socialist Worker.

Let’s be clear. OfQual is an arm of the DfE. It’s supposed independence is completely undermined by the Secretary of State’s power over appointments at the top. OfQual themselves have acknowledged their need to pay heed to policy in what they do. To paraphrase – if Michael says “jump” we say “how high?” They, like OfSTED are no more than a policy monitoring and policing tool. As such, they should never have been allowed to investigate a situation of their own making and the lack of credibility of the management and the partiality of their response undermines any value to be gained from their report.

Early indications are that the blame will be placed on teachers who have ‘cheated’ on controlled assessment and that the role of accountability measures will be highlighted as a cause. While there is a genuine issue with the accountability measures unreasonably skewing school behaviour, the exam system should – if properly and effectively managed and regulated; prevent cheating on even a small scale, let alone the enormous scale proposed.

Controlled assessment is subject to moderation by examiners. If a school fails to assess within tolerances, their whole cohort is likely to be affected in a mass adjustment to marks. Hence it is a very risky strategy and one which no school will take lightly in a subject as important as English. Assuming some idiot did try and get away with it, effective moderation would identify it and adjust to protect system integrity. OfQual’s job is to regulate those processes to ensure they are being employed appropriately and consistently. Exam boards reported that moderation was sound, OfQual did not report concerns, so how can teachers be to blame?

If Stacey is correct and English teams across the country tried to blag their way through last summer, then surely the regulator and exam boards have failed to deliver an exam system fit for purpose?! If they didn’t, then OfQual are being either disingenuous or dishonest – neither of which is appropriate for a role which requires absolute integrity.

What do I believe? I think it is clear that OfQual have forced a statistical manipulation to achieve the political aims of the SoS. In so doing they have undermined the system to such
an extent that few now have any confidence in it. Although, by doing this, they have helped support further policy promotion (EBC, etc) they clearly weren’t expecting to be seriously challenged and have gone into belligerent attack mode to protect their own interests ( and Gove’s). There is no way, no matter how you spin it, that this is anything less than a serious case of failed regulation and, in my humble opinion, we must demand that all aspects of OfQual’s role in this debacle be investigated by a completely independent inquiry. Even without that minimum requirement, Glenys Stacey should be replaced and OfQual moved outside of SoS influence. As I have said before – a key role for an independent regulator should be to hold policymakers to account, not to do their bidding.

How can we take action to ensure that this doesn’t happen again? Local assessment partnerships, make sure staff are up to CIEA standards and promote membership as a career development. Perhaps, as a system, we all need to undermine the status quo and force a new paradigm to evolve, or wait until the next election where, (as in the late 80’s) the coalition will rue their demonisation and disenfranchisement of teachers. Sadly, they have short memories and a tendency to cause huge destruction in a very short space of time. Perhaps another 15 years in opposition will remind them.

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