Some state schools are cheating the public examination system, according to a Times newspaper front-page scoop yesterday. Pupils likely to fail are being excluded from school to manipulate overall pass rates and ensure an enhanced position in the GCSE league tables. Around 13,000 were shown the door last year in the months before the exam season kicked off.
The investigative journalists deserve thanks for lifting the lid, a little, on the murky world of corruption within the sanctimonious, self-serving and secretive world of the educational establishment. This ‘Blob’ would have us believe that it knows best. Questioning its trustworthiness and its integrity brings, at best, opprobrium and at worse banishment to outer darkness and another version of exclusion – professional assassination.
Woe betide any teacher who spills the beans! Many thousands were, and are, fully aware of this immoral malpractice, known in the trade as ‘off-rolling’, but chose to remain silent. It has taken a newspaper to expose it. And yet for those of us within the profession, the Times story is about as much of a scoop as finding sand in the Sahara or water in the Amazon rain forest.
The guardians of educational standards, including the Department for Education and the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual), need to cut out the lies and the spin. Schools fiddling the figures does not make ‘all our kids . . . brilliant’, as Ofqual’s boss claimed last year. Equally, teachers in the poshest of posh schools who set questions for public exams do not have the right, in effect, to reveal those questions to their own pupils.
Nor should exam boards be boasting to teachers who have coughed up cash to enrol on their behind-closed-doors training courses that they are cheating. Several years ago this is exactly what happened. I tipped off a journalist that cheating was rife within the examination system. An undercover reporter managed to infiltrate an exam board’s training session and to her amazement actually recorded and filmed an examiner’s boast: ‘We’re cheating . . . Probably the regulator will tell us off.’
Small wonder that those running the course could announce to delegates that there was ‘standing room only’. Every one was a winner! The teachers were getting inside information on what would come up in the exam and the board was making loads of money by running the course.
Are matters any better today? Of course not! Corruption remains endemic within the system. The latest dishonesty is the manipulation of GCSE grade boundaries. Around 20 per cent of the marks will secure a ‘good’ pass. Tougher than last year’s 15 per cent, it is true, but hardly a challenge. With such low marks required it is remarkable than any pupil should need to be excluded to boost a school’s pass rate.
Are you a journalist? Want another exam scandal? Check out the number of independent school pupils who are entered as private candidates in other independent schools! Are you part of the Blob? Get spinning!