Expressing doubts about the number and differing quality of exam boards and the relative validity of the grades they award, education secretary Michael Gove ignored the obvious solution (a single board under state control with a common set of criteria). Instead, he let it be known that the invisible hand of the market would fix everything, with weaker boards driven to the wall whilst fortune smiled on the survivors.
Coincidentally, he also dropped the hint that the key to survival in this competition would be the willingness to tackle ‘grade inflation’ – ie, to stop awarding so many A, B and C grades.
Taking the hint, the exam boards fell over themselves to effect a startling ‘grade deflation’, leaving thousands of students stranded in the ‘D’ and ‘E’ twilight zone specially reserved for those whom capitalism declares to be losers. Between January and June, the goalposts were shifted so that students who would have secured a ‘C’ in January were stuck with a ‘D’ in June, for producing exactly the same work.
As Gove presses on with his mission to transform every last LEA-funded secondary school into an academy, the agenda is clear. The harder it gets for secondary school students to score top grades, the faster Ofsted can declare their schools to be ‘failing’ – and hence ripe for enforced rebranding as academies by private sponsors. And now that schools have been told that the minimum percentage of pupils who manage to grab five high-grade GCSEs must be raised from 35 to 40 percent, Ofsted should have no difficulty in collecting the required quota of scalps.
Whilst Gove’s flat-footed tactics have had shambolic consequences, there is nothing accidental about the overall capitalist strategy: the abolition of free comprehensive schooling, dumbed-down education for the masses and a privileged education for the moneyed elite.