Thursday, 8 December 2011

Competition leads to corruption? Say it ain't so!

The media are leading today with the news that an exam board has been running seminars for teachers to show them how to get the kids to pass the exams. The Secretary of State for Education has launched an enquiry!

This is my cue to play - again - one of my favourite moments from that wonderful film, Casablanca.

Why? Because corruption is exactly what happens when things that shouldn't be businesses are made to compete against each other for profit. In the old days, exam boards were state institutions, or run by universities, with the aim of discovering a) what the kids had learned and b) whether they'd benefit from a university education. Seems simple enough.

Then they were privatised. They needed to attract 'business', e.g. schools which would use their exams, and would pay for the privilege. It doesn't take a genius to work out that there aren't many ways to do this. One is to reduce the cost, by farming the marking out to underpaid individuals on a piecework basis, which is why the standard of marking is so low, and making the questions more 'tick box' than discursive. The other is to make sure that the exams are easy to pass. Every school is now judged by the sledgehammer of league tables, so of course they're going to go for the exam provider which helps them achieve a high pass rate.

This is the insanity of a competitive privatised exam system allied to a functionalist, audit-obsessed regime. What's entirely irrelevant is the intellectual development of the children. You can't quantify that. Audit culture is entirely fraudulent.

So who's Captain Renault? At the moment, it's Michael Gove, and before him the Tory and Labour ministers who swallowed whole the depressing and reductive and totally untrue line that business is efficient and audit = facts  and competition drives up quality. These are lies. His enquiry should run along these lines:

  • Do I tell everyone that private businesses lead to lower prices and higher quality?
  • Is there a teensy flaw to this? 
  • Might companies take shortcuts?
  • So is this development due to my own ideological stupidity? 
  • Should I nationalise exam boards, abolish competition and concentrate on children's needs?
The answer, should you need prompting, is yes. One more question Gove should ask himself:

  • Am I a suppurating pimple on the face of humanity who should do the decent thing with a glass of whisky and a revolver?

Amusingly, I heard this exam boards question (not the one about Gove-as-pimple) being discussed on Radio 4's Today programme. The very next item was about separating water companies and retailers. There wasn't a hint of irony or opposition as two guests and the presenter repeated exactly the same tired old lies: competing companies will reduce prices and improve quality. Hello? Rail? Gas? Electricity? Have they not noticed that there's no true competition (how could there be, with the water coming out of the taps?)? Do they not know that bills have increased massively?

I hate knowing more than nationally prominent commentators, politicians and company directors. I want to leave it all up to better qualified people while I truffle around for pork scratchings and weird books. But every time I look up, these utter morons are either deluding themselves or lying to us.

Now go away, I'm toweringly angry.


Sue's Blog said...

It is horrifying that corruption exists in the education system. Is nothing safe in our society? What has happened to honesty and altruism?

Adam said...

I don't often agree *entirely* with your political views but on this topic we're in complete agreement, well said, Vole; I had no idea this had happened to the exam boards and the news of this cheatery appalled me yesterday. You can just bet that it's the private schools that have been exploiting this.