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Published on December 8th, 2011 | by Ben Mansfield
Image © [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="389" caption="The education Secretary believes there needs to be fundamnetal reform © Educationgovuk"][/caption]

The Telegraph, which these days seems to specialise in undercover filming investigations, has today released footage suggesting that expensive conferences delivered by chief examiners have essentially functioned as tip-off sessions to teachers, breaking both the letter and the spirit of current guidance. The education secretary Michael Gove has taken the matter very seriously, saying that “The revelations confirm that the current system is discredited” and that “Nothing is off the table” in what need to be “fundamental reforms”.

Gove has ordered an urgent inquiry to be undertaken by Ofqual, England’s exam regulatory body, which will report its findings in the coming weeks. The Welsh exam board meanwhile has already made two suspensions, though it is not yet clear whether the two are the examiners in the Telegraph’s secret seminar recordings. One of the examiners who is featured in the footage is quoted as saying that exam-script questions go “through a cycle” and “We're cheating, we're telling you the cycle”, a choice of words which is unlikely to help their case.

Reactions to the revelations vary. The Telegraph interprets the findings as more evidence of the dumbing-down of standards and grade inflation in British schools; a concern shared by Michael Gove, who today stressed how important it was that “our exams hold their own with the best in the world”. In contrast to this, Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg emphasises the unfairness of the practice of some students benefitting from these exclusive ‘tip-off’ lectures, which cost teachers £120 to £230 per day. He said that “Parents rightly expect that their children are taking tests on a level playing field with others”, a sentiment shared by Ofqual, who said that exams should be run in a way that was “fair and open to all”.

This episode, the details of which will become clearer as the investigation develops in the next few weeks, also raises systemic questions about UK examinations. At present there is a market of competing companies, the main players of which are OCR, AQA and Edexcel, who generate profit by being chosen by schools. If their exams are perceived by schools to be easier than those of their competitors, they are more likely to be chosen. Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, believes this creates an incentive towards an inevitable downward pressure on standards, as well as other problems associated with the commercialization of education.

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Gove launches official inquiry into the exam system

The education Secretary believes there needs to be fundamnetal reform © Educationgovuk

The Telegraph, which these days seems to specialise in undercover filming investigations, has today released footage suggesting that expensive conferences delivered by chief examiners have essentially functioned as tip-off sessions to teachers, breaking both the letter and the spirit of current guidance. The education secretary Michael Gove has taken the matter very seriously, saying that “The revelations confirm that the current system is discredited” and that “Nothing is off the table” in what need to be “fundamental reforms”.

Gove has ordered an urgent inquiry to be undertaken by Ofqual, England’s exam regulatory body, which will report its findings in the coming weeks. The Welsh exam board meanwhile has already made two suspensions, though it is not yet clear whether the two are the examiners in the Telegraph’s secret seminar recordings. One of the examiners who is featured in the footage is quoted as saying that exam-script questions go “through a cycle” and “We’re cheating, we’re telling you the cycle”, a choice of words which is unlikely to help their case.

Reactions to the revelations vary. The Telegraph interprets the findings as more evidence of the dumbing-down of standards and grade inflation in British schools; a concern shared by Michael Gove, who today stressed how important it was that “our exams hold their own with the best in the world”. In contrast to this, Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg emphasises the unfairness of the practice of some students benefitting from these exclusive ‘tip-off’ lectures, which cost teachers £120 to £230 per day. He said that “Parents rightly expect that their children are taking tests on a level playing field with others”, a sentiment shared by Ofqual, who said that exams should be run in a way that was “fair and open to all”.

This episode, the details of which will become clearer as the investigation develops in the next few weeks, also raises systemic questions about UK examinations. At present there is a market of competing companies, the main players of which are OCR, AQA and Edexcel, who generate profit by being chosen by schools. If their exams are perceived by schools to be easier than those of their competitors, they are more likely to be chosen. Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, believes this creates an incentive towards an inevitable downward pressure on standards, as well as other problems associated with the commercialization of education.

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