A number of years ago I was a driving instructor for a short while. I still remember the anxiety I felt when a student of mine, keen to take the test, was waiting for the examiner to take them out. These examiners would always have the same professional and detached air as they greeted the student and myself. We all knew that however much anyone hoped for that person to pass the only thing that would influence the instructor was how well they drove on the day.

It is exactly the same with judges. There have been many times over the years when I have heartily disagreed with decisions made, to the point of yelling my contempt helplessly at a TV screen.

But however much I felt they may be wrong, I always believed they made their decision based solely on their interpretation of the law of the land.

The two professions named above have always been filled by people of integrity but that is not primarily why the systems largely work. They work because they are designed so that no benefit or loss will befall the professionals by making their decisions based on the parameters laid down, whichever way they go.

The question I now ask is where is such a body in relation to education?

I have had much personal dealing with Education and have found many, indeed most, professionals involved have high levels of integrity and a passion for their work, as I believe do judges and test examiners; but I fear there is a huge hole in the system that renders it, on increasingly more frequent occasions, unfit for purpose.

Everyone is on the same side

From the beginning, everyone is on the side of young people being credited with maximum achievement. The schools ranking and success rates depend on outstanding results. Clearly, the learners and their parents are heavily biased and will challenge any result thought too disappointing, but welcome overly generous outcomes.

The Education Authority, the Government all want to boast the highest standards, this includes OFSTED - Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills - they concern themselves with many issues; numbers from poorer backgrounds, facilities, provision for special needs students, etc but not to the rigour of academic learning or the effective testing of that learning.

The same occurs in colleges. The college, the student and the agency running the qualifications, for example, Edexcel, all have a vested interest in students passing. High pass rates encourage more learners to join courses, enhance the reputation of colleges, certify students are competent and that the Government of the day has the education issue in hand. In Higher Education, the same University sets the course, teaches it, marks it and awards the certification.

Don't take everything they say at face value

Some red Herrings are thrown to keep this free hand hidden. We have External Verifiers state the colleges, but there are often reciprocal arrangements, where good results benefit both or all colleges involved.

Even when this is not the case always remember the verifiers need employment and no college will keep an awkward EV. There are external exams yell the school; but the schools and individual teachers often find the areas that will be questioned and teach a very narrow syllabus relating only to those questions, while neglecting the broader knowledge implied in the qualification. Alternatively, course work is allowed to have a bigger influence on outcomes than it should to ease the pressure of exams on students and allow more input from others.

These issues only come to the fore when we see exam results for the UK going up year on year, yet the UK falling ever lower in international league tables. It is also evidenced by industry productivity in this country lagging well behind competitors like the USA, Germany and even France.

Further Considerations

In some industries, the system maintains its rigour. Doctors, Architects, Accountants and others all hold peoples' lives or finance in their hands and so the professional organisations ensure standards are maintained and the education system does a great job. In other areas: Media, Marketing, Business Management, Sport, Hospitality, Politics, to name but a few, the consequences are not so immediate or drastic and so the drive to earn money through reporting success has more incentive to be tried.

At least one large and extremely successful vehicle production company based in the UK Midlands have taken education and training largely into their own hands. They run a high-quality Academy where young potential managers are taken on early, trained thoroughly both theoretically and practically in management and engineering; with those doing well being rewarded with lucrative career posts within the company.

This blueprint is sure to gain ground as trust in the validity of educational qualifications reduces within companies operating in a competitive environment.

The Way Forward

The above is not the fault of education staff or even organisations working hard to succeed in a system that encourages and rewards the over reporting of success. It is rather of a system that shows no inclination of developing a genuinely Independent Body whose only targets are to ensure the rigour and validity of academic achievement and the testing of it.

We need that independent body and we need it soon.