Too much pressure on schools in England to get good GCSE grades led to over-generous marking of coursework by teachers, the exams watchdog concludes.
In its final report on the controversy over this summer's GCSE English exam, Ofqual says external examiners had to raise grade boundaries as a result.This sweeping statement has sent a predictable ripple round the battlefield as the various parties involved marshal their troops accordingly.
Heads said it was "outrageous" to blame teachers for the fiasco which saw some pupils get lower grades than predicted.Meanwhile the shadow schools minister naturally demanded that the government sort it out and the unions - most predictable of all - are bandying around words like 'scapegoat' and 'blatantly wrong':
"The accountability measures do place tremendous pressure on teachers and schools, especially at GCSE grade C, but to say that teachers would compromise their integrity to the detriment of students is an insult."Ofqual's chief executive is clearly aware of the dangers of accusing teachers of professional misconduct and has instead taken refuge in an attitude so patronising it could curdle yoghurt:
Ms Stacey added she believed teachers had marked the test "optimistically", rather than with a deliberate intention to inflate grades.
"They are doing their level best to do the best for their students and they are bound, given the pressures they are under, to take the most optimistic view."All of which serves to reduce the battlefield to a chess-board; a simple black-and-white layout of opposing forces.
The unions do as they have always done and follow the classic script familiar from all those years of grade inflation - all our members are above reproach and to imply otherwise is to insult hard-working and dedicated men and women.
Ofqual, meanwhile, 'has evidence' of widespread over-marking, which it attributes to the new GCSE not being 'robust enough'; although it does not go so far as to blame teachers, it firmly lays at their door the inconsistencies that led to the adjustment of grade boundaries.
And lost in the middle is all the grey stuff - that some teachers are more scrupulous than others. Whatever the unions would have you believe, there are some teachers out there who will bend the rules to improve a pupil's grade, just as there are others who, whatever the pressures on them, would be deeply horrified at the very idea of awarding inflated marks for exam work.
Such ambiguity does not suit politics or, for that matter, media-friendly soundbites from Ofqual, who, as we know, are not themselves averse to the odd bit of behind-the-scenes tinkering with results to achieve the desired effect.
This looks very much like an attempt to bury a messy situation behind the kind of dramatic outrage that completely obscures its original cause. Look, the public will say, it's the teaching unions getting hot under the collar again; nothing to do with us.
Thus it is that, regardless of the impact on individual pupils whose teachers marked according to the strictest of criteria, the official regulator has decided to endorse what may yet come to be seen as a landmark example of unjustified collective punishment.