Amongst the well-drilled headlines that define what is happening inside the British education system in the 21st century, one might be forgiven for not noticing what happened to freedom, the space that once existed for individual creativity and personal goals. It is not that in bygone times the system ever aimed to create that space where those values could take root - a state education system was never going to do that - rather, it is the way a space that existed by default has been progressively and ruthlessly closed down.
Increasingly, those who run the system are actively on the lookout for any space where their writ does not run. Under the corporate flag of improving the quality and performance of everyone involved in the education process, an increasingly intrusive multi-headed bureaucracy has been quietly transforming the place where it is embedded into the behaviour and units of performance that it alone specifies. As its language and systems become the lingua franca, the values that were once possible to realise within state education, irrespective of its overall purposes, have fallen by the wayside and with them, the integrity of what is being done in the name of ‘education’.
This article offers an insight into the backroom of a part of that bureaucracy – a private company that sets and assesses subject knowledge and understanding in examinations. These are the companies that tell the public, the schools, the parents, the kids and their political masters that they are providing high quality professional assessment of academic ability. Ultimately, it is they that validate perceptions of the performance of players in the education market place and everyone dances to their tune: those who write the text books, those who teach using those books, and those who rely on them in the classroom for their subject knowledge and exam performance. The impact on intellectual freedom should not be underestimated.