Chalk Talk: You've failed – and you didn't even know you'd taken the exam

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The Independent Online

Most prominent on display at the Association of School and College Leaders' conference were badges saying "I failed the English Baccalaureate". The EB, remember, is an invention of Education Secretary Michael Gove's and will be awarded to anyone getting five A* to C grades at GCSE in English, maths, science, a language modern or ancient and a humanities subject.

Headteachers are miffed about it because it has been included in exam league tables retrospectively – so schools were marked on last year's results, when the exams were taken before anyone knew it existed.

That was likened by former president Peter Downes to Manchester United beating Arsenal 1-0 in last weekend's FA Cup tie with two Arsenal goals ruled offside – only to find the FA scrapping the offside rule on the Monday and telling Alec Ferguson the match had therefore been awarded to Arsenal. You can imagine the reaction.

Among those who qualified for wearing the badge were Brian Lightman, general secretary of the ASCL and a former secondary school headteacher, and Andy Burnham, Labour's education spokesman – both of whom failed on the rule that you had to study two sciences to qualify for the science award. Michael Gove, it seems, did not qualify for the badge and certainly wouldn't wear one

Talking about Andy Burnham, there was a touch of déjà vu about his return to the Manchester Convention Centre to address a major conference. The last time he was there was for the Labour leadership vote – not his most successful moment.

It was, he told the heads, the same hall and he was wearing the same suit. He was even worried that he may have left the victory-speech-that-never-was in the pocket.

Meanwhile, what a difference a year makes. Last year, as a Cabinet minister, he would most likely have turned up in a chauffeur-driven limousine, which would have been waiting for him at the end of speech. This time his assistant had to pop out to feed the meter.

Michael Gove, meanwhile, it seems, has been glued to the telly watching Jamie Oliver's programme about celebrities running a school. Asked if the historian David Starkey would make a good teacher, he replied diplomatically: "The single most important thing is to like children."

For those who have not seen the programme, Starkey came under fire for calling one of his pupils fat.

r.garner@independent.co.uk

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