Richard Ingram's Week: When in trouble, pass the buck all the way to the US

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The Independent Online

"There has been delays," admitted Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, when he finally appeared in public on Channel 4 News to answer questions about the Sats marking scandal.

It seemed appropriate that the man ultimately responsible should be incapable of speaking his native language correctly – quite apart from his other failings, notably his understandable keenness to pass the buck.

Some of us older folk still find it hard to get used to the idea that the Government no longer does the things that we expected it to do, in this case, the organising and marking of exams in schools. We have a system of state education, but the state has done its best to rid itself of the responsibility of doing all the vital tasks. In this instance Balls feels able to put the blame on a body called the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, an ill-assorted bunch of academics and businessmen who have been put in charge.

The QCA in turn is able to pass the buck further down the line by blaming an American company, ETS, which it has hired at a cost of millions of pounds to mark the exam papers of British schoolchildren. As it happens, Balls's claim that his ministry was "at arm's length" from this process has been shown to be untrue. A number of ministry officials, it is revealed, were present at the meeting in 2006 when the QCA signed the agreement with ETS.

Minutes of this meeting show that the chairman of the QCA Sir Anthony Greener (knighted for his services to the drinks industry) was so pleased with the way the agreement had been reached that he thought it should be used in future as a "case study" of how to do that sort of thing.

In the light of what has happened, it was fitting perhaps that Sir Anthony should have christened his brilliant deal the Tornado Project, as the storm is still raging out of control, scattering exam papers in its wake and threatening to blow away Sir Anthony and possibly even the illiterate Mr Balls.

Some things can never be equal

I have had some experience of the effects of maternity leave which is once again the subject of controversy. In any small business like the one I work in, the effects can be quite considerable. A woman disappears for nine months and has to be replaced. Her replacement takes some time to find her feet and may have just about got going when the mother returns (though sometimes she does not). She then takes time to adjust to all that has been done in her absence; in the meantime, there may be resentment among the unmarried women in the office about what looks like a special deal for child-bearers.

It is curious that while in all kinds of other situations, people repeat the mantra that the child's welfare must come first; in this case the rule doesn't seem to apply. Because what the maternity leave system assumes is that after nine months, the child would be relieved of its mother, so at this early stage in its existence a child is going to be deprived of the one thing it needs most, namely its mother.

What the feminists are now calling for is for fathers to share the burden of looking after babies; what they would like us to accept is that there is no difference between men and women in the role. But anyone with experience of children knows this is nonsense. As Dr Germaine Greer recently reminded us, a mother's love for a child which she has carried in her womb is on a quite different scale from that of its father. And when a child is in pain, it wants its mother. This may annoy the dad, but it is a fact of life.

* Given Mr Justice Eady's record in privacy cases, we journalists should look forward with trepidation to his ruling in the Max Mosley case. Because this judge in the past has showed himself rather too keen to rule in favour of rich important people who claim that their right to privacy has been jeopardised by the so-called gentlemen of the press.

Were Mr Eady to rule that Max Mosley, pictured, is entitled to privacy when he attends a sadomasochistic club, then it is likely that others – MPs for example – might bring actions when they were accused of much less outrageous behaviour. Who next? Boris Johnson? Mr Speaker Martin or his wife?

Whilst on the Mosley issue, I am grateful to a correspondent who has taken issue with the FIA chief's assurances that he has never supported the ideas of the far right, exemplified by his Fascist father, Sir Oswald.

He reminds me that Mosley, my contemporary at Oxford, once gave an interview to a rather scurrilous student magazine called Parson's Pleasure, which was edited for a time by me and my great friend Paul Foot.

"Do you stand by your father's statements before and after the War?" he was asked. His answer: "All that I have come across, YES."

While insisting that he was neither anti-Semitic nor anti-black, Mosley said: "I feel that the West Indian immigrants now in this country should return home." He further insisted he was "opposed to mixed marriage on a large scale". Though he added magnanimously: "I would never prohibit it until more facts are known as to its results."