French, German, and Spanish GCSE exams without being required either to read or write these languages (news reports, December 2007). 5 Quite clearly the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has failed to ‘ maintain standards in tests and examinations ’ . Research carried out by Robert Coe at the University of Durham (see below) has shown that an A-level candidate who gained an A grade in 2006 would have got a B in 1996 and a C in 1988. 6 The above decline in exam standards has been accompanied by a deterioration in the quality of exam marking. The Guardian has published several accounts by newly-appointed markers who were disturbed, and in some cases shocked, by what they found. These include: ● ‘ In capable hands? ’ by Felicity Carus. 21 August 2007. ● ‘ Exam board under fire over marking claims ’ by Polly Curtis. 26 August 2005. ● ‘ It really is that bad ’ by Tom Smith. 25 August 2005. 7 The above is a deplorable record, yet in August 2007 it was reported that the head of the QCA in 2006, Mr Ken Boston, received £273 000 in annual pay and benefits compared with £43 563 for his predecessor in 1998. 8 When considering how the above deeply damaging trends can be reversed, a good starting point is the figure below. It is from p 9 of STANDARDS OF PUBLIC EXAMINATIONS IN ENGLAND AND WALES (see below) and shows the percentage of 15-year-olds achieving five or more GCSEs at grades A * –C or equivalent. The graph reveals that grade inflation took off in 1988 the year in which Secretary of State Kenneth Baker transferred responsibility for regulating the then Department for Education and Science from an independent watchdog to the Department itself, the latter acting via a succession of quangos (qv) or quangolike bodies of which the QCA is the latest.