Suzanne Moore on A-level twiddles and tweaks

The latest A-level scandal sends out a message: the result of obsessive testing, league tables and o

It was always going to end in tears. While Estelle Morris twists her legs nervously under her desk, lovely, long-haired girls are crying because they can't do Russian at Cambridge. Well-spoken young men with unclassified grades have had their entire futures ruined - or so we are supposed to believe.

This overheated reaction to the A-level fiasco is typical of the hysteria that passes for debate on education. It's not that I don't have sympathy for these kids - I have one at home who is as angry as hell - but it's just that, as usual, we seem most concerned about those who probably need it least. In the current madness, someone has to say it: not getting three As at A-level is hardly the end of the world.

It is only because of our narrow view of education that this situation has come about at all. The first sign that the system was overloaded and bound to implode was when formerly respectable teachers were done for fiddling SAT results. Now it looks like the examiners are also tweaking results. When professionals are so pressurised that they will endanger their careers "to achieve", what exactly are we doing to our children? Just repeat after me: what is the logical conclusion of obsessive testing, league tables, over-examining? Cheating, fiddling, tweaking. The government is partly to blame, but many parents have also bought into this essentially conservative view of education. Many parents like league tables and grades and results. It's a way of kidding themselves that they know what their children are doing all day.

It is possible literally to buy into this system through private education and tutoring. Why will no one admit that A-level results have got better as course-work has been taken into consideration together with exams. And coursework is what tutors and parents can assist with. You have only to sit in meetings of hyperventilating fathers upset about their baby's low marks to realise that it is Daddy who has not made the grade.

What you won't hear in all this middle-class furore is that there are kids this year who flunked their AS levels and were not "invited back" (as the schools so coyly put it) to do A-levels. You might say that weeding out the dross is necessary; or you might say that, in the old system, some of these kids would almost certainly have got their act together in the second year, but now, instead, have been tossed aside.

There is no room for manoeuvre any more. Kids can't afford to have a bad term, a bad year, a bad time. They must be "on" - performing, achieving, their eyes on the prize at all times. This is the spooky Blairite future. Does it produce brilliance or uniformity?

You can hear rumblings now that are almost left-field. Top universities are complaining that they can no longer pick out the brightest students because all these kids have the same three or four A grades. This means that they might have to find other ways of assessing them. You mean that there are other ways? You mean that there are forms of intelligence that cannot be assessed by an exam board? Wow. This is as near as we get these days to radical thought.

At the other end of the scale is the "philosophers versus plumbers" debate. Plumbers, the supermodels of tradesmen, are now refusing to get out of bed for less than £100 an hour, while philosophers, mass-produced by the new polyversities, are two-a-penny and no use with dripping taps. I look forward to the day when I hear the words: "Crispin has decided against law, he has always had a thing for toilets."

All this, I realise, is of no help to this lot of AS- and A-level students, who have been on the treadmill of continuous assessment since they were seven. Nor is the idea that the very exams that they feel cheated by may soon become obsolete if we move towards a baccalaureate. Indeed, I am no help at all - hardly surprising, as I haven't got an A-level to my name. But I can tell them to look around. We all know people who have achieved after screwing up at school. We have all met someone who went to Oxbridge and is an idiot.

Once, when I was particularly restless a while back, I suggested to my children that we travel around the world for a year, that I take them out of school and teach them myself. My oldest, though, was already worried about her GCSEs. "Why is my mother such a hippy?" she wailed. "Well, you never know," I countered in defence. "It might make you a more interesting person." "Being interesting doesn't get you a job, Mum."

With my wacky views on child-centred education, my belief that learning should be a pleasure, my odd opinion that education is about social as well as academic skills, I was nothing but a fossil. These days she stomps around the kitchen, feeling completely let down by a system that cannot deliver even on its meagre promise of the right rewards for jumping through the right hoops. I can only hope that her worn-down generation starts asking some questions instead of simply revising the correct answers.

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