Testing times: Exploring staged responses and the impact of blame management strategies in two examination fiasco cases


Will Jennings, School of Social Sciences, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL UK. E-mail: will.jennings@manchester.ac.uk


This article examines the responses of ministers facing high levels of blame in the press after serious failures in the public exam system for school-leavers in Scotland in 2000 and England in 2002. It develops a method for systematic analysis and comparison of the behaviour of officeholders facing blame, tests the hypothesis that ministers will accept personal culpability only after other ways of handling blame have been exhausted and uses time series intervention models to show how one can estimate the impact of strategies on the next day's blame level. The basic sequencing hypothesis is partially upheld by the observed behaviour in these cases, though many other kinds of blame responses do not display a clear sequence. The intervention analysis also raises questions about the claimed effectiveness of presentational strategies for managing blame.