Chief amongst my recurring niggles is the consistent failure of our political class to address structural issues: instead they prefer to apply quick, ideological fixes to the symptoms of our malaise.
One of the greatest casualties of this approach has been education. Our state education system has been so distorted by the unemployment statistic manipulators, the social engineers and the propagandists for multiculturalism/climate change/fill in the latest cause du jour that it is no longer worthy of being described as education; it is social battery-farming: your unique little person in at this end, your right-on wage-slave out at the other.
It is what we had come to expect from the last government, social engineers par excellence, but now the LibCons have shaken off the mantles of laissez-faire and decided to ‘nudge’ the education system into another state-sponsored correction. Here’s David Willetts, our current Universities Minister (I didn’t know that we had one either), fresh from his anti-feminism triumph (I jest) and blathering on about
pretending he has a useful purpose in exchange for his generous salary and expenses the need to re-engineer our university admissions process.
“If you get an A and two Bs at a school where the average A level grades are a C and 2 Ds, then I think that shows you’re achieving something exceptional.
Someone who is getting perhaps even better grades, but at a school where everyone gets good grades may not have achieved something so exceptional.
What universities have to be able to do is to look beyond the headline A level grades to what that individual’s potential might be.
Universities have to be meritocratic, universities have to go on who are the people who are the brightest and best that can go to our universities and the last thing I want is social engineering.”
Asked by his interviewer, Jon Sopel, if “I might get 3 As and be at a slight disadvantage to someone who gets and A and 2 Bs”, Mr Willetts replied:
“Yeah, well ultimately, these are decisions for universities.
I want everybody to work hard for their A levels, but I am saying, and I think it’s always happened, in the old days of the Oxford or Cambridge interview, they were trying to assess potential, not simply exactly what grades you’ve already got.”
As David Willetts has deemed it necessary to make his pronouncement, I think we are safe to infer that there is official recognition of a problem that should not be lightly dismissed.
Reducing the content of what he said to its sub-text, what Mr Willetts is actually saying is that the exam system does not reflect academic merit. It follows that exam results are not meaningful in absolute terms: they are only a relative reflection of the quality of the school that a student attends.
Ergo, we have some schools that are failing their students.
Based on data from the Russell Group of universities, admissions from the state sector are only a little higher than those from the relatively small private sector which would indicate that poor quality schooling is more or wholly a problem in the state sector.
So, we have a flawed examination system and a poorly-performing collection of state schools but rather than correct them – even though they cost a small fortune, do not meet their stated objectives and, into the baragain, fail a sizeable proportion of our young people – David Willetts is trying to nudge the university system into applying a sticking plaster over the evidence.
If I were the Minister for Universities (and you’ll be delighted to hear that I am available for less than the cost of a moat-cleaner), I think I might be more usefully employed ensuring that universities re-acquired their status as places of excellence. And I would start by demanding that the Minister for Education investigate and correct the causes of poor state schooling. Perhaps then, the examination system could fulfil its only real purpose of determining absolute academic achievement.