Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Are We Being Served?

The relief of Gordon Brown's disappearance from the news - apart from the steady unrolling of the disastrous results of his intervention of any kind in financial and economic affairs - is certainly short-lived. The announcement that the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, be his occupation of that high office ever so iffy, is considering what community service work in which to engage during his hols raises emotions of pity, contempt, and a fit of giggles in more or less equal parts.

Fit of giggles because even unspecified (and certainly not asked or expected) community work is 'under discussion with aides' before he lumbers into action. Can he choose nothing without consultation and a committee? Goodness knows how long his night prayers must go on when he gets to pause before the bit '...and God bless ....'; certainly Daddy, but does Mummy make the cut? Quite a few pray for the Queen, after their families, to guide her in coping with, not least, a weird prime minister, but is she included? Should that be referred to an appointed advisory council? How about an Advisory Council on the Recipients of Requests for God's Blessing in Gordon's Prayers?

Is the man trying to ape Mr Profumo in taking up community work (if he actually does, for the committee is still considering) and hoping to repay some of the damage to political reputation he has inflicted? Not that what Mr Profumo did ever sounded other than entertaining and wholly human, whereas what Brown has done comes in the wreaking havoc category, driven by failings and deficiencies that makes us all look askance at his normality. And if Brown isn't abnormal and a few sandwiches short of a picnic etc., he's a worse person than one would give his observed intelligence and skills credit for. Sad and bad almost raises pity.

Pity, though, should be reserved for the unfortunate recipients of his community service attentions. The man who has told the Queen 'If you want an invite to the last anniversary of the D Day Landings as Commander in Chief of UK forces, I can make that happen', might be overkill for the Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath Under Elevens' Performing Arts holiday group. Anyway, he hasn't got the clearances to work with minors. Loft-lagging is snatching bread from the mouths of the unemployed. Meals-on-wheels would have to be closely supervised, or some old age pensioners might find they were served with the same pudding every day until they ate up every scrap.

Passing through the eye of the community service needle calls for community skills, humility, sensitivity, willingness to follow the needs of others not dictate their requirements, and the embracing of anonymity with selflessness.

What Gordon could do though, is call a general election. That would serve every community in the country, and quite a few overseas.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Of Course Universities Should Be Free to Make Offers at Any Grades They Like

Admission to a university formally requires that the candidate is 17 years of age and able to matriculate. Matriculation will require some examinations that go back as far as GCSE level - a requirement for a grade C minimum in GCSE mathematics is commonplace in degrees that call for no mathematical skills, for instance; at least no skills overtly and commonly understood as mathematical skills. Usually there is a requirement for another four GCSEs including English and a foreign language, and at least two A-levels. The faculty, outside of the matriculation requirement, may make offers of places wherever it chooses.

Except there has been decades-long pressure to offer places to those with the best results. Those with the best results are often those with the best teaching behind them. They are by no means those most capable of using best the teaching on offer within a university. Academics know this very well and still offer places to those they judge will be interesting to teach and able to contribute to the faculty. And when they do it causes ructions - cf the girl with 3 As who Gordon Brown insisted was being discriminated against by an Oxford college when, in truth, hers was not a particularly unusual achievement from any school.

So the lifting of the 3 As offer rule - a rule that has been so fiercely demanded by candidates and parents - is welcome. What is not welcome is the notion that anybody except the interviewers can set the offer, most particularly that the offer should be guided by perceived parental or educational disadvantage. That is insulting to the individual candidate and detrimental to the building of a good department. The dons know what they are doing better than any quango, and infinitely prefer to teach those with what it takes to cope with the two and a half year sprint that is an undergraduate degree in England.

So matriculation should be the entry standard, and there should be no formal statements of handicap for those from different backgrounds; the Faculty or Department should determine the offer level. Three grade As with some at A* is a poor offer; a requirement to obtain a couple of Ds and you know they really want you.

Worthlessness and Waste With New Labour

Minister for the Millenium Mandelson (oh those nifty New Labour alliterations) spent £789 million on the Dome - a respectable sum even in these days, never mind 1998, before his resignation was required over mortgage application falsities.

Blair claimed the Dome would be "a triumph of confidence over cynicism, boldness over blandness, excellence over mediocrity" the Dome was to be highlighted as "a glittering New Labour achievement in the next election manifesto".

Reports that Trinity College Cambridge is picking it up for £20 million - and arguing about it even at that price - put a value, and a perspective, on New Labour and its worth as opposed to its spending.