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Unchartered territory

Regular readers will have to bear with me but – for those newer visitors attracted to this organ by its ever-growing global audience but perhaps unfamiliar with its origins and viewpoint(s) – I should explain that one of our founding principles is that we endeavour to provide a different, not to say alternative, take upon world events and life as it is lived in the 21st Century than that which appears in the established media.

With that caveat established, I now turn to my subject(s) for today which necessarily combine comments upon the way that governments around the world are coping – if that’s the right word – with managing the coronavirus pandemic generally and a current ‘hot’ issue in the UK, viz. the (roundly criticised from all quarters) apparently cack-handed and incompetent manner in which in 2020 the UK Government has handled the ‘A’ level results of its sixth form students and the entire process of administrating student applications to universities in order to continue their education to degree level and possibly beyond.

Even as I begin my musings I am conscious that it’s a stonker of a subject to which it may be impossible to do justice. Nevertheless, everybody’s entitled to have an attempt and I guess – in this wonderful word of the internet, fake news etc. – I have as much right to have a go as anyone from ‘expert and learned’ to the Average Jack or Jill in the street who’s simply trying to survive the next twelve months in a situation where all previous ‘normals’ seem to have gone out the window.

Received general opinion – and who am I to take issue with this assessment? – seems to be that the Tory Government of Boris Johnson is not just making the mother and father of all Horlickes of running the country ‘properly’ (as historically anyone would have had the right to hope and expect) but in doing so, whether in thrall to the anarchic approach of chief adviser Dominic Cummings [key theme: if it exists, turn it upside down] or not, has deliberately taken disregard for all previous protocols, standards of professionalism and competence to a completely new level.

I’m not suggesting that politically the Tories are cut from the same cloth as US President Trump, simply that maybe they’re using his example as a prospective tool to follow.

You know how it goes.

Early on in his tenure one completely insane, taken-leave-of-his-senses (if he ever had any) comment and/or or new policy from the current US President and all right-thinking [not necessarily politically] people would throw their hands up in horror that such an idiot has somehow worked the system, hoodwinked the voting public and attained office as “The Most Powerful Man On Earth”.

A couple of years later – after maybe an average of five similar pronouncements from President Trump every day, many of them delivered via Twitter – and nobody bats an eyelid anymore.

His antics have become so part of the fabric of everyday life these days that, whether we’re living a solitary nomadic life in the Sahara desert or somehow getting by in the urban chaos endured by Tokyo’s 37.5 million residents, they’re now viewed as relatively unremarkable.

In the UK ‘back in the day’ it was not unknown that unpopular policies or reports into Government incompetence or bad dealing were sometimes ‘buried’ by being conveniently published on the same days as a massive news story.

In 2020, using the Trump template, the UK Government doesn’t stop there – if necessary it will ‘bury’ five different disasters on the same day presumably on the basis that, in the ensuing blizzard of outraged media reaction, none of them individually will be perceived as particularly heinous or significant.

All the above registered, in these uncertain and extraordinary [if you don’t mind, I won’t say “unprecedented”] times, it still seems to me that it is relatively difficult for Governments to devise and deploy any policy dealing with pandemic developments that is going to be popular. A large degree of “Whatever You Do Is Wrong” comes into play.

This current exam results/university places generally-agreed fiasco is just another case in point.

It seems to me that when you cannot run a normal national exams process and have to work out another way of assessing pupils you’re on a hiding to nothing before you start.

Everyone from the students – through no fault of their own, of course – to the headmasters, teachers, educational unions, university entrance administrators (and Uncle Tom Cobbley and all) are going to complain about anything but the most favourable of outcomes for any of them.

In my bunker listening to or reading about developments over the last five months I’ve been exposed to the following:

A male “A” level taker complaining that it would be unfair for him to be assessed on his mock exams results because he’d spent the whole of the relevant academic year doing no work at all and he’d have performed better if he’d taken the real exams.

Numerous references to the fact that teachers – traditionally, routinely and deliberately – over-estimate their students’ performances because either they don’t want to limit any pupil’s life chances and/or indeed affect their school’s ‘quality assessment’ standing.

Then we’ve got tens of universities – desperate to keep their numbers up in order to fund their every extravagance and panicking at the prospective loss of lucrative fee-paying Chinese and other overseas students for pandemic reasons – abandoning all previous principles and now apparently being prepared to accept anyone and everyone who applies to them.

I could go on.

The fact is that anything short of a project that judged every student in the country to be an A* achiever was always going to result in howls of protest.

And then, of course, we’ve got the “woke” factor. Commentators on the problem have been banging on, day after day, about how the whole catastrophe is going to affect the mental health of students everywhere.

That’s all I’ve got to say.

And now to finish. I wonder whether – as I have – any Rusters have read the current edition of Private Eye. If they have, they may have seen a cartoon in it that made me chuckle.

Referring to the episode earlier this summer when the Government made its original call “to get schools open again” and immediately received a flood of “incoming” flak from the teaching unions who (officially) were opposed to going back to work because it was still unsafe to do so, even though there was universal acceptance that kids going back to school was vital for all kinds of reasons.

See here:

About J S Bird

A retired academic, Jeremy will contribute article on subjects that attract his interest. More Posts