Confessions of a Political Animal

October 6, 2008

First Prize in Elitism

At last the Dodo said, `EVERYBODY has won, and all must have prizes.’ 

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

‘The election of a Conservative government will bring – and I mean this almost literally – a declaration of war against those parts of the educational establishment who still cling to the cruelty of the “all must win prizes” philosophy and the dangerous practice of dumbing down.’

David Cameron, Party conference speech, 2008

Of all the lines of David Cameron’s conference speech, few got quite as guttural a roar of approval from the party faithful than that quoted above. There can be little doubt that the inclusion of an out-and-out attack on something called the ‘all must win prizes’ culture in education was chosen by Cameron’s speech writers because of its ability to sound like a much more innocent statement than it really is – and because party activists crying out for a more traditional Conservatism would understand exactly what he meant.

Those of us outside Tory circles and who are not frequent readers of the more reactionary sections of the national press might see Cameron’s statement as little more than a relatively harmless assault on (more…)

September 21, 2008

Dreaming spires and nightmare admissions

The issue of access to higher education continues to receive significant levels of media attention with Universities & Skills Secretary of State John Denham issuing two slapdowns in as many weeks, first to Cambridge vice-chancellor Alison Richard, then to Oxford director of admissions Mike Nicholson. In a not wholly unprecedented pincer movement by the UK’s ‘top’ universities, Ms Richard and Mr Nicholson both criticised the apparent pressure that their institutions are under to admit a more representative cross-section of UK society, suggesting that this represented ‘government meddling’ in the running of Oxbridge. Mr Nicholson went so far as to suggest that it was actually impossible for Oxford to take a greater number of students from deprived backgrounds. This is, of course, nothing but total rubbish, but the remarks are not meant to be taken at face value, nor was Mr Denham the intended audience.

Rather, Oxbridge is engaging in an unstated game of brinkmanship with a future Conservative government, effectively giving an incoming Oxford-dominated Tory cabinet a final chance to stop the UK’s two most famous universities opting out of state funding and therefore any form of state control. Their price for this (more…)

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