If you are a lecturer in a further education college, it's not often your palm gets crossed with silver. But around this time every year I seem to get blessed (or should that read cursed?) with the power of prophecy.
So, into my tent I go. Then it's on with the headscarf and off with the cover over the crystal ball, and Gypsy Rose Jones is ready to roll. Now, what do I see? It is there, but as yet only darkly.
Oh yea, oh yea, there is a time coming soon when there will be a great beating of breasts and gnashing of teeth, when the nation will be divided into two nations, two implacably opposed camps, otherwise known as the optimists and the pessimists.
The optimists will trumpet long and loud, saying: "Rejoice, it has come to pass as it was foretold, and we are living in a time of (educationally speaking) peace and plenitude. Surely this is the best of all lives in the best of all possible worlds?"
The pessimists will gather in angry knots and reply: "A plague on all your houses (and on your bungalows and condominiums too). Even now the great pestilence of ignorance stalks the land. And thus, as our esteemed seer and cocktail lounge vocalist Max Bygraves once warned: `Fings ain't what they used to be.'"
By now you will know that I can only be referring to that media fest and bloodletting contest known as the release of A-level and GCSE results. Should you wish to know more, there's no need to buy a newspaper or watch the news. We all know perfectly well that the story will be the same as last year's story, just as that tale aped in every degree the story of 2006. Essentially, it will go like this:
August 1: Politicians go on holiday and the news-gathering silly season is declared officially open.
August 10: "Killer whale found in garden pond" story runs for three days.
August 17: Hold the front page! The A-level results are out, and guess what? They're even better than last year. The pass rate has now reached 105 per cent and everyone has been given an A grade except for the youth who wrote "eff off" on his paper. He only manages a B.
August 22: Hold the front page! The GCSE results are out, and guess what? They're even better than last year. The A*-C pass rate has now reached 110 per cent. Grade A* has been awarded to everyone except for the youth who wrote "p*** off" on his paper. He only gets an A.
The Government hails the results as a triumph for New Labour and a vindication of its "if it moves, test it" policy. The only minister who's not on holiday congratulates students and teachers and looks forward to even better results in 2009. The Tories say little, realising they are on a loser whatever they say. The Lib Dems call for a review of A-levels, apparently not noticing that we've just had one.
For another week or so the optimists and the pessimists battle it out in the opinion sections of our national newspapers. On the one hand they call for higher pay for teachers and more of the same in the classroom. On the other, there are demands for a return to "real" education and beatings, the latter of which never did them any harm.
After that, the politicians come back from Corfu and the Algarve and we can safely forget about exams and results and the like for another year, until, guess what .?