Summer season that was sillier than ever

feel sad, packing away the sandy flip flops and the garish towels at the end of another summer. The teaching profession may have been hard at it for two weeks now but I - now my youngest child is in the sixth form - only returned from Cornwall last week.

But in spite of my regret at leaving the summer behind and hunkering down to an autumn of hard work, I find myself mightily relieved to be back in the land of the relatively sane. August truly was the silly season. Never have I seen such a deluge of foolish education stories.

When the (improved) exam results came out, we had the usual hoo-ha about standards, including fatuous headlines asking if A-levels were worth having at all. Yet we know that all sorts of changes associated with higher achievement - smaller families, better-educated mothers, more parents with university degrees - mean that pass rates should be continuously rising. This would be the case even if teaching and learning were not getting better, as I believe they are.

When it comes to A-levels being "impossible to fail", I would argue that there is still a big difference between a school-leaver with two E grades and one with three As. Besides, are we really saying that we want 20 per cent of sixth formers, say, to stay on for two years and then fail their exams?

All this led to yet another meaningless fuss over the fairness or otherwise of university entrance, complete with the case of a deaf girl with six A grades who did not get into Oxford.

Yet common sense tells us that when a course is wildly oversubscribed (Bristol University's English department, for example, had 1,400 applicants for just 65 places), it is virtually impossible to devise a foolproof system to pick the "best". What's more, Anastasia Fedetova had not yet achieved her impressive results when she was turned down.

The issue here is not discrimination against people with disabilities, but in the inflated reputation and social status of just two universities, and a ridiculous system whereby decisions have to be made before the candidates have even sat their exams.

At the same time as Oxford was castigated for being elitist, we were asked by various pundits to consider whether "everyone" was capable of benefiting from a university degree. Surely higher education is one of the most stimulating and civilising experiences our society can offer?. The Government's target is for just half the population to achieve this, and not until 2010.

Finally, we had the media feeding frenzy over the subject of teacher vetting, where the department for education allowed itself to be panicked by the horrible murders in Soham into promising that every new teacher would be cleared by the beginning of term. This despite the fact that the two people who are now in custody had undergone the normal police checks.

This rash commitment resulted in a "U-turn" (as gleefully reported by the media) a few days later, to avoid an even greater furore when it looked as if some children might miss the first few days of term.

Why is the cause cel bre of the moment so often completely irrelevant to the real business of education? And why are shallow and erroneous analyses such as the ones above so influential?

The media may be blameworthy, but the journalists are responding to the prejudices, snobberies, fears and secret desires of their readers. I'm afraid the only solution to the problem must be more and better education.

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