Have standards gone to pot?d

3rd September 2004 at 01:00
Fresh from saving the hobbits of Middle Earth, Gandalf this summer defeated the Spanish Armada.

Well almost. One in 20 16 to 24-year-olds ignored the claims of Sir Frances Drake and told a BBC survey that Britain's victory was masterminded by the wizard from JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. The story was an opening salvo in the annual silly season debate about dumbing down.

While Charles Clarke, Education Secretary, holidayed in Spain, his deputy David Milibabble (Daily Telegraph) was at home doing his best to defend this year's hard-working students and their record exam results.

In an article in the same paper, Mr Miliband dismissed "the myths about dumbing down" despite universities' claims that A-levels do not allow them to distinguish between the best and the rest and that, as a result, students ain't what they used to be.

But does it all really matter? Not according to the Daily Star. It reported that "parents are refusing to send their kids to university in case it turns them into lazy, beer-guzzling pot-smokers".

William Hague, former Tory leader, also has concerns about the activities of students. He used his News of the World column to attack the decision of Swansea Institute of Higher Education to offer a degree course in surf and beach management.

"In a country that is short of plumbers, electricians and maths teachers we are allowing people to kid themselves that three years working out how to run a beach counts as a degree," he thundered.

But has he thought this through? Personally, I would rather have a stoned beach manager than electrician.

Evidence of short-term memory loss and declining standards is not confined to students.

Mr Clarke's promise that every classroom would be equipped with a state-of-the-art interactive whiteboard was quickly downgraded to an aspiration after the Government started to count the pound;370 million cost.

Only the Office for Standards in Education can truly hold its head high this summer.

It was given full marks by an evaluation of its work, carried out by - you guessed it - Ofsted.

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