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Tuning up the old reliable;Opinion

Four and a half years ago I introduced my Skoda Favorit to readers of this column. At the time, I described it as a Scotvec module of a car, functional but underrated and not always taken seriously.

The faithful Favorit saw me through two more winters more than I ever intended but reached the point when almost anything I had to buy for it cost more than the car was worth. In March I decided it was time for a change.

It was around this time that the four-wheel drive fantasy kicked in. I pictured myself high up at the controls of some invincible machine that would get me to work (why?) whatever the weather. The fantasy did not last too long.

Four-wheel drives are horrendously uneconomical in petrol and tyres. To obtain any degree of car-like comfort you have to pay a lot of money. All this for the two days of really bad weather we get every year.

In the end, I settled for a mundane family hatchback. Five doors, side impact bars, fuel injection, immobiliser, rear wash-wipe that actually works, rev-counter... it's got everything I could reasonably want. It also seems far better built than my old Favorit. But (guess what?) it's still a Skoda Favorit, now with Volkswagen quality control.

As Higher Still becomes more than a dust cloud on the horizon, wouldn't it be nice if the parallels between my cars and post-16 education continued? How we would rejoice if we ended up with something proven, something that we had been used to for many years, something with only a few necessary changes for the new millennium.

In the case of physics, we might actually have that. That is not to say that everything is perfect. I find the requirement that students pass all the unit tests before being able to achieve a grade in the final exam a bit unnecessary. Like four-wheel drive, it is probably more trouble than it is worth.

I will be much clearer as to whether all is shiny in the physics showroom when the promised assessments arrive. I also fear that Higher Still will be used as an excuse by the value-for-money brigade to foist multi-level teaching on some departments whether it is appropriate or not. The stick will be "composite it or don't do it at all."

These are serious issues but I can't think of a facile car metaphor for them, so instead I will leave you with this motoring tip. If you do get stuck with spinning wheels in snow next winter, place your car mats in front of your tyres and simply drive off over them.

Gregor Steele hasn't heard a single joke about his new Skoda

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