Monday, March 26, 2007

Throwing a tantrum

Sometimes I feel like an alien just landed from Mars, such is my utter incapability of figuring out what really the point is...

Take, for example, the recent news from the Times (as reported by the BBC) that Dr Boston, chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), is advocating scrapping exams for the 11- and 14-year-olds.

This follows, by only a couple of weeks, an announcement that 4- and 5-year-olds would be "assessed" prior to entry to pre-schools.

Now, let's get this straight. The Government is actually proposing to assess a child's abilities on the basis of some assessment criteria (no doubt, thought up by some highly experienced and knowledgeable academic) at the age of 4, but is happy to consider scrapping exam test for older children (and replacing them with 'random samples').

As I said, I really do struggle in seeing the point.

For a start, what is the point of assessing 4- and 5-year-olds? who will benefit from it? what will the use be? what are we doing with the ones that turn out to be dimwits? what about those who would score highly? shall we fast-track them to GCSE? (well, given current standards, they might actually pass them!)

As for scrapping exams, I can see why teachers are doing somersaults of joy at the sole thought: it was the only glimmer of accountability for a profession that has been remarkably left untouched by centuries passing.
The fact that now parents had a more reliable (and objective) metric to measure a teacher's perfomance (as opposed to relying simply on the darlings' comments) must have kept the entire profession on the verge of nervous breakdown.

We, the normal people, those who measure ourselves daily against competitors, the market reality and customer expectations, know all too well what it means to be accountable, to have one's performance assessed against (and, usually, by) peers and to accept the possibility of failure.
Teachers, academics, and public workers in general, live in this rose-tinted world where performance is optional, no objective assessment of one's capabilities is ever possible (or even considered acceptable) and where one's career progression is based on seniority, political acumen and connections, but never on ability or achievement.

Objective exam tests (with all their shortcomings and the disgraceful "dumbing down" sham so shamelessly exercised by Blair's officials) were a means (albeit a timid one) for parents, and other stakeholders, to assess, on a supposedly objective basis, a school's performance and a teacher's abilities - unconstrained by the individual pupil's abilities.

It was too good to be true, and it was only a matter of time for the lethargic, yet powerful and (lest we forget it) Labour-funding, teachers' establishment to fight back to try and revert to "good old days."

It may be too late, however: we, the parents, have now tasted the forbidden fruit of knowledge, and may be quite unwilling to let go of it...

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Time 2 Lv ?

So it looks as if, after many disappointing starts and outright failures, we have finally found the solution to the problem of illegal immigration.

Yep, the Home Office cracked it - a stroke of genius or the result of long hours of analysis and extensive consultants' studies, we are not given to know - but it is at long last with us: the ultimate solution in forcing illegal immigrants to face up to their despicable behaviour and convince them to abandon their ways (and the Country) for good.

And it was all so obvious; we had been staring at it in the face for years, and yet nobody realised how powerful this would have been - it took the indefatigable dedication, professionality and inventiveness of the Home Office staff to figure this one out.

So, starting from an as yet unspecified (but we all hope imminent!) date the Home Office will start sending text messages to "foreign visitors" (apparently, "bloody immigrants" was deemed too strong a language) reminding them that their visa is to expire and they should make preparations to leave the UK.

I can already picture them: scores of illegal immigrants, all of them anxiously peering at their mobile phones (was it a text? is it Abdul at the pub, or the Home Office? should I open it?) and then rushing off on the first Piccadilly tube heading off to Heathrow, without even bothering packing up...

Maybe not.

A more sane person (read: someone not working for the Home Office and not desperate to find some ways to make it look like they are actually doing something) would have had a few doubts about the scheme.

For example, given that they do not even know the names of most illegal immigrants, how on earth are they supposed to know their mobile number?

And even of those whose names are known (the mind springs to the 7,000 "foreign criminals" whose files were left to rot in boxes in some Home Office basement) they are hardly likely to be on some sort of computer system so as to enable automatic sending of those messages.

I can already see scores of "temporary" Home Office employees, sitting at their desks and furiously typing the texts to thousands of foreigners....

The other pitfall being, obviously, that mobile phone companies (being just a tad more astute than the Home Office) are quite unlikely to give a contract rental to people without the necessary paperwork - hence, most of them will have pay-as-you-go contracts (critical for them to manage their prostitution ring or crack dealership or whatever else it is that foreigners get into when in UK - I personally started two businesses, both of them engaged in legal activities, I hasten to add) which make them just a trifle difficult to trace back to the real owner.

Hence, even assuming the Home Office to be vastly more efficient than we know it to be - even assuming that they can actually trace a mobile number to a "foreign visitor" overstaying her welcome - even assuming that the computer system in place, in a complete break with tradition, will work as intended - it is rather obvious that even the more anxious of the illegals, wanting to go beyond just having a laugh at the Home Office and its hapless Minister and just delete it, can simply take out the SIM card, throw it in the Thames and buy a new one at the nearest Tesco store, all for a tenner!

In the meantime, we, the taxpayers (yes, sadly, despite being a foreigner I do pay taxes and a shedload of them - in fact, a lot more since bloody Gordon decided to squeeze Middle England's pips) will be facing a bill of several £m's completely wasted in a useless scheme.

It is in days like these that I start to believe in the Original Sin - there is, in fact, no way I can have racked up enough evil deeds in my life to deserve such a desperately superficial and hopelessly incompetent bunch of dimwits to govern the Country I live in.