From Ed Balls to Diane Abbott -- and Iris Murdoch: 'School Gate' to Newnham
Those of you who have engaged with our recent schools discussion may like to take a look at the "School Gate" blog debate on whether or not independent schools should be banned. The same blog is also hosting a live online Q and A with Ed Balls on Tuesday -- so why not tune in and hammer him on modern languages, Latin & Greek and Palaeography....(Lord Truth, Bulley, Foska, Alcock... and all you other excellent ladies and gents, I mean YOU).
You might also take a look at School Gate's links to some other great education blogs, including the excellent To Miss with Love. One of the latest posts on this blog is about a state school student who just fails to get into Oxford. The Laura Spence problem -- though without the (ignorant) intervention of Gordon Brown and without a head teacher keen to rush to the press.
The "Miss" of the blog is very 'feet on the ground" about this. But it reminded me how tricky it always is from the Oxbridge point of view. We do our best to admit the best kinds (by which I mean those with the greatest academic potential), but with so many well qualified candidates after each place there are bound to be difficult, disputed cases -- and even occasions where it might seem in retrospect that we made a 'mistake'. (Thank god, you might say -- if Oxbridge really did manage to cream off the best with total efficiency, that would actually be bad news for the university system as a whole.)
The trouble for us is that the rules of confidentiality means that we cannot fight back if the head does go public and say what prejudiced idiots we are. We cant, for example, say that what we discovered at the interview might have had a big impact on our decision to reject the kid... they really do sometimes get honest and say that they actually have very little interest in reading the subject they have applied for, but have just been pushed by Dad or the school (... and then the school complains..).
I thought "Miss" did very well on this one.
But meanwhile, the "is late-night Newnham a heaving mass of passion" teacup storm continues?
The Mail's article on Friday was followed up on Saturday by a feature which asked some of us old girls about what the college was like in the old days. Diane Abbott and I were the chosen representatives of the 1970s... though with rather different things to say about the oppressive authority that reigned. Heaven knows where Diane got the idea that there were "endless rules and regulations" about where you had to wear your mortar board... none of us owned a mortar board, and I still don't. As for her idea that you weren't allowed a man in your room overnight -- that's even more baffling. You weren't allowed a guest of either sex more than three nights in a row, but that was more to prevent sub-letting than fornication.
It's funny how even people as sensible as Diane Abbott can re-mythologise their youth, as a conflict with the forces of puritan authority.
Meanwhile, please have some sympathy with the poor president of the Newnham JCR. For a sart it is far from clear that she actually meant the noises of fornication, and now the purists are picking her up on her spelling (discrete for discreet.... god, I thought, if my emails were scrutinised for their orthography, I'd be in trouble).
But let she who is without sin.... One of those journos picking up the president on her spelling imagined Iris Murdoch as a student at Newnham, with blokes scaling the walls to see her. OK Murdoch was briefly at Newnham as a graduate, but she certainly wasnt an undergraduate (Somerville Oxford had the privilge) .. and I doubt that she ever lived in college.