The risks of being risk-averse (and how many essays should a student write?)
What I find amazing about government ministers (of all parties, I am afraid) is that they think that can improve things, by blanket micro management rulings, by name and shame style league tables, and by fining those that step out of line -- without apparently (though I guess we should give them the benefit of the doubt) much thought for the downsides of their regulations. Often the aims are perfectly laudable, but it's the means to the end which is the problem.
Take Chris Grayling's announcement about young offenders last week. I am sure that there is hardly a soul in the land who would not want troubled young offenders to regain a stable pattern of life. But the idea that this is to be (partly) achieved by having lights out at 10.30 pm across the young offenders' institutions (if that is what he really did say) is not just cloud-cuckooland. It dangerously dirigiste. Surely you have to trust the heads of those institutions to use their judgements about bedtime (I mean they are not aiming to encourage disruption, are they?)
The same goes for bad cancer-diagnosing doctors.
Again, as reported, Jeremy Hunt wants to name and shame those GPs who dont pick up enough cancer patients. Well fine; we want to go to our GPs and to have them spot the symptoms of cancers and refer us on. But do we want GPs to be so anxious about their stats that they send every sodding one of us whose symtoms are, or might be, compatible with cancer off to the MRI scan? That's of course what the risk averse GP will do, but it will flood the NHS's resources and it will cause days/months of worry to perfectly healthy people.
There is a similar problem about Michael Gove's rulings about not taking kids out of school within term-time -- and fining them if they do. Well sure, we all think that kids should not bunk off school for repeated family holidays. But sometimes that family holiday might be exactly what they need (and there is a sense that it is sometimes difficult for a head teacher to say so - because it seems to be their call). And just look at the money wasted now on fighting the disputes by people who may or may not be serial offenders. Cui bono? Shouldnt this be sorted elsewhere?
I have to say that I fear that in a few years time, universities will be compelled, by law, to give students at least 6 feedback sessions a term, even if their teachers think that they shoud spend a term doing a big piece of independent work -- or whether they should be producing two pieces of written work a week.
The point is that we rely on good judgement here, not the tick box.