Only fools are impressed by parental connections, but they're important on Ucas forms

Plus: Why all the fuss about the Picturehouse buyout when our rich tapestry of cinemas is in tatters?

Share

You could laugh, if it weren’t so sad. Now that A-levels are so perfectly useless in distinguishing the moderately competent from the highly gifted, universities have started to rely on the Ucas “personal statement”. This week, the Sutton Trust published some examples of these, contrasting the difference between ones written by state school pupils and those from private schools. The sample group all got three Bs at A-level, and were all applying to the same university.

One state school applicant wrote that they had been on a school trip to Cadbury World and had been given the opportunity of organising the school lockers in their GCSE year. Another said that he often watched Match of the Day. By contrast, one private school kid had shadowed the Indian ambassador to the United Nations. One atrocity wrote that she had worked for a London designer as a model, at a broker’s firm, with a BBC radio station, events planning at a country hotel, at a City law firm and “managing a small gastropub”. Obviously, if she hadn’t spent so much time badgering her parents’ friends to employ her, she’d probably have done better in her A-levels than three Bs. But never mind.

God knows how this madness started, or why it started to be accepted as any kind of indication of future promise. Obviously, all it indicates is how well connected your parents are, or at best how pushy the student is.

Do universities realise this? The excellent Mary Beard, hearing of this research, commented that she wasn’t “taken in by slick expensive personal statements on Ucas forms. We’re not that easy to con”. That, however, is a professor at Cambridge speaking. Seventy per cent of the applicants from private education were admitted to this study’s “leading university”, compared with 50 per cent with the same grades from state schools. A bit down the ladder from Cambridge, a day or two making a nuisance of yourself at your dad’s broker’s firm apparently makes all the difference.

The tragic thing is that a kid from a state school who takes a Saturday job at KFC has done it through his own initiative, without using connections, and is genuinely contributing in a small but useful way to the economy. He’s probably not going to want to have a career behind the counter at KFC. But he’s got a clear idea of what he wants, which is to fund his life for the moment and get to university. Anyone who regards that as less impressive than “we were in New York on holiday, and my daddy bought me a suit from Bloomingdale’s and arranged for me to follow his old friend around one afternoon and play at management consultant” is a fool.

Still, this explains a number of things, including why I occasionally get letters from the children of people I once met at a party, explaining that it has always been their “dream” to be a writer and how they have “always admired my writing” from a “surprisingly young age” and could they therefore “shadow” me in my daily routine some time soon? I don’t know how gripping it would be, watching someone read a book for three hours, which is my usual daily routine, but I dare say they would put up with it. The alternative, reading a book themselves in order to get into university, doesn’t seem very high on the agenda here.

Our rich tapestry of cinemas is in tatters

The Picturehouse chain of cinemas is being taken over by Cineworld, to howls of outrage. The Picturehouse cinemas are middle class; Cineworld is more of a brutal experience. Still, it seems an exaggeration to describe the Picturehouse cinemas as “art-house cinemas”. My nearest Picturehouse is showing Argo, Great Expectations – the new one – Seven Psychopaths, and Skyfall. My nearest Cineworld, on the other hand, is showing Seven Psychopaths, Skyfall, Argo and, just for a change, Nativity 2: Danger in the Manger. On the other hand, you can get wasabi-coated peas at the Picturehouse, which I dare say gives Skyfall an art-house edge.

The rich variety of cinema types in England only 30 years ago has disappeared. Not only the genuine art-house cinema, now more or less reduced to the excellent Curzon Soho, but the repertory cinema, too. In Oxford, there were three – the Ultimate Picture Palace, Not the Moulin Rouge and the Phoenix, which specialised in Herzog triple bills. It’s currently showing Great Expectations – the new one.

And then the Cambridge Arts Cinema, a charming little nook, where one summer I saw every single classic of the Italian cinema, or so it seemed – at 10 on a hot summer morning, I was the only punter to sit through L’Avventura, though the girl with the ice-cream tray still came out gamely at the intermission. Some of these repertory cinemas were real fleapits. The beloved old Scala in King’s Cross existed on a diet of about 60 revolving films, some underground, some classics, some basically porn. The cinema shook every 90 seconds, thanks to the Tube running underneath. The back rows were often devoted to pot smoking and/or group sex. Nowadays, if you want to see a famous old classic in the cinema, you have to go to the BFI on the South Bank, where I understand group sex in the back rows is disapproved of.

Nobody made any money out of repertory cinemas, so they closed. But I don’t know how we’re supposed to get to know the great mass of cinema history. On DVDs? On YouTube? It’s not the same. Until the Picturehouse chain starts running Pasolini triple bills for the hell of it, I don’t really care who owns or runs them.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

 

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own