Simon Carr: Drowsy hum of an education bureaucrat

The Sketch

The plan to keep the working class in their place is going along very nicely. The education system is producing 20 per cent illiteracy – but only among the lower socio groups. Very helpful for us who need to keep the competition away.

So the appointment of a new head of access might have been a problem. Someone who might get more children well-schooled. That would be quite a threat to our way of life.

Judging from the pre-appointment hearing for the head of the Office For Fair Access I think we're going to be all right. The candidate spoke at length about his qualifications and as he spoke, we became aware how dusty the windows of the committee room were in the early afternoon sun.

In the background, we heard the drowsy hum of an education bureaucrat in later middle-age as he murmured the words that are expected at hearings like this. Passion. Excellent presentation skills. The differential impact of activities on retention.

To their credit, the committee got the measure of their man and gave him quite a rough ride, by the standard of these things. As the country's most prominent critic of tuition fees would he now be able to defend, promote and clear up misunderstandings surrounding them? Nadhim Zahawi MP got an answer worthy of a proper politician.

The candidate kept saying universities were "autonomous organs" but then talked about the requirements he was going to make of them, enforceable with a "nuclear button". You expect that sort of scumbling from a politician not an educated regulator.

Brian Binley suggested – without quite saying it – that this vice-chancellor of Bedford University, Les Ebdon, was just too boring for the job. Slung up in the traction of rules, targets, aspirations and managerial instruments.

Mr Ebdon answered and as he did so, the committee could see the dust gathering on the window panes and the sun moving across the Palace of Westminster.

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