The Sketch: Life is too short to listen to this bureaucratic babble

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The Independent Online

The one victory sketch writers have had in the past five years was over Education questions. About three years ago, after a sustained campaign of vindictive (indeed, barely legal) satire, administrative drivel and technical twaddle were very significantly cut. It was admirable how ministers managed to hobble through their answers, brave little soldiers.

But times have changed; perhaps there is more to conceal now. Bureaubollocks is back. Here's a junior minister's reply to a simple question: are more sick notes being issued to get students off exams? "The QAA are in regular contact with institutions through their institutional audit mechanisms. They say they have identified a trend towards a more systematic approach of equalisation between different departments in the management of that process but they are not aware of any generic concerns about an increase in medical certification but the key point is that acceptances of student claims are far more likely to result in a deferral or a re-sit rather than an adjustment and that ought to give us reassurance about academic standards in terms of student outcomes."

Life too short to listen to that? It's certainly shorter. The answer, incidentally, was: "Probably not."

Why do they talk like this? First, in a time of change, ministers like to be less conspicuous and are tempted to cringe back into the machinery of government. And second, it confirms generally the power of the oligarchy to put itself beyond criticism (because only other oligarchs can understand the propositions).

Clarity makes the propositions ridiculous. Selection is to increase, but schools will be required to welcome all pupils. Schools will have more freedom but they will have to collaborate with each other. Excellence and equality are equally targeted. And in one particularly nauseating piece of dishonesty: "Diversity has been driving up standards across the country." Every single part of that is a lie except perhaps for the U in "country".

The Opposition front bench said that four million adults in Britain today have the reading level of an 11-year-old; and that 12 million adults have the same pre-pubertal level of numeracy. Twelve million! The Government reply pointed out that apprenticeships had trebled and that a million adults had gained level 3 pilot roll-out in the employer-led skills strategy... Or something.

David Willetts said: "... there is a clear majority in the House for reform." But what reform will actually help?

Over the next generation, British governments will be twaddling and drivelling and moving bits of the machine from one end to the other and congratulating and denouncing each other in their Mandarin impenetrabilities - and suddenly Chinese children will be speaking better English than our own.