A lecturer at a reasonably well-respected northern plate-glass university was somewhat perplexed by a student who complained about her poor marks for an essay. She had a statement of Special Educational Needs. She insisted that this had not been taken into account in the marking of her paper. My acquaintance was hauled before the university authorities to explain why he had marked her so low. ‘Because it was awful work, the work of a cretin,’ he replied. Ah, perhaps, they told him. But you haven’t taken into account the fact that she has Special Educational Needs. That’s why the paper was awful. So you need to allow for that fact and mark it as if it had been better.
That is, the exasperated lecturer told me, as if it had been written by someone who wasn’t thick. We have to pretend.
You can get one of these statements, or their replacement, the Education Health and Care plan, apparently, for a whole host of real or fictional disabilities — i.e., things that mean, quite simply, that you aren’t very good at academic work. Dyslexia is the main one — a diagnosis which in nine out of ten cases these days simply means: middle class but really not very bright. Indeed, my acquaintance’s gripe came to mind this week because my daughter has just taken her 11-plus and I know for a fact that up and down our county, Kent, middle-class parents have been desperately trying to get certificates proving that their brats are ‘dyslexic’ rather than stupid, so that they can have an extra 20 minutes to complete the exam and have all the questions read out to them nice and slowly. I’ve cited plenty of scientific evidence before suggesting that both dyslexia and its lumpenprole counterpart ADHD are now so overdiagnosed as to make both terms almost meaningless. Dyslexia usually means just thick, ADHD usually means vicious feral halfwit. Most of the time these fashionable diagnoses are simply cloaks for the parents to wear. Cloaks that make them feel better about themselves. But delusional cloaks, if cloaks can be delusional.
It hadn’t occurred to me, until I spoke to the lecturer, that these idiotic attempts at levelling out also took place in our universities — but of course I should have known. It is the dominant paradigm of our education system from nursery school through to tertiary education. It underpins the objections to grammar schools, of which we have heard a lot this past week. It isn’t fair, the liberals complain, that kids who have an aptitude for examinations, intellectual thought or academic investigation should be sent to schools where these qualities are prized and nourished. While the others, who have no such aptitude, should attend schools where there are rather fewer academic expectations.
This is delusional. We are not all equal, no matter how much and how often the liberals insist that we are. It is patently not the case. We are back with that squiggly line which liberals are happy to describe as a ‘circle’ because they are nice, inclusive people who believe that if a squiggly line wants to be a circle then it has every right to be one. It is an epic misapprehension and leads to absurdities such as the one I quote above, where someone who is useless at academic work has the right to be marked as if she were good at academic work, because it’s not her fault that she has the IQ of a block of Cathedral City cheddar cheese. In the end, this does nobody any favours.
The same fallacy underpins the insistence that everyone has the right to go to university, no matter how dense they might be. And so we now have legions of young people with third-class degrees in gender or urban studies from what were once noble polytechnics, cowering under a mountain of debt and with not the remotest prospect of finding work. Young people who expected to find highly remunerative and agreeable work because they have been to a ‘university’ and are therefore ‘clever’. But an awful lot of them are not clever in an academic sense at all, and would have been much better served by an apprenticeship, an NVQ, or work at the shop floor.
You can see how the process works in the mind of the deluded university–educated liberal. Universities create elites, they avow, but they would not do so if everybody went to one. So send everyone to a university and even insist — as some liberals are doing now — that top universities be forced to take a quota of thickos. This is not only delusional, it also devalues apprenticeships and the like. Academic brilliance is not the be-all and end-all, as Alan Sugar and John Prescott would be quick to tell you. Remove the snobbish stigma from vocational training as an alternative to ‘uni’, and we might begin to edge towards an educational system which met the hugely diverse needs of our population — rather than being a fantasy world where everybody is assumed to have equal ability.
It is this, I think, which Theresa May needs to sort out before she builds all of those new grammar schools. Address the ideology first, the corrosive and mistaken ideology adhered to by what Michael Gove, when he was education secretary, called the blob: the left-wing educational establishment. It is a tall order, for sure. She’ll have to sort out those infant school sports days where the running races, if there are any, end with the kids all holding hands and crossing the line together as one — the thin ones, the fat ones, the people who are good at running, the people who are slower than Lord Chilcot. That happened at a state school my daughter attended: there are no winners and there are no losers, you see. We’re all equal.