Luck and Oxbridge


Every year, the British media will bang out the same predictable stories about the Oxbridge entry process. In December they’ll write about crazy interview techniques; in August, they’ll debate the existence of systemic bias towards posh people. These stories have been written since time immemorial, as regular a feature of the British newspaper diet as Diana conspiracy theories and Winterval.

…so this is me trying to write a third variant – on quite how arbitrary the process can be.


On politics and objectivity


My latest at the NS, on why a little noticed admission of error from Michael Gove tells us much about the subjective nature of public spending decisions.

Politicians can come up with a formula based on an objective set of numbers – but which numbers they choose, and what they do with them, will always be a matter of judgement.

You can read the piece here.

On teachers, facilitators and tiny Arab states


Jonn @NewStatesman, talking about radical new models of schooling:

Here’s a sentiment that you hear rather a lot in education futurology circles (yes, such circles exist). If you took a doctor from a hundred years ago and dumped him in a modern hospital, he’d be utterly lost: medical science has simply changed too much. Do the same with a Victorian teacher, though, and they’d probably get along fine. It’d take them a while to get used to the fact blackboards were now white and electronic, and lessons about Nazis might present a few challenges – but the basic model, of one teacher talking at a couple of dozen kids, is pretty much unchanged from the 19th century.

This is odd, because it’s not as if it works particularly well: just think of all the amazing stuff from science or history that school managed to make about as exciting as Tipp-ex.

You can read the rest here.

The Weekly Me


As of this month I’ve joined the esteemed ranks of the New Statesman‘s regular online columnists. My pitch for the gig was, basically, “I can write about technical or obscure but important issues, but in a funny, engaging way, every week“. Think about this for a moment, and you might notice that I’ve made about three separate rods for my own back there.

Anyway, here are my first four attempts:

  • If inflation is so bad for us, then why is so much policy designed to make us want more of it?
  • And, something of a viral hit: why JK Rowling should buy her own national newspaper. Really.

Jonn @FT: On the ludicrous inflation of private school fees


Last week I made my debut on the comment pages of the Financial Times, writing about the growing disconnect between private school fees’ and British parents ability to pay them:

If you wanted a single sentence to sum up why Britain’s world-renowned private schools deserve just a little bit of the sneering they attract, you could do worse than this gem. “Fees rose by 3.9 per cent last year,” the Independent Schools Council’s last survey breezily announced, “the lowest rise for almost 20 years.” Only 3.9 per cent? Well done. Have a gold star.

The rest is behind a paywall, but those who are able can read the rest here.

Marvel at how I avoided making any pun about being in the pink.

Oh, bugger.

How to make friends and influence people


As part of my continuing campaign to alienate everybody in the entire world, I wrote a thing explaining why, for all his talk of being the heir to Blair, Michael Gove’s real political inheritance comes from Gordon Brown.

And just in case that wouldn’t annoy enough people anyway, I persuaded the generally pro-Gove Telegraph website to run the thing.

You can read the article here. This, for your delectation, is my favourite of the comments left underneath it:

“After reading this hack-job I searched the author’s name. He works for the Guardian and similar Left-wing rags. Why is he spewing this kind of garbage in the Telegraph?”

Good question.

School places and Thatcher and maps, oh my


Not updated this thing in a while, so here are some bits and bobs I’ve written for Londonist of late.