August is the silliest month, Eliot might have said. In the absence of hard news when the British Government goes on holiday, the media have even more column-inches than usual to spare for trivia. Around the middle of the month, the results of the Advanced Level Examinations (the university entrance qualification generally known as A-levels) are published, and there is an annual non-debate about whether it is easier to do well in than it used to be. The invariable conclusion of pundits is that, in a sacrosanct phrase, “standards have fallen.” For instance, writing in the London Independent of August 19, the day the results came out, columnist Judith Judd commented: “Traditional subjects are in decline, while vocational subjects such as computing, media, and business are booming.” In fact, that is statistically untrue; but more important is Judd’s grotesque misuse of the word “vocational,” which suggests that...

 
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