THERE were fewer A-Level passes this year, which is apparently seen as a good thing by people who like to witter on about falling standards.

According to their logic, the downturn in the number of passes means they were right in the past about exams not being as hard as they were in their day.

If you’re one of the young people who got their results last week, you may have been left a little confused by the argument.

You may have been left even more confused by certain media commentators and columnists taking immense delight in the situation. They said things like: “Ha ha – not so clever now, are you?”

Let me explain a few things.

Firstly, anybody over the age of about 27 likes to spout nonsense about “young people today” and how easy you have it. This is mostly the result of jealousy, as you don’t have a mortgage and stark reality has yet to set about your dreams like a carelessly-flung bucket of caustic soda.

Secondly, the exams you took this year, like the exams your predecessors took the year before, the year before that and so on, were set by Important Education Officials.

There was a time when these Important Education Officials’ sole task was to set exams based on the coursework taught, and ensure those exams were marked fairly and everybody received a grade based around the average score for the year.

In exchange for overseeing this process, the Important Education Officials were paid salaries quite handsome by the public sector standards of the day, but not huge.

These days, though, Important Education Officials are not only paid a great deal of money but paid those sums on the say-so of politicians.

And politicians like to be seen as improvers of things.

This especially applies to education, because politicians of all parties – when they’re in government – like to be able to boast that education is getting better under them than it was under the last lot.

For many years this meant politicians put immense pressure on Important Education Officials to ensure that ever greater numbers of pupils passed their exams.

Unless the Important Education Officials ensured results were better every year, they didn’t get those huge salaries and bonuses – and wouldn’t be able to send their kids to be educated alongside many politicians’ children in expensive private schools.

The constant improvement in exam grades led in turn to sneers from opposition politicians – whoever the opposition happened to be at the time – that exams were too easy.

“You can get a decent grade just by writing your name at the top of the paper,” they said. And: “You can have as many re-sits as you like and copy all your coursework from the internet.”

Of course, the young people who were taking the exams, and working hard to do the course work and revise, had no say in how hard the exams were, but that didn’t prevent them from being sneered at.

Eventually times changed, and the belief that exams were too easy became so common that the people in charge decided there was mileage in trying to make exams harder again.

And now the sneerers are sneering just as loudly about scores going down as they did when scores were going up.

If it’s any comfort to you young people out there, you’re generally no less academically able than any other generation over the last few decades.

And when exams are inevitably made easier again in a few years, you’ll be able to say: “Young people today...”

  • AS somebody who detests cruelty to animals, I’m always ready to praise people who highlight it.

That’s why I’m giving a big shout out to the unnamed bloke in the hard hat who was standing on the highest part of the Regent Circus development for at least a couple of lunchtimes last week.

His vantage point clearly allowed him to witness somebody in the town centre physically agitating a donkey. I have no idea where this outrage took place, as I was on the pavement and could therefore see neither the donkey nor its sadistic attacker. The man on the roof was quite vehement about the matter, however.

I can certainly think of no other reason for him to have been screaming at the top of his lungs, over and over again: “I see you baby, shakin’ that ass.”

This distressed animal lover’s cries were audible to every man, woman and child passing by or attempting to cross the dangerous road.

Perhaps the RSPCA – or some other relevant body – should investigate.

  • IF you’re the sort of person who thinks it’s okay to abuse and physically attack doctors and nurses, you’re probably feeling a bit put out at the moment.

With the Great Western Hospital now saying it’ll prosecute you and even refuse treatment, you could be forgiven for feeling sorry for yourself.

Fear not, though, because in a world of change and uncertainty, some things can always be relied on, and the judiciary is among them. Only last week, for example, it freed a repeat housebreaker who stole a bride’s engagement ring from a wedding suite and did a few months on remand, and another who broke into a home where children slept.

So you see, just because you’re absolutely horrible, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re headed for the clink.

To adapt the lyrics of an old song: “Winter, spring, summer or fall/All you’ve got to do is call/And they’ll free you – yes they will/You’ve got a friend.

  • WITH the fire at Averies Recycling now having been ablaze for a month, I think it may be time for the authorities so look further afield for help.

Perhaps the people who run New York City would be a useful port of call.

After all, it took only about a month to extinguish the bulk of the fires at and under the World Trade Centre site following 9/11, so a common-or-garden tip fire shouldn’t be too much of a poser for them.