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At the chalkface Market forces

SCENE – THE Market. The Portobello Market, a bit sparse in these bleak times. The air bites – as does the post Christmas debt. Business is bad. Only Poundland and the Sally Army are buzzing – and this stall with its glittering sign. “Mafia Exams plc,” it says.

“GCSEs.” Tufty heads in sharp suits peddle brown envelopes. There is something of the snake oil about them. A huddle of teachers scuffles around. There is something of the guilty about them. “Roll up! Roll

up!” barks a suit. “All the questions! All the answers!” “All subjects! All

grades! All tiers!” barks another. “Any assessment objective met!” Much money and many envelopes change hands. “Lovely A grades!

Sweet little Cs! Cut out the middleman. Cut out that education stuff. Fit the grade to your client! Bespoke answers!” In my day we used to hide them up our sleeves. It was called cheating. “Quadratics! Photosynthesis!

Dovetail joints! Great Lakes!’ Trade is brisk. History’s a big seller. “Tortures! Poor Laws! Austro Hungarian Empires! A pony! Nazis! Holocaust! A grand! All world wars... causes of... yes sir... First or Second, squire?” “First please” “Level?” “Low!” “A tenner! Done, squire!

You know it makes sense! Get

top of that table! Hugs in August! School gets turned round! “Where’s the A level?” says a

tremulous NQT. Ah, the Harder stuff. Up the road. Under the shades of the motorway There’s a lorry ‘MAFIA EXAMS PTK – Pimping the Knowledge. Suits warm fingerless gloves by a fire. They’re dealing in the more hardcore stuff – Philosophy, Law. Ethics, Religious Studies. Business Studies. Banking. Duplicity. Advanced Lying. Screwing the

Paupers. That area. It comes at a cost.

There’s much talk of tons, grands, monkeys and

ponies. Only St Custard’s and their ilk can afford this. Private schools – where a little learning has always

come with cash. “Do you have A2 English

Synoptics – grade A?” He kisses his teeth. “Cost yer

darlin!” Your Synoptics is always a problem, even if you nick the question – what with all that original response bollox. “The Pre-release Material,

please!” He kisses more teeth. “In January! Cost yer. That’s

gold dust, darlin’! Top wedge! We’re talking Oxbridge entrance here. We’re talking five grand.” Much money changes hands.

She sticks the parcel in her coat. Desperate stuff – and the drear logic of market forces.

• Ian Whitwham is a former secondary school teacher.

The sprout question: Eden Project scientists will be among those hosting DNA experiments with students


Scientists set the sprout challenge by Daniel White

Scientists from across the UK, including at the Eden Project, are giving students the chance to solve that age-old mystery – why do so many people hate Brussels Sprouts? A level students will be tak-

ing part in DNA experiments in a number of workshops taking place across the UK to try and get to the bottom of the issue. The reason many of us dislike

sprouts is believed to be related to individual genes and students will

be testing their DNA during the workshops. Scientists say the vegetable

contains a bitter chemical affecting people with a certain type of gene resulting in differing tastes – those with a mutation of that gene do not taste the bitterness. They believe that around half

of the world’s population have this mutation that is beneficial when eating sprouts. Hands-on DNA workshops are

being run by the Association for Science and Discovery Centres at 15 sites across the UK, includ- ing the Eden Project in Cornwall,

the National History Museum in London, and the Glasgow Science Centre. Students will be able to see how

DNA experiments work at first hand in laboratories, forensic sciences and hospitals and take extracts of their own DNA. The workshops are supported by global charitable foundation, The Wellcome Trust. Dr Penny Fidler, project direc-

tor and chief executive of the Association for Science and Discovery Centres, said: “Science is an exciting, ever-changing, inves- tigative hands-on pursuit and this project really brings this alive.

“If we want our nation’s young

people to be inspired and moti- vated by science and consider it as a career for their future, we need to give them opportunities like these so they can see how astounding and enlivening the techniques and ques- tions of real science are.” John Ellison, head of educa-

tion strategy at the Eden Project, said the workshops can provide students with the hands-on experi- ence of cutting edge bioscience techniques. Each workshop lasts for around

five hours and for details, visit,

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