Well, somewhat to my surprise I came back this week to find that no major stories or scandals had broken while I was away. But one that has caught the attention this week has been the report of the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions under Alan Milburn.
Basically the panel has found an increasing trend, across the professions, for entrants to come from better off and better connected families, who have been to independent schools and leading universities and perhaps in addition have a family member or friend who can help them secure the potentially vital work experience or training place as the first rung on the ladder. It advocates various measures to help improve the chances of less advantaged young people with similar aspirations.
Needless to say there has been some controversy over whether there is a problem, and if so, how serious it is. On successive evenings, female ethnic minority QCs in England have taken diametrically opposing views on BBC radio on whether disadvantage persists for people like them who have a state school background.
The Law Society of Scotland has been pointing to its record of outreach to schools and universities, and to the likelihood on current trends that within a couple of years the average solicitor will be under 30, female and state school educated.
What would still be desirable over the next couple of years, in law and in other professions, would be a careful monitoring of those actually achieving training places and newly qualified positions. It is common knowledge that over the past year many hopeful entrants have found their promised posts delayed or cancelled as a result of the recession, and there will be an inevitable knock-on effect for a few years at least, as they compete with those coming through to qualify in that time.
Who will win through? Firms and organisations that still have places to offer will have to select from a large number of well qualified applicants, and assertions that they select on merit irrespective of background are likely to be severely tested. The fewer the places on offer, the greater are the chances of a high proportion going to those with the advantages identified by Alan Milburn's group.
I hope it will be possible to keep accurate central statistical records of the social mix of those succeeding at the crucial final hurdles: it would be a tragedy if economic conditions were to work against the less privileged, when it is claimed that attitudes have changed in their favour. Only then will we know whether good work done at earlier stages is bearing fruit.