William Poole on the often grim task of assessing earnest Seamuses

Young Seamus is passionate about literature. He literally devours books. As a child, while the other boys were out hitting each other with spades he preferred to snuggle up in a corner with a good book.

Now he attends the theatre regularly, about which he is also passionate, and he writes passionate poems in his spare time.

It is his dream to study literature at university and he dreams of one day studying Coleridge.

Seamus, in fact, feels quite passionate about a number of things.

I have, as you will guess, been reading piles of UCAS forms for the annual horror that is admissions.

I have a ‘passionate’ count – personal statements for hopeful literary types don’t seem to be able to avoid the term, and all I can do in revenge is count it.

We are pretty thorough when it comes to admissions and we don’t deserve the flak we get. There can’t be many other comparable institutions which administer an examination, mark written work, grade the application form itself, and then interview the candidates personally, up to three times with different interviewers.

Many other universities just read the form and make an offer. We debate, we have been known to agonise.

I would say that the dons on average have a positive bias towards state school candidates, although the politicians and even the dons themselves, many of whom are guilt-stricken paranoiacs, are constantly assuming the opposite.

That our figures don’t match our inclinations says more about the state system than your standard don’s biases.

I hate admissions. You know that you are going to disappoint three or four times as many candidates as you are going to delight.

Some of them have had more money poured over them than I earn in a whole decade.

I used to enjoy the responsibility. Now it gets me down.

That I can deal with. It’s the written work that floods in each year that is now getting me doubly down in the deepest dumps.

For it seems that the only reason to read Shakespeare in many schools these days is to discover that many of his plays are ‘misogynistic’ and/or ‘patriarchalist’.

I have had to instate a new count alongside the ‘passionate’ count: it’s the ‘M&P’ count, ‘misogynistic and patriarchal’.

Now I can just about see a world in which certain self-enlightened colleagues can write books about how ghastly the past was before the invention of The Guardian, queer theory, and quinoa, but it is depressing to see it in schools.

The schoolroom encounter with Shakespeare, on the basis of a significant chunk of the essays I read this year, must be a grim business, the wagging of the finger of the present over the sinful head of the past.

When I studied Shakespeare at school, I thought we were trying to work out what is right with him, and not what is wrong.

Where has all the fun gone? All the little Seamuses are made to sound so earnest these days. Lighten up, schoolteachers.