21st November 1997, 12:00am



An old friend is threatened. Six months into our caring, sharing, apologising New Labour Government, education supremo David Blunkett has exiled a favourite.

He now has zero tolerance of zero tolerance, and has told his speechwriter that the phrase must no longer be used.

However, Carborundum feels that only a tonne of garlic and a stake through the heart could quash the monstrosity that is Z. Tolerance and Mr B is fighting a battle which is already lost. On the day we learnt of the Secretary of State's intolerance of his master's fave phrase a flyer arrived for the Industrial Society conference on the Education White Paper and underperforming schools called Zero Tolerance.

Carborundum is left pondering the quality of communication in the education team. The conference's keynote speaker is Stephen Byers, minister for school standards.

Professor John Gray, of Homerton College, Cambridge, offered academics an entertaining shaggy dog story as they nibbled on cheese straws at a book launch at London University's Institute of Education last week.

Professor Gray had been asked along to endorse the latest tome on school effectiveness to come off the institute assembly line. But the new board member at the Teacher Training Agency soon began reminiscing about the delights of train travel between Sheffield (his pre-Homerton base) and London.

One of his fellow travellers (no political allusion intended) on the Sheffield line was David Blunkett, who was at that time still shadow boxing for the Labour Opposition.

Homerton's director of research recalled that one evening he spotted Mr Blunkett and his trusty guide dog Lucy climbing the steps at Sheffield station. There were walkways leading off to the right and left but it was obvious to Professor Gray that they needed to turn left to get to the exit. Lucy, however, appeared confused, and after sniffing the air for a few seconds began to pull her master off to the right. The kindly professor therefore took hold of Mr Blunkett's arm and led him politely, but firmly, in the other direction.

"I think we had gone fully 20 yards before I realised that the dog had been right all along," he told his chortling audience. "Still, there was one consolation. I believe that I am the only academic who has led David Blunkett off to the left for some considerable time."

Why has the Government suddenly decided that it has zero tolerance of calculators in maths classes and is seeking something not unadjacent to a ban in primary and secondary schools?

Could it have something to do with the worrying fact that the shadow chancellor Peter Lilley - a man who would dearly like to get his hands on the nation's finances - has been spotted doing telly interviews sporting what looks suspiciously like a digital calculator watch?

If Nigel de Gruchy - leading light of the nation's second largest teaching union - didn't exist, it would be necessary to invent him. Only Nigel - bless his cotton socks - could return an impeccably worthy document on the European Year against Racism covered in brackets and arrows and the comment: "I would prefer to sign the statement without the split infinitives."

And only a union led by the Jersey Tornado would have opened its response to the Government's consultation on the creation of a General Teaching Council by remarking that it does not offer any significant solution to teachers' pressing problems.

Not sure what they are? "Excessive workload, pointless bureaucracy, under-resourcing, relentless reform, constant criticism, disruptive pupil behaviour and very modest levels of pay."

Fresh from its triumph in publishing world-exclusive instructions on how to keep cyberpets alive (and subsequently being described by The Sun, which followed up the story, as an "egghead" paper), The TES is proud to present another Tamagotchi special.

This time, we are indebted to the Northern Echo for reporting the shock of Tony Moore, who made the mistake of reading the instructions on a Pounds 5.99 Star Pet manufactured in the Far East and purchased for his seven-year-old grandson. As the Echo so delicately puts it: "In a list relating to the miniature pet's toilet habits on the back of the packet, the word 's***' appears."

The outraged Mr Moore, a County Durham councillor, said: "You do your best to bring your children up not to swear and then they see this. There's no need for this type of language."

But let the last word go to the local consumer protection department. "What it boils down to is a poor choice of an English word in translating the instructions," a spokesman explained helpfully. Carborundum can feel an NVQ brewing.

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