17th October 1997, 1:00am



When Norman Tebbit next checks his mail at the House of Lords, a surprise awaits him: a letter from his old school. It's not the usual prize-day request which those in the public eye are accustomed to receiving; more of a ruler-across-the-knuckles.

The head of Edmonton County School (or County Grammar as it was in the 1940s when Lord Tebbit wore short trousers there) has objected to the veteran politician's remarks on race and Britishness at the Conservative party conference.

His Lordship (variously known as the Chingford Skinhead and "a semi-housetrained polecat") opined that multi-culturalism was "a divisive force" which could lead to a situation where "this kingdom will become a Yugoslavia".

Ironically, the Queen discussed similar matters at the same time during her trip to Pakistan, with entirely more positive conclusions.

Martin Rainsford, the headteacher of Edmonton, is not amused. His letter begins: "You are a former student of this school. You will remember the values we declare in our school motto, 'Non Nobis Solum' (Not for ourselves alone). You will remember, I hope, the long commitment of this school to the service of education in Edmonton.

"You are also a very experienced politician. You know full well the demons you conjure with your talk of 'foreigners holding British passports' ... as a peer of the realm you should set a far better example than this."

Mr Rainsford continues: "We celebrate that we are a multi-faith and multi-ethnic school. We are proud of the varied heritage of all our students. We hold the same values as those articulated by Her Majesty the Queen during her state visit to Pakistan.

"We disassociate ourselves completely from the values you hold. It is with regret that we believe the values you learnt at school of service to the community have been long forgotten."

Inspired by this letter, Carborundum telephoned its author. "I enjoyed writing it. And yes, it does have a headmasterly tone," he says, adding that it was an issue on which he felt very strongly. Did it raise a cheer in the staffroom? "Yes, that sort of thing," he chuckles.

Would he describe Lord Tebbit as a famous or notorious Old Boy? "Notorious, from my perspective," says Mr Rainsford. There are famous OBs, however: runner Kriss Akabusi ("a great friend of the school") and Sir Roy Strong, ex-supremo of the Victoria and Albert museum, (who in Carborundum's eyes achieved notoriety for writing a garden column on the art of lawnmowing while admitting en passant that he had always had a gardener to perform this tedious chore).

But we digress. Lord Tebbit has yet to answer the school's letter and, to judge from an interview in The Daily Telegraph late last week, he is likely to remain unrepentent. He explained: "How long ago was I a dinosaur on European policy? Now John Major says, 'Oh, Norman Tebbit is right'. When I started talking about trades unions, I was called a dangerous lunatic. It's a bit of a trial to be so far ahead of my party that I am called a dinosaur. Some of my colleagues are still in the pre-Jurassic age." Hmm.

Sir William Stubbs, chairman of the Government's exams super-quango, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, raised eyebrows at a conference on the Dearing re-view of higher education last week.

Asked to give a keynote speech entitled "A View from the Bridge", Sir William responded teasingly, before launching into the boring bit, by showing increasingly bemused delegates a series of slides - of bridges.

The last was of Westminster Bridge, with the Houses of Parliament just visible through a swirling early morning fog. For the benefit of those unfamiliar with the constitution, Sir William explained that this was the centre of policymaking.

"As you can see," he said, "there's a touch of mist around." And not just around the bridge.

National Union of Teachers deputy general secretary Steve Sinnott pulled on a hair shirt this week to tell a prickly Association of Educational Psychologists in Bristol why they shouldn't quit the union.

Steve was fulsome in his apologies for past failings - including not being at last year's AEP annual conference when members voted to leave the NUT.

Some of his colleagues had said "Bugger them", confided Steve, but he didn't agree. "Nobody has done more to get to your AGM. I wish I could have been here last year."

Members would have been happy to see him in Bristol then too - "We were in Scarborough," one said.

And Steve must have realised - if he hadn't already - that he was fighting a losing battle when Kate Pope, chairing the questions session, revealed the price members were paying to hear him speak this year. "The reason you weren't here last year was because there was no room in the timetable," she said. "And the reason there isn't a wine-tasting or social event tonight is so we can hear you speak."

That went down like a lead balloon with the handful of members who turned out. The fact that almost 200 didn't bother shows where their priorities lie - and just how much the NUT had lost the argument.


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