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Bouquet of the week;Features amp; Arts

Ethel Sinclair

Our flowers go north today to Ethel Sinclair, who runs the school office at Cults Academy in Aberdeen. All the staff at Cults - a sizeable comprehensive with 1,100 pupils - think she's a brilliant administrator and the nicest, kindest person you could meet.

"Ethel is the welcoming, courteous and unflappable face of the school," wrote senior biology teacher Barbara Crane on her postcard to me. "She frequently works longer hours than her contract demands, and we take her for granted too often!" Ethel puts paperwork aside when she is needed. "She always makes time for us," says Moira Hunter, principal music teacher, who chairs the staffroom social committee and who also signed the postcard.

"It's a very, very busy office and Ethel often takes work home when things have been hectic," says Moira Hunter. So it's not just teachers who burn the midnight oil.

Ethel has spent 19 years at Cults, but seems to have worked at every level of education throughout her life. After leaving school she joined Aberdeen city council, then moved to the university as a secretary in the medical faculty. After the birth of her son and a career break, she worked at a local primary school, then a secondary before joining Cults.

She loves the variety in her work and the company of three other staff. "You just have to set your hands to all sorts of tasks - some of them unexpected." Last Monday morning, a pupil was involved in a road accident. The car driver was on the office doorstep within minutes of school opening, wanting to report what had happened. "Fortunately all was well, but you have to take these things in your stride," says Ethel.

Next year Ethel will be 60, and she's expecting to retire. Not that she's thinking about it much. "I'm too busy just now to be planning my retirement!" Our cover story is by Gillian Shephard, former education secretary now writing from the back benches about the Major years. Her frustration is palpable that in the Tories' fourth term of office, speaking up for public services was still regarded as a "wet" thing to do. Shephard and Major were up against the likes of Michael Portillo who remained in a Thatcherite "time warp", she says.

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