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Curriculum, karaoke, but no chips please

The Secondary Heads Association has tried various political tactics and is famous for establishing relations with the gone-but-not-forgotten John Patten when he was Education Secretary, writes Frances Rafferty.

It was SHA, under Louise Kidd's presidency, which decided to try to end hostilities with Mr Patten who had so far refused to talk to the teacher associations. And it was all smiles when he agreed to speak at its conference.

But either the union has changed tack or John Dunford, the new president, should entertain no more thoughts of a future in the diplomatic corps.

During his first meeting with the education press in his new role, he said that John Major had "not put a foot right on education since he became Prime Minister".

Not that it will necessarily sour relations with Gillian Shephard, John Patten's successor. For all we know, she may agree.

Mr Dunford is a useful choice for SHA, especially as Sir Ron Dearing's review on education for 16 to 19-year-olds (expected in November) is eagerly awaited. If Peter Downes, SHA's previous president, is Mr Funding then John Dunford is Mr Curriculum, whose specialist subject is 14-to-19 education.

He said: "I would have preferred Sir Ron to have taken a more radical review of the curriculum, starting this phase of education at age 14."

He is also concerned that politics will outweigh the educational argument for slaughtering the A-level sacred cow. But SHA will be well placed in the debate that Sir Ron's review will merely extend rather than end.

The harsh view of the Prime Minister was prompted when Mr Dunford was asked his opinion of Mr Major's plan to extend grant-maintained status. For Mr Dunford is a great defender of comprehensive education and will parry any implied attack.

His school, Durham Johnston in Durham, is a shining beacon in the comprehensive world with 1,500 pupils including a 300-strong sixth form. Located within easy reach of both the university and the cathedral city, it draws its pupils from one of the most middle class and select of inner cities and can boast excellent exam results.

The school has also made a name in Anglo-Japanese relations since Mr Dunford, prompted by the large number of Japanese companies locating in the North-east, decided to brush up his karaoke technique. More seriously, the school's exchanges in the Far East have won it the Pounds 5,000 Japan Festival Award.

Mr Dunford's other speciality is inspection - he was awarded a PhD on a thesis on Her Majesty's Inspectorate since 1944 and has had more historical studies published. This morbid interest, however, belies an amiable, sharp and amusing man.

He is the first in his family to become a teacher and was the first to attend university, reading mathematics and economics at Nottingham. He taught in a number of schools in the North-east before moving to Durham Johnston.

He intends to make his mark as president and has one other aim - to keep his svelte 6ft 4ins figure the same shape at the end of the year.

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