The hardest part of teaching reception classes can be in keeping a straight face in extreme adversity, as one supply staffer discovered recently.

Carborundum can promise that the following story is not an urban myth - so all names are being changed to protect the identity of the protagonists.

Before taking over the class of moppets, Mrs Smith - a highly experienced teacher - had been warned about Little Johnny, who despite chattering away incessantly at home, had yet to utter a single word in school.

One morning he made it known that he needed to go to the loo, and wanted Mrs Smith to accompany him. "You go by yourself," she said encouragingly. "You can manage, can't you?" A beseeching look, and he was gone. Mrs Smith carried on with the class.

Minutes later, a moppet appeared at her elbow. "Johnny wants you to come, " she said. "Does he need help? Tell him I'll come if he does," the teacher replied.

Moments later, the bellowing started . . . emanating from the boys' toilets where silent Johnny was closeted. "MRS SMITH! I WANT YOU! MRS SMITH!" Fearing the worst, the teacher hurried to the cubicle.

"Will you come and look please, Mrs Smith?" called the anything-but-silent Johnny. Mrs Smith shuddered. "Is it everywhere?" she enquired delicately.

"Hmmm," said the boy. "Well, you wipe your bottom and then come out," she said.

The teacher then popped back to see how the rest of her class were faring. A shout interrupted. "MRS SMITH! I WANT YOU!" Back to the cloakroom she went. "Yes, Johnny?" Johnny emerged from the cubicle backwards, stark naked and pointing at his (immaculately clean) bottom: "Will this do?" Still, starting at a new school can be daunting. Knees quaking, dry mouth and all those worries spinning round your head - "Will I make friends? Will I get lost? What do I call the head? What will I find in the staff toilets?" According to Pat Cross, head of St John's Church of England primary school in Huddersfield, teachers are more terrified by the thought of starting school than most children. Which is why she's devised a 30-page handbook with the answers to the questions you never dared ask: "Can I go out at lunchtime? What does the caretaker do? What happens if I use someone else's special mug? What's wrong with drawing pins?" Bizarrely, it turns out Ms Cross may have a point, because her book has sold more than 3,000 copies - a disproportionate number in Wales - and is about to be launched on its own website.

She says: "I remember once as a very young teacher not even having the confidence to ask where the ladies was. I only just made it home. You take away those silly pressures and teaching becomes a whole lot easier."

And for any naive saps out there who genuinely don't know what's lurking in the staff toilets, Carborundum can only proffer the following advice. Be afraid, be very afraid.

Principals at the annual Further Education Funding Council bash this week watched new chairman, Lord Davies of Oldham, for signs of emotion as he welcomed education minister Baroness Blackstone to address the gathering. The noble lord, they recalled, was plain Bryan Davies, Labour's further and higher education spokesman, until the election when he failed to find a new seat after his old constituency disappeared. As no one needs reminding, Labour won the election and Lady Blackstone got Bryan's old job. Still, he didn't look too downcast. He didn't have to explain why the much-promised lifelong learning White Paper had just been ditched.

The Diary is waiting with bated breath to find out who is to replace our erstwhile star Roger Ward as supremo at the Association of Colleges. And so are the lecturers, now that AOC chairman Jim Scrimshaw has called in the headhunters. But who is on their little list? Top may be Mr W's former deputy Sue Dutton, who turned whistleblower just before Christmas, breaking years of loyalty to the regime.

Roger's old sparring partner Ruth Gee - who lost out in the final battle for the job last time - has also been spotted lunching with FE funding chief David Melville, and former chief inspector Terry Melia. She is biding her time, flogging vocational qualifications abroad.

Another couple of blasts from the past are Geoff Melling, former FE staff college supremo and Neil Fletcher, bearded former Inner London Education Authority leading light, now a training consultant.

Then there's always Geoff Hall, the FEFC's frighteningly brainy moneyman who this week regaled delegates at its annual conference by running through the implications of paying for new initiatives with additional full-cost on-programme units, rather than simply adding to the recurrent unit total in a post-convergence, unitary Average Level of Funding methodology. Grinding to a halt, he mused: "Now what does that mean?" Carborundum

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