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Let them eat chips;Diary

EDUCATION Secretary David Blunkett has a taste for the simple things in life. So in an attempt to fortify himself before addressing the massed hordes of fellow-beardies at the NASUWT conference in Scarborough last month, he let it be known that he really, really wanted a plateful of that local delicacy, fish and chips.

A sit-down chippie was located on the far end of the resort's prom, seemingly at a safe distance from the conference hall. But the plans for a peaceful lunch were undermined by the establishment's reputation, which had permeated through to the massed ranks of teachers. And this is something which the profession may come to regret.

For sitting at an adjoining table to the Blunkett party was a very merry group of delegates. While Mr B and companions enjoyed an austere lunch of fish and chips with a slice and pot of tea, the NASUWT gang showed more cosmopolitan tastes, ordering bottles of white wine, Dover sole and other delicacies and consuming them with gusto.

A single comment fell from the Secretary of State's lips as he dabbed away the last traces of batter. "And they say they're underpaid."


STRENUOUS attempts have been made for years to counter the general feeling that vocational qualifications are dull. But now the truth emerges: nobody, it seems, notices or cares about the content.

Proof comes from the saga of the level 2 (try to stay awake) key skills pilot in IT. Among other tasks candidates are asked to perform is to catalogue a list of titles taken from the "real world" example of a video shop.

The disk had gone out to colleges to be greeted by a resounding silence. But then, one day, an ashen-faced executive from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority did a bit of homework - and discovered that exam board Edexcel had not thought to censor the list. Accordingly, it had gone out including such X-rated numbers as Essex Girls on Top and Big Boobs.

This, er, boob discovered, the order went out: replace the list with one which could not be considered offensive. In the post went the replacement disk, with some excuse about a bug in the original. And, according to a QCA mole: "We haven't had a peep out of anybody. No one seems to have noticed anything."

Stickler for beliefs

TO DOWNING Street for a delightful gathering. Billed as celebrating excellence (what else, my dear?) in schools and colleges, the Diary joined the great and the good - plus New Labour's new footsoldiers, the heads and teachers of favoured schools - for asparagus and hollandaise at Number 10.

While the murky world of educational quangos and task forces was well represented, the stars were the real teachers and heads, who were introduced to First Lady Cherie Booth by standards supremo Michael Barber.

What about her husband, you ask. Well, prime minister Tony Blair flew in later from heavy Yes campaigning in Northern Ireland and had a fine tale to tell of sitting on a bench in front of a newly-unveiled poster. Sadly, the bench was plastered in still-wet glue: "So I nearly became the only modern politician to be truly stuck to his principles."

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