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Man hunter meets Tall Guy

He was introduced as the Tall Guy, but by the end of Gillian Shephard's speech John Dunford, SHA's president was beginning to feel like the Fall Guy.

His own words came back to haunt him twice in the Secretary of State's speech to last weekend's conference. "As John Dunford said in 1993, the new system of inspection is a great opportunity for schools," she said sweetly. Mr Dunford covered his eyes.

He did have his chance to get his own back in his speech concluding the proceedings. "I do not want to be told by the Secretary of State or the Opposition spokesman . . . how to teach, or how much homework to set, or how to organise classes. 'Keep politicians out of pedagogy' should be our slogan. "

But SHA's real weapon was Helen Le Marque, the larger-than-life principal and serial hugger of Hillcrest secondary school, South Africa. The diminutive Mrs Shephard was swept off her feet by the enthusiastic greeting of Ms Le Marque, and she wasn't the only one who was clasped to the lady's ample bosom. "Find me a big man," she exhorted John Sutton, SHA's general secretary.

She certainly enlivened the first night's dinner and had those assembled dancing and singing Zulu chants. Sir Ron Dearing was also exposed to her charms. "I met Helen and she cost me a lot," he said cryptically.

And thanks to the generosity of conference attenders, Ms Le Marque can return to her homeland with Pounds 1,500 to buy essential equipment for her school.

The international guests certainly brightened the normally staid conference, and the pony-tailed American D Randall Jackson Jnr, deputy general secretary of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, could be the first in history to step on to a SHA stage in cowboy boots.

John Dunford has had a good year and earned a standing ovation at the end of conference. He has also achieved the ambition of his presidential year to keep his svelte 6ft 4ins figure the same shape.

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