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Professor scales new charity heights

What are your Easter plans? The Diary has prepared for the break with meticulous attention to detail: the chocolate eggs have been piled up in a pyramid beside the 24-pack of Carlsberg Export lager in the living room.

The remote control is poised on the arm of the sofa.

Professor David Hopkins, the head of the Department for Education and Skills's standards and effectiveness unit, on the other hand, has opted for something a little more strenuous: climbing Everest. He left for Kathmandu on Wednesday at the head of an expedition to take Paul Sillitoe, a 32-year-old man with autism and other learning difficulties, up Everest's North Col.

Although the party will not climb to the top of Everest, it does hope to reach 23,000 feet, higher than any mountain outside the Himalayan region and the highest anybody with a learning difficulty has ever gone. Professor Hopkins, who hopes to reach the North Col by April 24 and return to Blighty on May 3, has taken most of his annual holiday to make the trip.

A keen mountaineer since leaving university, readers may remember him as the man who helped save the life of former chief inspector and fellow daredevil Chris Woodhead by pulling him on to a ledge on a climbing expedition in Cornwall in 1996 ("I was sweating, terrified, in desperate straits," Woodhead recalled). He has since devoted much of his mountaineering to expeditions with the charity Macintyre Care, perhaps by way of atonement for his error of judgment.

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