30th June 1995 at 01:00
Could it be that Roger Ward is finally tiring of his role as the expensively-tailored Flail of the Lord in the college lecturers' dispute over contracts?

Last year, it seems, he was planning to abandon his post (as chief executive of the Colleges Employers Forum) for a job at the NHS with the unappetising title of human resources director. This, Carborundum has been told, would have involved giving lots of exciting interviews on Radio 4 plus the challenge, as they say, of orchestrating all negotiations between health bosses and workers.

But Mr Ward didn't get it. He was still swallowing his disappointment some time later when the telephone rang. Who should it be but the successful applicant, the NHS's brand new director of human resources, a Mr Ken Jarrold, looking for some brand new ideas. Would Roger mind awfully if he borrowed the model contract for a bit - you know, the one the lecturers are finding rather too flexible?

Mr Ward, according to Carborundum's source, was "very miffed". He probably should have been flattered, and you have to admire Mr Jarrold's nerve, but health workers should be quaking .

Higher education has its troubles as well. Lancaster University has been cruelly used by the press this week.

As Monday morning dawned, Carborundum's first cigarette of the day was disturbed by a distraught professor of cultural history. Rumours of the imminent establishment of a Chair of Comedy at Lancaster, said Jeffrey Richards, have been greatly exaggerated by a respected Sunday broadsheet.

The idea had merely been mooted in the wake of a plan to establish a museum of comedy, whose archive would be housed at the university. Nothing funny about that, but the suggestion that there might be something inherently amusing about a professor of humour, at least among coarser types, provoked a passionate tirade on "the populist philistines who poke fun at all forms of cultural studies" and "the deep strain of Thatcherite anti-intellectualism that is degrading the whole discourse of public life".

Professor Richards said he would, however, be in favour of the alleged Chair if it ever became a serious proposition. The incumbent, he said, could consider Orwell's question: "Is comedy subversive or conformist?" Victoria Wood is an honorary graduate of Lancaster, and one wonders what she would make of events at the management studies department. Lecturer Monica Lee tells of how she asked innocently, via a letter to The Psychologist, whether "any research had been done upon possible links between genital difference and early experience of parabolas through urination as a mediating factor in the debate about sex-linked spatial ability". Phew. Daily Mirror hacks, always avid readers of The Psychologist, consulted an "expert", who opined that the "theory" held no water: "Peeing is irrelevant to our ability to catch or kick a ball."

But Ms Lee cries: "I never mentioned football. The letter was just a question. I haven't done any research." Does she have an opinion, though? "There's scope for research. The male is trained to aim and can see what's happening; this might affect spatial awareness."

She adds that her life since the letter has been blighted by a discussion on the less-than-academic Radio 1 Chris Evans breakfast show and a "constant trickle" of enquiries.

Still harping on the baser side of life, the most notable aspect of the Sex in a Grant-Maintained Gym scandal has been the disarmingly artless candour of the head of Oakwood Park School in Kent, Mike Newbold. In answering the prurient enquiries of the press, he has told the public everything they could want to know about the hapless couple whose long-forgotten "romp" fell out of a video cupboard like a very fleshy skeleton. "It was fairly intimate but it was not that (sex) . . . I believe Miss Morgan was naked." He adds: "There was no attempt to cover up." He means the incident, of course.

Apart from naked frolics, Carborundum has noticed that grant-maintained schools and the role of local education authorities under a future Labour government have been under scrutiny lately.

What a difference 93 years make. In spring 1902, a Tory government was busy transferring control of education from school boards to LEAs with power to levy a rate. The Nonconformists and Liberals objected to this, on the grounds that denominational schools would be taken into the public system. A cry of "Rome on the rates" was heard and poll tax-style protests erupted. In July, the PM, Lord Salisbury, stood down in favour of Balfour, and the Tories lost the election two years later. Squaring the circle?

Dark thoughts at the National Commission for Education over the apparent last-minute substitution of humble Schools Minister Eric Forth for Secretary of State Gillian Shephard at its final report launch conference and her defection from a BBC Today debate with NCE leading light Sir Claus Moser.

The highly-critical nature of the report on Government education policy might have had something to do with it. But opinion within the Commission was also that the diminutive Mrs S's apparent interest in canvassing for the Tory leadership might have been involved.

"Oh dear, it's come to this" was Margaret Thatcher's reaction to the idea of Gillian Shephard as an alternative to John Major. Surely Mrs T cannot be suggesting that a female politician with an education background is an unfit candidate for the highest office in the land?

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