Diary

25th October 1996 at 01:00
It's finger-to-the-wind time in Whitehall at the moment, thanks to a not-insignificant change of personnel in the bowels of 10 Downing Street.

Farewell, then, Dominic Morris, deputy director of the Prime Minister's personal policy unit. Perhaps surprisingly for a man described as "extremely right-wing," Morris has taken the BBC's shilling, and will be looking at public policy for Auntie.

As Man In Charge of the education brief, Morris's memory will live on for his recent initiatives on grammar schools, grant-maintained schools, selection and the like. His departure may not have been greeted with unalloyed regret in Sanctuary Buildings, as Morris apparently had little time for Gillian Shephard, a woman many Tories regard as soft on education and the causes of education.

Taking over the education brief is the astonishingly youthful deputy director of the No 10 Policy Unit, one Sean Williams, whose work there has hitherto concentrated on the employment side of things. Precise details of his views on education are currently known only to a small group of people, but expect them to gain a wider currency by, say, next May.

For the Conservative party manifesto will have to be written in the very near future and with Labour leader Tony Blair promising to be passionate about "education, education and education" and Conservative strategists concentrating on the undoubted rift in the Opposition caused by its frontbenchers' unaccountable fondness for GM schools, Williams' new portfolio is likely to be extremely hot indeed.

Most authors like to be billed in complimentary terms: master storytellers abound, as do Queens of Crime. Not so the writer of the latest book to hit the bedside table at Chateau Carborundum. Emblazoned proudly on the flyleaf is a character assessment of the author by the oleaginous one-time education secretary, Kenneth Baker. "He was an awkward sod, actually, but you needed an awkward sod to get it all going."

Step forward Duncan Graham, the Scot to whom Baker's backhanded compliment was paid for his battle to get the national curriculum up and running and who has now written a jolly autobiographical tome called The Education Racket (Neil Wilson Publishing, Pounds 12.99).

Graham has already exorcised most of the horrors of his time with the National Curriculum Council in an earlier book, in which he well and truly put the boot into various ministers and civil servants, but there are still fascinating asides to be had.

The NCC carpet and its naff logo is an old tale, but what about the NCC's rubber dinghy? The York riverside building in which the NCC was housed turned out to be rather more prone to flood than promised. Recalls Graham: "As a fisherman I had in my office a pair of thigh-waders. I braved the swirling waters, reached terra firma with the first of our lady staff on my back. The rest refused to risk it.

"I made my way to the nearest yacht chandlers where I purchased a 9ft Avon rubber dinghy. We inflated it beside the pub and rowed the rest of the staff to safety. Just as well my job description was so all-embracing.

"I hope that the Funding Agency for Schools have looked after the dinghy well. It was certainly a talking-point for visitors on calm summer days" And then there are Graham's memories of Daphne Gould, NCC member, and someone who was later drafted in to unravel the problems at the troubled Stratford School in the London Borough of Newham. "Daphne's was the only head's study I ever visited which contained a fridge, a cooker, and a microwave. The vast cake served with elevenses and baked by her own fair hand was cut into real man-size wedges. For lunch she conjured up steaks the size of frying pans, and two soup tureens of chips plus all the trimmings.

"When I had the temerity to ask who was joining us for this gargantuan repast, she responded with evident surprise that there was barely enough for two . . ."

Is the noble office of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools becoming a public joke? Welcoming the man who currently inspects schools for the Queen to the Local Management of Schools conference in Exeter last week, Mark Perry - headteacher of the host school - felt emboldened to recount a story which is allegedly doing the rounds in Devon education circles.

A psychiatrist arrives in Heaven one day to discover that his services are sorely needed. A welcoming angel explains, "It's God, you see. He thinks he's Chris Woodhead."

Oh, how they laughed. Is Devon due to be inspected quite soon, Carborundum wonders?

There again, Chris Woodhead can give as good as he gets on these occasions, and when his turn came to commandeer the microphone it was with a somewhat ominous quip of his own.

Schools should have the freedom to seek advice from university departments rather than local authorities, he opined. But he would rather they did not use Exeter's school of education.

For the benefit of The TES he went on to explain that this was a joke.

No doubt they fell about in Exeter's halls of academe over that one, just as they did when he out-Wragged Ted Wragg (possibly the only educationist better-known than Mr Woodhead) and sent them that spoof letter about being reinspected by Ofsted because the first visit might just have been too indulgent about trendy teaching methods.

It was a spoof, wasn't it?

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