Diary

4th October 1996 at 01:00
One of the great joys of trade union watching is the naked rivalry between organisations which have more in common than not. You might think, for instance, that the classroom teacher unions have a unity of purpose yet more often than not they are squabbling like rats in a sack over something or other.

To Carborundum's horror, it looked as though some gruesome brotherlysisterly unity was going to break out at the Labour conference this week on the issue of fringe meetings. Now that David Blunkett is Labour's Man in Employment as well as education, he is in demand for twice as many pressure-group gatherings on the lunchtime and evening circuit and, frankly, wanted to cut down his commitments a bit.

So a polite request went out to the National Union of Teachers, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers and the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers. Instead of three meetings at which Mr B would give roughly the same speech and undoubtedly answer the same questions of the same audience (and probably even be offered the same warm white wine) would it not be possible to organise one giant do and wrap the whole thing up in an evening?

The NUT and the ATL saw the sense in this approach and booked a room at the Clifton Hotel for Tuesday evening. The NASUWT didn't. And that is why their fringe meeting was addressed by Blunkett sidekick Peter Kilfoyle.

A mass outbreak of smirking has hit the education committee in the London borough of Croydon. Years ago, when Carborundum was a mere stripling, the borough's education committee was taken to court by the teaching unions for failing to co-opt a teacher or other suchlike bod to take part in deliberations. The council's argument, that teachers were represented on the sub-committees through which all matters were filtered before finding their way to the main committee, was accepted by the court and there the matter rested.

However, two years ago Labour took control of the council and invited the unions to elect a representative. This they duly did, an NUT member attending assiduously until going on maternity leave, whereupon a replacement was found. So another invitation to join went out to the unions more than a year ago, and yet the seat is still vacant.

The reason? More brotherly love, so it is alleged. The story doing the rounds in Croydon is that the NASUWT told the committee that the various union members on the sub-committees would take it in turns to fill the empty seat. Unfortunately, when the NUT got wind of this it did not agree - something to do with being the biggest union in the borough - and the matter is still in a state of stalemate.

What do teachers have in common with pneumatic Baywatch star Pamela Anderson? (not pay, that's for sure). Give up? Well, a very great honour has been bestowed on both: a Barbie doll in their images.

You can probably guess what Baywatch Barbie looks like. But Teacher Barbie? She has waist-length blonde hair, red stiletto-heeled shoes, and a rather dinky pair of glasses. Her dress (which only accentuates that hour-glass figure) is black with rulers, apples, letters and numbers all over it. And she comes with a blackboard, a map of the world and a giant comb.

Equally realistic are her two little pupils, an extraordinarily well-scrubbed pair sitting at their own little desks. No sign of national curriculum folders, home-school contracts, baseball bats or any of the other horrors of modern teaching here.

Still, take it as a compliment, eh? Two Barbies are sold every second somewhere in the world, and placed head to toe the one billion sold since 1959 would circle the earth more than 11 times. Each year around 120 new outfits are designed for her. She's even got a CV: she graduated from Willow High School at 17 along with her best friends Ken and Midge.

You'll be pleased to know that at Pounds 19.99, Teacher Barbie is selling well. Any plans to put Ken in the classroom, we wonder? "No," comes the reply. Pity. His tall good looks remind Carborundum of Chris Woodhead, the Man who Inspects Schools for the Queen. And the presence of the Office for Standards in Education in the classroom would just add that final touch of reality.

With the England cricket team needing all the help it can get, boffins and dons are combining resources to come up with the perfect pitch.

All wickets used during test matches and county championships will be subject to investigation by the Sports Turf Research Institute at Bingley in West Yorkshire, and the University of Wales, Aberystwyth.

Samples will be taken and analysed in an attempt to develop a turf that suits Atherton's lads.

Grass seeds and soil mixes will also be scrutinised to see how they respond when cricket balls are bounced and bowled on them.

Research, no doubt, the PM would approve of.

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