14th February 1997 at 00:00
Possibly the most interesting of the many post-election predictions to pop up so far involves a man indirectly responsible for the current shape of English education and some ermine. Arise, Lord Holland of St Ives.

Impeccable sources assure Carborundum that Sir Geoffrey Holland, vice-chancellor of Exeter University, is being lined up by Tony Blair's office to join the first cohort of Labour peers, should the party form the next administration.

If true, the news would be the first solid indication of the former civil servant's political affiliations after a career spent climbing to the top of Whitehall's greasy pole under Tory administrations.

It would also be a sharp move by Labour: Holland has a genuine passion for matters educational and employment-related, having worked at the top of both departments. Education, we are assured, would be the passion of a Blair government, and here we have a genuine insider who not only knows where most of the bodies are buried but who was wielding the shovel.

Moreover, Sir Geoffrey can take some credit for helping the Government snatch victory from the jaws of defeat on its own education reforms. It is he who brought in his old chum Sir Ron Dearing to head up the new curriculum quango.

He is also the right side (just) of 60, vital to a party whose current batch of peers are not only in the minority (with regular participation therefore required) but also more elderly (which makes such commitment rather more difficult).

Sir G is being tipped to become Labour's leading education spokesman in the Lords. If he wants this - and there is no indication that he does, being occupied trying to set up a University of Cornwall in his home town of St Ives - some wonder whether it would be the best use for his undoubted talents.

For a start, there is the routine nature of the job. And there is the queue of current peers claiming Buggins' Turn. Some suggest that if Sir G wants useful political influence, he would be better off as an adviser with a seat in the Lords.

But no one's talking. "These things would be a matter for the Prime Minister and Her Majesty," intones David Blunkett's right-hand man gravely. The usually charming and loquacious Sir Geoffrey is also silent.

Should the prediction be correct, it will be a supreme vindication for a man who could be described as the best education and employment permanent secretary we never had: he resigned from the then Department for Education after just 10 months, hinting strongly that a major reason was the unlikeliness of a merger with Employment. Which duly came to pass.

However, he remained the best of chums with Gillian Shephard, his old boss at Employment, and frequently hopped on to the London-bound train for detailed chats about some matter or another.

Quite a contrast to his relationship with John Patten, the turbulent education secretary who arrived at Sanctuary Buildings at roughly the same time as Sir G and is widely credited with driving him out a record 10 months later. Still, it is clear who is doing better out of the episode. Patten - the only minister sacked by John Major on performance grounds - holds a distinctly iffy seat and his writing career is not sparkling. His hardback tome on Toryism is even remaindered in Conservative Central Office for Pounds 1.

Chris Woodhead - the Man who Inspects Schools for the Queen - has been damned with faint praise by Lord Annan in the Upper House on the back of his annual report. "I do not blame the chief inspector for his brutally frank remarks about the failings of some head teachers and staff . . . but I am bound to say that neither his record nor his pronouncements gain the confidence of teachers.

"I think he needs some guidance and he would find it were he to consult some of the noble and gallant Lords who sit on these benches such as the nobel and gallant Lord, Field Marshall Lord Bramall. They understand how to lead men under their command and inspire them, as well as tearing a strip off them when things go wrong. The chief inspector has something to learn about leadership.

"He should go himself to visit some good schools, accompanied by his PR officer and, if possible, a television crew. He should compliment the staff on the admirable work they are doing, praise them, encourage them, esteem them; and then add: 'O si sic omnes!'" Driven to distraction by ill-disciplined pupils? Dreading that inspection due next week? Or perhaps OFSTED mistakenly missed your school off its list of stars.

No matter, spare a thought for those even less fortunate. According to the first large-scale investigation among vendors of The Big Issue, 13 per cent of homeless people surveyed were once in a profession "such as psychologist, engineer, teacher or nurse".

And if you don't run into a former colleague in Cardboard City, you quite possibly will encounter an ex-pupil or three - 29 per cent of respondents had a qualification at GCSE or O-level, 8 per cent had A-levels, and 15 per cent had gained a degree. It could be you . . .

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