14th March 1997 at 00:00
Fascinating exercise, these primary league tables. And if John Major wins a third term as prime minister, we can only expect to see more of them, since his personal ambition is to reveal just what schools do for kids at seven and 14 as well. The lumberjacks of the world are revving their chainsaws in breathless anticipation.

Wading through the acres of newsprint devoted to the prowess of the 11-year-olds of Little Soddit Primary in reciting their 10-times tables, Carborundum wondered how many acres of trees have been felled in this whole exercise. And then called an industry insider.

Astonishingly, more than a million tabloid-sized pages were printed by The TES and Fleet Street papers to bring you the listings covering some or all of the nation's 13,000 eligible schools. That's 250 tonnes of newsprint. At around Pounds 380 per tonne, that means newspaper barons have forked out almost Pounds 95,000 on extra paper alone, and that's without the increased costs of printing and distribution.

Unrolled, the paper would cover 11,537 miles - a flight to New Zealand.

And that's just the national papers. It doesn't include any extra pages being put together by the local press up and down the country. And more significantly, it doesn't include the two million booklets printed on heavy paper by the Department for Education and Employment, felling another 390 tonnes of trees.

"Finland's looking a bit bare at the moment," jokes an insider.

How bare? Friends of the Earth explains that around 41 per cent of British newsprint is recycled paper. On "very rough figures - they're just the ballpark estimate" - it takes six mature trees to make a tonne of paper, so that means 900 have been felled for Fleet Street alone to inform the nation of the prowess of its 11-year-olds.

Add the DFEE booklets and you can wave goodbye to another 2,340 trees. Added up, 3000-plus pines make a fairly sizeable wood, or perhaps even a small forest. Are the league tables worth the paper they're printed on?

To South Croydon, to join a breathless crowd hanging on the every word of The Man Who Inspects Schools for the Queen. But Carborundum's enjoyment of Chris Woodhead's trenchant views on pastoral care in schools (too many agony aunts being sloppy and sentimental: not enough rigour and self-discipline) was somewhat marred by the curious sound effects accompanying his words.

Peculiar jinglings and janglings tinkled around the gracious hall of Whitgift School, apparently emanating from the public address system. A closer inspection of the chief inspector explained the cause. Mr W was standing in front of a low table, on which was his microphone . . . not unadjacent to the trouser pocket in which he was merrily jingling his change and keys for much of his speech. Perhaps a course in public speaking is called for. Or a reminder of the manners drilled in by good schools that it is rude to keep your hands in your pockets.

Fingers crossed for Bryan Davies, Labour's higher education spokesman, who this Sunday faces the massed ranks of the stony-faced selection committee for the safe seat of Newport East.

Mr Davies, a natural blond, has been left seatless by the activities of the Boundary Commission and has so far failed to win a nomination elsewhere. But special factors make it anybody's guess which way Sunday's decision will go.

You see, another contender is one Alan Howarth, who was elected as a Tory MP at the start of this Parliament and caused something of a furore by crossing the floor to join Labour. As a reward, the leadership is rather keen to find him a seat, and is believed to be bringing pressure to bear behind the scenes. Equally, many Welsh Labour activists would rather spend eternity locked in a small room with David Mellor than select and fight for a former Tory, particularly one who is reported to have used parliamentary questions to denounce "intimidation" on the miners' picket lines.

And then there are the local candidates. As Mr Davies' doughty Commons secretary explains, indignantly, they can canvass constantly, while her chap is stuck in the office. "He's such a good constituency MP," she mourns. "The first thing he did in his current constituency was to set up two offices, one at each end, where he has regular surgeries. And he works so hard. I've been here 25 years and he really does work hard."

Among his more notable achievements was to pilot a major Labour U-turn on the subject of student grants: ie, that they should be repayable over 20 years. Previous incumbent Jeff Rooker was sacked for even raising the possibility.

Anyway, the Newport contest is the last. "There are no more seats left. If he doesn't get this, then the only chance would be if another MP died or decided to resign," says Mr D's secretary anxiously.

Even if this were to happen, it is by no means certain that he would be the frontrunner. According to the weekend press, a senior Labour official believes an unexpected last-minute resignation may allow the former Tory to be pushed into a seat with minimum opposition from the local party.

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