30th May 1997 at 01:00
Has Michael Barber bitten off more than he can chew? Along with the post of standards supremo comes the job of dealing with marathon faxes from a man called Charles Bell and his faintly mysterious education pressure group, Article 26.

Mr Bell is a tireless correspondent by phone, fax and e-mail, and a redoubtable defender of those schools which have so far been "named and shamed" by politicians. Such schools, he argues, have often done a fair job in difficult circumstances.

Until recent months Mr Bell's fire was aimed at HM Chief Inspector Chris Woodhead. But, with Professor Barber emerging as Standards Czar in place of the climbing enthusiast Woodhead, it is the new hard man's turn to don the body armour.

Hence the following story from Mr Bell and Article 26: Rams Episcopal primary in Hackney was picked out by the new Government as one of the worst in the country - even though it has better results than an inner-city school long held up as a new Labour model. The Hackney school's key stage 2 test results last year were actually higher (albeit marginally) than those from the much-praised Greenwood Primary in Nottingham. This school is loved by Labour for its policy of setting pupils. Greenwood, which also serves a multi-ethnic community with high levels of poverty, won the admiration of Tony Blair in 1995 and more recently prompted Labour special adviser Michael Barber - a former Hackney education chairman - to say: "I have seen the future and it works."

At Greenwood, 28 per cent of 11-year-olds reached level 4 in English and maths, 35 per cent in science. At Rams Episcopal, which had twice as many pupils with special needs, the figures were 37,28, 28.

Tall tales from the conferences no 284: the head of a primary school in the Wirral has been spreading the following story among the National Association of Head Teachers. In front of the Office for Standards in Education inspector, a maths class was asked to define "symmetry". Only one hand arose, its owner offering a gruesome explanation: "It's a place where you walk quietly 'cos there are dead people there".

Sweet smelling, good looking as new Labour may be, it has not wholly disowned the horny-handed sons of toil, or the people who write about them.

David Blunkett's new Parliamentary Private Secretary or bag carrier is Jean Corston, the member of Parliament for Bristol East since 1992.

Her own educational history is impressive, including a law degree at the age of 47 from the London School of Economics. This after a life-time working for the Labour party.

She then became a barrister with an interest in employment law and women's and disability rights.

She has, according to the Departmental blurb, been much involved with parliamentary groups on child welfare, child support and parenting.

But this is small potatoes. Her husband is Professor Peter Townsend, emeritus professor of Social Policy at Bristol University, pillar of the intellectual Left, international expert on poverty and a man with a Who's Who entry at least five times the length of Jean Corston's.

A quick dip into the lower end of this scary catalogue reveals authorship of academic studies including International Analysis of Poverty; Inequalities in Health; Poverty and Labour in London and, closest to home, Service Provision and Living Standards in Islington.

If, then, Jean Corston appears unusually knowledgeable about these politically dangerous topics, it is down to more than her years as a stalwart of the People's Party.

Her research assistant is one Peter Townsend who is very definitely not new Labour.

What, we wonder, does he think of criticising schools in very poor areas?

Mr Blunkett could be on the receiving end of some sharp but troublesome insights in the coming months.

How long must deposed general secretaries of NATFHE remain in the wilderness?

John Akker's predecessor Geoff Wolf took a nose-dive after an appallingly low vote for the general secretary three years ago.

At this week's annual conference in Scarborough, he was welcomed back into the fold with a standing ovation and honorary life membership.

Could there be a lesson here for Mr Akker?

Mr Wolf's road to rehabilitation involved an educative spell as a British Rail information officer, seated in a booth on Charing Cross Station.

The Grant Maintained Schools Foundation is no more. This was the Government-funded body responsible for promoting GM status among those schools yet to see the opt-out light.

Such a body has few friends these days and the staff have been told to clear their desks.

Will the foundation director Andrew Turner be asked to clear his garage? At present it houses a work-related Mercedes.

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