13th June 1997 at 01:00
So far, the new boys and girls in the Government's education team appear joyously and resiliently blokeish, if that is a politically correct way of putting it. Apart from the handicap of being politicians - which tends to insulate them from real life - it is possible to contemplate most of Mr Blunkett's team buying the necessaries in Sainsbury's (though not Kwik-Save), using public transport, and spending the odd night indulging in telly-and-a-takeaway.

Under these circumstances, it is a particular joy to pass on a story newly related to Carborundum about John Patten, the last education secretary-but-one. Dr Patten - shortly to be a Lord - had some admirably down-to-earth traits, including his insistence on taking his young daughter to her Catholic state primary school. But he was also capable of some frankly odd actions.

It transpires that whenever Dr P was on an official visit, civil servants were detailed to look around first and report back with all the information required by an omniscient Secretary of State. Dr Patten, meanwhile, would be waiting impatiently for his briefing... which would almost invariably take place in the gents.

The sheer ghastliness of most men's lavatories (as reported to Carborundum) might account for Dr Patten's interest in the existence of Hell. But unless he suffered from a weak bladder - or bad hair days - why insist on spending so much time there?

E-mail has finally come of age. Not only is it acquiring its own demonology, with reports of cyber-bullies relishing the sending of abusive "flame-mails", but schools have started to use it in the circulating of favourite chestnuts. Take, for instance, the list of (allegedly accurate) absence notes doing the rounds in one Hertfordshire comprehensive.

"My son is under a doctor's care and should not take PE today. Please execute him."

"Please excuse Lisa for being absent. She was sick and I had her shot. "

"Please excuse Ray Friday from school. He has very loose vowels."

"Please excuse Tommy for being absent yesterday. He has diarrhoea and his boots leak."

"Please excuse Jimmy for being. It was his father's fault."

"Please excuse Jennifer for missing school yesterday. We forgot to get the Sunday paper off the porch, and when we found it Monday, we thought it was Sunday."

And, finally: "Sally won't be in school a week from Friday. We have to attend her funeral."

School inspectors are in a curious frame of mind, if the contents of the Office for Standards in Education's current in-house magazine can be regarded as indicative.

Chris Woodhead, The Man Who Inspects Schools For The Queen, feels it necessary to reassure his staff. "Discount rumours and scaremongering! The new Government is absolutely committed to taking forward the standards agenda which OFSTED has promoted. I'll be talking to the Secretary of State in the near future about our thoughts on how the inspection process might be improved. You should not, however, lie awake worrying about any fundamental change in direction!" Sighs of relief all round, then.

His column concludes, gleefully, with news of a conference organised by Ofstin (the gang dedicated to the reform of OFSTED) and the National Association of Head Teachers. "I hear on the grapevine that 4,000 invitations were sent out for a conference on OFSTED inspection and smaller schools. There were 12 responses. The event is now cancelled."

Still, if there is a certain element of siege mentality within OFSTED's glass bunker, a letter recently received by one official - and reproduced within the same magazine - demonstrates that this may be entirely understandable.

"I am writing on behalf of ... High School. Would you accept a small donation ( I hope you take this as a bribe) so that we could get a good report. We are not very happy with you coming to our school and we will make you feel as wanted as a fart in a space suit." How nice.

Meanwhile, the drive to raise teachers' morale has received a new twist from exam supremo Dr Nick Tate. Statues of teachers and college principals should be erected across the land, along with icons of other underrated professions such as engineers and gardeners, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority chief executive told the Association of Principals of Colleges.

One can only admire him for putting educationists on a pedestal, but cynics might point out that sculptures tend to be - er - decorated from a great height.

Education with a sartorial flourish comes courtesy of that august institution the City and Guilds of London Institute. Calvin Klein, YSL and the rest now have nothing on CG, which is offering such fashion gems as badges, sweatshirts, baseball caps and even cufflinks with its lion logo. But where are the embossed leather elbow patches for that snappy lecturer-about-town look?

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