15th August 1997 at 01:00
Private schools have for decades been able to look happily down on their state system colleagues from the lofty summits of Britain's league tables.

But for once, one top person's school could be accused of letting the side down. Piquantly, that school is Gordonstoun, purveyor of education to the Crown, which gave Prince Philip his character and Charles such a miserable adolescence. It has left Moray Council at the bottom of a Scottish exam table when it should be close to the top.

Gordonstoun has brought the tiny authority's average crashing down because just 15 per cent of its pupils leave with Standard grade or Higher passes. In a district of fewer than 90,000 people, that was enough to raise the number of Moray pupils leaving without qualifications from 4 per cent to 15. Only Glasgow, at 16 per cent, did worse.

It would be amusing to report that inbreeding is the cause, or that the Pounds 12,000-a-year boarding school, famous for its cold baths and tough regime, simply couldn't match the performance of Scotland's state schools. The truth is that most Gordonstoun pupils don't take Scots exams. As the offspring of the great and the good, they opt for English GCSEs and A-levels.

Still, as Margo Howe, Moray Council's understandably annoyed education convener, told Carborundum's colleagues above Hadrian's Wall: "It's caused quite a stushie here. It's very difficult for us to get back the credibility we have lost."

The figures were included in a bulletin on school-leavers' qualifications over the past 10 years. Unlike the English, the Scots include independent schools in the figures.

"It seems to be a product of a Thatcherite obsession in the Civil Service with league tables which results in information being faxed to the press before it's provided to education authorities," Mrs Howe said.

An immediate and very public apology and correction is being demanded from the Scottish Office.

New lines of command are being installed as the white heat of technology fills the corridors of power at the Department for Education and Employment.

Certain top officials now have Buck Rogers-style videophones on their desks, adding a space-age look to the fusty department in keeping with the go-ahead spirit of the times.

The Pounds 1,000-a-time devices emit an eerie glow as they project jerky pictures of DFEE officials not unlike the images from the Mir space station. As well as keeping mandarins in touch with colleagues in orbit (or at least in Sheffield), it also keeps them out of the video conferencing suite ... and impresses the hell out of foreign visitors.

The exciting developments extend to quango-land, with the department setting up one of the hotlines to Dr Nick Tate and Sir William Stubbs at the soon-to-be opened Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

Fittingly, QCA is rumoured to be moving into the former headquarters of MI6. Q would be delighted.

Old trade unionists never die ... but they do end up in the strangest places. Take John Akker, erstwhile general secretary of the thoroughly old Labour lecturers' union NATFHE.

Mr Akker, a well-known member of Labour's rank and file, seen getting on down at the party's election night bash at London's Festival Hall, has moved to the Left. He has started work as an adviser to Liberal Democrat education spokesman Don Foster. Oddly for a political functionary, Mr Akker has held on to his Labour party membership card, despite his job behind enemy lines. He is understood only to be giving "technical" advice.

At least he's still in the game, unlike his predecessor who ended up working in an information booth at Charing Cross Station. The market for ex-general secretaries is small indeed.

The Spice Girls are yesterday's news - it's official. Whenever two or more hacks are gathered together they talk not about Posh, Scary, Dopey, Sneezy etc, but about Teletubbies. And Carborundum has yet more certain proof. Even Government ministers have forgotten the Spices' names.

Stephen "Policy Spice" Byers, Labour's "slender" standards supremo, admits to having had their names drilled into him by an aide as he set off for a school on the election trail. But now, barely 100 days later, he confesses: "I can't remember them any more."

Sadly, he has been too busy improving the nation's schools to get up to speed on the Teletubbies. Or so he tells the press.

Still, if Spice is out (and Carborundum admits this is wishful thinking), it can only be good news for two schools in the West Country.

Girls at Haygrove School in Bridgwater, Somerset, have been told to leave their Spicey platform shoes at home after a summer term spate of ankle strains a la Baby Spice.

And in Sutton Veny primary near Warminster, children following Pathfinder's progress on Mars on the Internet dialled a Spice Web site to find pictures of Ginger Geri in the buff.

A case of All Spice.

You don't get this kind of thing with Teletubbies. Yet.


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