22nd August 1997 at 01:00
Local authorities are more used to sending in the bailiffs than receiving them, but one London borough has found itself on the wrong side of the heavy mob.

Sacked art teacher John Cornelius has just sent in the lads to Southwark Council to collect two years' back pay (a total of Pounds 35,000) following his successful claim for wrongful dismissal.

Bizarrely, Southwark says it doesn't know which items the bailiffs seized (or rather labelled, pending the outcome of the long-running case). It says it is not aware anything was taken; officers for the Sheriff of Greater London have told Mr Cornelius they seized goods worth Pounds 3,500.

This is a cause cel bre for sacked teachers everywhere and could set a precedent for anyone who has been unfairly shown the door.

It's now two-and-a-half years since Mr Cornelius was dismissed from Walworth School in Bermondsey, and a year since he won his first judgment in Bow County Court. "It's a colossal waste of public money," says Mr Cornelius, who has largely conducted his own case against the authority's barristers. "Southwark Council has lost at every stage."

The 47-year-old was sacked in March 1995 after 16 years as a teacher. Walworth head Brinley Morgan had cited "grave concern over the quality of his teaching" - Mr Cornelius denies this, saying he is a victim of a cost-cutting exercise.

But the council and school failed to follow the correct procedure in sacking the teacher. He took them first to an industrial tribunal and then to court, arguing that his sacking was null and void.

Southwark didn't even turn up for the first hearing, at which Mr Cornelius was awarded a year's back pay. The council was told to put him back on the payroll, but won a stay of execution and appealed against the decision. This was thrown out in February and, in late June, the court ruled the council owed Mr Cornelius Pounds 35,310.72 and should put him back on the books.

Southwark is appealing again. It admits a "technical breach" in dismissing the teacher but says the reason still stands - Mr Cornelius was not fit to teach.

"They're making a mockery of civil litigation," Mr Cornelius says. "I think they hope I'll either weaken in my resolve or run out of cash."

Southwark, meanwhile, says sending in the bailiffs was "an unnecessary and provocative act". It sent the bailiffs away saying it was appealing and has now won a stay of execution against any further action to recover the money.

Mr Cornelius, who has spina bifida, hasn't worked since being sacked - as a point of principle, he says. The case rumbles on. Carborundum says watch this space.

What a way to ruin your holiday. Tony Higgins, the higher education admissions supremo, was enjoying a well-earned holiday in a Norfolk cottage when the political crisis surrounding the scramble for university places erupted last month.

The birds were singing, the breeze gently blowing and Mr Higgins was relaxing in bed with a cup of tea. Then Radio Four's What the Sunday Papers Say shattered the peace, announcing that the Independent on Sunday had splashed the story - the first of many papers to follow up The TES scoop of two days before. "It was quite a shock," he confided this week.

Shock extended to students and their parents, as revealed in a four-page missive from Mr Higgins to universities and colleges at the height of the controversy.

Labour's Baroness Blackstone had just accused the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service of "irresponsible scaremongering" for daring to suggest that students might want a free university education and might bring their application forward a year to get it.

But Mr Higgins is not a man to enter an argument unarmed, as his letter to vice-chancellors reveals.

In the two weeks that followed enquiries to the UCAS headquarters in Cheltenham more than doubled last year's total to 28,834, he said.

And he gave a detailed breakdown of the 90,000 extra students who might join this year's scramble for places. Late applications were already up 42 per cent, and questions to a helpline for Scottish students were dominated by the issue of fees.

All this obviously upset David Blunkett's holiday too, because within days a U-turn was complete and gap-year students could have their free education after all.

What do holiday destinations tell you about people? Apparently some recruitment agencies look at where students take their gap year - surely they will be a thing of the past in the new Dearing dawn - and an adventurous activity in a remote region could give them an edge over their rivals. And some employers even take them into account for the promotion stakes. Tuscany in; Torremolinos out.

We know that David Blunkett went to Majorca, but the rest of his team? Baroness Blackstone, Kim Howells, Alan Howarth, Stephen Byers, Andrew Smith and Estelle Morris: France, Tunisia, Scotland, Greece, Italy and "abroad", respectively.

What does our junior minister for school standards have to hide? Would her choice prove too embarrassingly posh, naff or boring? We think we should be told.


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