Diary

26th September 1997 at 01:00
The London borough of Hackney has been rather good on fear and loathing recently, what with all the shenanigans over the controlling Labour group splitting into a million resentful factions; hit squads being invited in and then former socialists joining the Conservatives. Confused? Most people were, especially when it emerged that the sending in of said hit squad was publicly welcomed by everyone involved.

It now emerges that Hackney's unique culture is infectious. A fax slides onto Carborundum's desk, which is a letter from one Brian Briscoe - chief executive of the Local Government Association - to Michael Bichard, permanent secretary at the Department of Education and Employment.

Mr Briscoe, it emerges, is not a happy bunny. "I was glad to see that Ann (sic) Sofer was included in the team for Hackney," the letter begins. "She was the front-runner among the names I identified - especially because of her experience and availability." So far, so good: now the real point emerges.

"I was a little disappointed to see that the press coverage did not acknowledge our support in finding this nomination, as I thought that was your intention. Perhaps we could agree how this could be handled in future."

Ouch. Mr Briscoe acknowledges that it had not been appropriate before the hit squad announcement for the LGA to make its involvement public, adding: "but the coverage today condemns LEAs generally by not acknowledging that we are trying to be helpful when - as occasionally will happen - things go wrong in some places."

He ends, sternly: "Ministers will know that Graham Lane was publicly supportive of intervention (which is not always easy in relation to member authorities) and we would appreciate some credit."

Carborundum will expect to see this reasonable request granted forthwith. Or, possibly, when Hell freezes over.

Builders have already moved in at Newcombe House, the grim tower block which has accommodated staff at the now-defunct Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority during their glory years. Staff therefore found themselves picking their way over the rubble as they wandered in for a valedictory bash.

The cheery mood was only slightly dented by Michael Richardson, the DFEE mandarin responsible for the nation's exams, who provoked an audible hiss when he described himself - ominously - as the quango's minder.

While the organisation has not yet been evicted - serious building work is needed at the new HQ, which once housed MI6 and its gang of hot and cold running spooks - the hot rumour among SCAA's policy boffins is that their concrete monstrosity in super-trendy Notting Hill Gate may eventually become yuppie flats, such is the astonishing view across West London which distracted them from their day jobs.

Of course the boys and girls at SCAA will get on harmoniously with their new colleagues at the National Council for Vocational Qualifications now they have been merged to form the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

But Dr Nick Tate, QCA's chief executive, is taking no chances in those long dark months during which his new mega-fiefdom will be scattered across London in various office blocks (none of which is large enough alone to take everyone and all their papers). He is employing the time-honoured headmaster's trick for preventing cliques, and has split all the friends up.

Little does the academic Dr Tate know the beast he's taken on. After years in charge of a handful of national curriculum tests, GCSEs and A-levels, he now finds himself running the Pandora's box that is vocational education - 16,000 exams in all.

Not only is the good doctor on a steep learning curve, but he's also fearfully good at looking enthusiastic.

Witnesses are still relishing the golden moments during which Dr Tate (special subject: the importance of a common culture) donned green wellies in a flooded garden to observe enthusiastically as "learners" shoved rods down blocked pipes for a NVQ in drain clearance.

No doubt Dr Tate is also learning - with joy - of the full range of subjects in which it is possible to be Not Very Qualified. The latest gems include qualifications in collecting blood, tending graveyards, and, horror of horrors, nuclear decommissioning.

Worryingly, the course on closing down atomic power stations is pitched at level two - the same as five good GCSEs to you and me.

Meanwhile the not-so-demonic-any-more Roger Ward, ebullient chief executive of the Association of Colleges, has been cut down to size by a colleague chatting to officials at a recent warm-white-wine do. Apparently she had known Mr Ward - he of champagne, expense account and Rolex fame - since he was six. The change since then? "Now he's in long trousers."

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