17th November 1995 at 00:00
At least one union was enraged by last week's Panorama programme Class Struggle: the controversial expose of bad teachers and the support they receive from stone-aged unions.

Both the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers and the National Union of Teachers appeared in a ferociously bad light in the programme.

So why did they appear at all? Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the former, says his union was comprehensively duped by the programme makers: the NASUWT had allowed its members to be interviewed on the basis that the programme was to be "A week in the life of the chief inspector".

In a letter to the programme he complains that the union was "cheated into participating under a false pretence".

Carborundum wonders what on earth Panorama told the probationer who, incredibly, agreed to appear before the nation's TV viewers as an example of an incompetent teacher who deserves to be axed?

What a dreary treadmill is life in the Department for Education and Employment. As Gillian Shephard's new bag-carrier Anthony Coombes prepares to tuck into his venison at an up-market Westminster eaterie, he finds himself importuned by a troublesome waitress.

It turns out that the lady is a trainee teacher who cannot find a suitable school placement for her classroom practice. This is thanks in part to the DFEE's policy of dumping extra responsibilities on to ever-more- reluctant schools. She has heard that Mr Coombes, recently elevated to the post of Parliamentary Private Secretary to Mrs Shephard, is with the Ministry and she, touchingly, believes he can help.

The MP for Wyre Forest is evidently struggling to cope with the petitioner's northern accent and grows visibly more baffled until, as the harangue enters its fifth minute, he stumbles upon the appropriate quango: "The Teacher Training Agency!" he cries, and takes down her name and address. Prompt action will be taken, he mumbles, to rectify this scandal.

Is Mr Coombes, a committed Christian, a man to keep his word? Carborundum will be vigilant.

Michael Meacher's uneasy position as joint but somehow not-very-joint employment spokesman for Labour alongside David Blunkett, the party's education and employment spokesman, will not have been made any easier by the news that a further chunk of his already diminished portfolio has been given away.

The field of trade union rights now belongs to Stephen Byers, the Wallsend MP who is (a) a member of the education team reporting to Mr Blunkett and not to Mr Meacher and (b) very definitely Mr Meacher's junior.

Still no luck for Michael Fallon, the boyish ex-education minister with a penchant for privatisation. Not to mention a keen wish for a safe Conservative seat at the next election. Alas, his attempt on Kensington and Chelsea has failed at the last. He was beaten this week by the incumbent, Sir Nicholas Scott, former minister for the disabled.

Meanwhile Bryan Davies, Labour's spokesman on further and higher education, has found his own prospects of a seat whittled down by the party's announcement that six of the available north-west constitutencies are to have women-only shortlists.

To the standing conference of chief education officers, where a fabulous offer is made to the assembled multitude. Ten lucky volunteers, it is announced, are required to spend an attentive evening while the chief inspector, Christopher Woodhead, delivers his second annual lecture on behalf of the Office for Standards in Education.

The chief officers are assured that the food and the company - some of it at least - will be agreeable. Despite these blandishments not one stepped forward by the end of the session. Those who attended last year, reports our source, were the most vehement in declaring themselves to be otherwise engaged.

OFSTED, by the way, is a surprisingly sensitive beast. Too late, we realise that it just hates to be branded as a quango and does not much care to be called an agency. It is in fact a Government department, claims a spokesman, but without a minister.

Peter Downes, head of Hinchingbrooke school in Huntingdon, has hit on a wizard wheeze for raising cash.

On a recent trip to Australia under the auspices of the Secondary Heads Association, he found that teachers in Warrnambool, Victoria, have persuaded local farmers to raise cattle on behalf of the school which the school then sells on at massive profit. Mr Downes is understood to be scouring rural Cambridgeshire for suitable participants.

Are we to see Hinchingbrooke beef? And what will be its mental state?

Those expecting the seamy world of further education to be torn apart by the razor-jawed guardians on Lord Nolan's committee on standards in public life are sadly disappointed.

The employers' mouthpiece, Roger Ward, and Ruth Gee from the Association for Colleges, were nervous about their appearance before the committee this week justifiably, given the committee's reputation for stirring it up and FE's gathering reputation for financial scandal.

As it turned out, Lord Nolan chose not to venture beyond a little light chit chat, in the course of which Mr Ward was allowed to assert, incredibly, that the continuing dispute about new contracts for lecturers is "all but over".

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today