19th December 1997 at 00:00
You might have thought any magazine published for the noble staff of the Department for Education and Whatever would be mind-numbingly boring, full of inspiring tales about line-dancing extravaganzas and the like.

Well, not so. Carborundum is indebted to Feedback ("British Association of Communicators in Business... voted staff magazine of the year") for the following gem which appeared in the midst of a feature on personal secretaries in the DFEE's Sheffield bastion.

"Another key skill is keeping your cool in all circumstances. There's the true story of the Sheffield secretary who was chatting to her male boss when she slipped her hand in her bag for her hankie - and pulled out a pair of knickers. Realising what she had done, she calmly carried on talking, wiped her nose on the knickers, and then put them back in the bag - it was not her handbag, but her gym bag."

A delightful story, you might think. But one correspondent - whom we shall called Disgusted of Sanctuary Buildings - did not. Writing in the following issue, she complained: "Any chance of further editions being devoid of the sexual innuendo contained in this article?" Carborundum - always keen to acquire new social graces - is now wondering whether we have been blissfully oblivious to a social trend, and that noseblowing on underwear is an obvious way of dropping saucy hints at Christmas parties.

Or are noses and knickers politically incorrect these days? In either case, pray that film director Michael Winner - famous for large, baggy pants - never catches on to the idea.

And while on the subject of clothes, we spotted a fascinating diary by the editor of Vogue who professed to be puzzled when a colleague arrived for work in a faded pink cardy, scruffy jogging top and flat shoes. (For a start, none of the ensemble was black) It transpired that said colleague had had an appointment with her child's teacher and didn't want to come across as a pushy career mother. So now you know how to spot pushy career mothers - look for the holes.

Presumably, that's the way they think real mothers look. Or that poor old teachers would be intimidated by anything smarter than clashing rags.

Who is to assess chief education officers?

David Cracknell, Cheshire CEO and president of the Society of Education Officers, recommends what he rather geometrically calls "360-degree assessment": a combination of self-evaluation and assessment by peers and colleagues. He suggests colleagues take five minutes to write out their answers to the following: "How do others see me? What do they believe are my strengths and weaknesses? Are they right? What do I do?" and then show the answers to another person who worked closely with them, such as their secretary.

Carborundum would like very much to see the results of any such self-flagellating exercise. With comments.

Carborundum has always suspected that Office for Standards in Education inspections were about as much fun as having their dentist undertake root canal work without anaesthetic.

But now we believe we have uncovered an unholy alliance, suggesting that the two are linked by more than mere metaphor.

Great Bowden primary in Market Harborough, inspected in September, diligently drew up its statutory action plan and popped it in the post for approval.

Two-and-a-half months later they were still waiting ... until a mysterious missive arrived on the doormat. It thanked them for "the copy of your action plan which was sent to us in response to the Section 9 inspection of your school", adding: "OFSTED will be notified of its receipt." And this, inexplicably, was written on notepaper headed Dental Practice Board, Eastbourne, East Sussex.

Since the letter was addressed merely to "Dear MrMrs" and unsigned, Carborundum would dismiss it simply as a letter gone astray, were it not for that casually dropped-in technical reference to "Section 9" which hints at a knowledge of school inspections not usually associated with your average tooth doctor. What are we not being told?

It transpires that the top university ain't so smart after all. When one of Carborundum colleagues rang the Oxford University switchboard for a researcher's work number, it gave her the home number she already had . .. almost. Our sharp-eyed hackette noticed the number in her notepad had an extra digit.

"Oh, your number will be right," said the operator, with a yawn. "This is an American computer and it only takes so many digits."


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