13th February 1998 at 00:00
The Government is rarely shy of making education announcements. Since the start of the general election campaign, David Blunkett and Stephen Byers have bombarded the news pages with initiatives, new or otherwise. Hacks are assembled at the swanky DFEE headquarters on almost any pretext and at the slightest notice.

Why, then, was the recent announcement that 14-year-olds will be allowed to skip French and science in favour of vocational training accorded so little fuss?

The shocking truth is that Mr Blunkett has released so many items of "news" in recent weeks that he has broken a secret government quota of initiatives per department.

Hence the event was handled, not by the workaholic departmental press team, but by a wholly-surprised Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. The press conference, held in the bowels of an apparently empty building, was graced with not even so much as a press release, only a briefing paper, in draft form and not for quotation.

Belated congratulations to Hackney schools for some truly staggering performances in last year's key stage 2 tests. A copy of the Hackney Echo freesheet has come to Carborundum's attention which proudly sets out the scores of the borough's primary schools on its front page.

And what scores they are! At the top of the table is Lauriston primary with 264 per cent for every question asked. That's right, pupils gave two-and-a-half correct answers. All but seven of Hackney's 53 primaries scored over 100 per cent, providing heartwarming news for newly-appointed education boss Liz Reid.

Of course what the paper may have done is, er, add up the percentages for English, maths and science, which is wrong, mathematically-speaking. Carborundum, dragging maths lessons from the dusty recesses of memory, believes they should have averaged them.

Hackney's test results are genuinely good news, with big improvements for many of its schools. What the figures in the Echo suggest is that there might just be a bigger problem among the borough's adults than among its junior schoolsI So we've had named and shamed schools, named and famed schools - and now, in the latest twist, misnamed and famed schools.

Imagine the pleasure among the hard-working staff of St Mary's CE first school in Washington, West Sussex, when they got a letter from The Man Who Inspects Schools For The Queen promising that their achievements would be highlighted in his annual report.

They should, a further letter added, prepare themselves for interest from the media (newspapers, radio and television, it explained) which would be delighted at the opportunity to publish a good news story.

And then imagine what happened at the school when the press bumf from the Office for Standards in Education arrived naming St Mary's first school in nearby Pulborough for naming and acclaiming, thus denying its Washington counterpart its 15 minutes of fame and glory. Insult was added to injury, as a letter from the school makes clear. "St Mary's did NOT have an OFSTED inspection last year!" Oops.

As education Bill upon education Bill wend their weary way through Parliament, the weary footsoldiers of the backbenches are finding it a full-time job to stay awake, never mind keep abreast of matters in hand. And not just backbenchers, either. No less a person than Angela Browning, Conservative education spokesman, found herself in the Government's Aye lobby on one recent division, much to her embarrassment.

Still, most of Blair's Babes and Boys have found a handy way round the problem. Snoozing is safe and permissible - providing they keep a wary eye on Bob Blizzard MP. Poor Mr B, you see, comes first in the alphabet and is therefore first into the voting lobby. He has therefore developed a habit of scuttling to the Whip to check which way he needs to go. Smirks one MP: "It's all right for us. We just listen to what Bob says."

A new version of the old saying is now circulating: some people are born for responsibility, some people achieve responsibility. And some people are just first in the alphabet.

Much innocent merriment is being occasioned by an official profile of Nick St Aubyn, newly-elected Conservative MP for Guildford, maker of school furniture and father of five. The document starts impeccably, revealing, a CV of near-classic perfection. Eton is followed by Trinity College, Oxford, then merchant banking and industry.

As to his personal interests, sadly, we spot a flaw: "Swimming; Walking; Shooting; Children."


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