Diary

17th February 1995 at 00:00
Things generally pan out so well for the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority that it is a matter worthy of note when they don't go quite according to plan.

And so it came to pass a couple of weeks ago, when three experts on the key stages were wheeled over to the BBC's White City HQ one lunchtime to be interviewed for a television programme on the curriculum. Carborundum suspects viewing figures are hardly likely to rival EastEnders', but that's incidental.

Anyway, cameras and sound were set up in the Resources suite and the first interview went so swimmingly that SCAA's happy press bigwig left the other two - nervous television virgins, both - to Auntie's tender mercies.

And this is where the gremlins struck. Outside the office being used was a corridor with a noisy wooden floor, and every time someone walked by filming was halted abruptly. After several such interruptions, the team yelled "Shut up" at the miscreant, who turned out to be the distinctly unamused head of resources.

Thereafter, the afternoon's work suffered several more delays, thanks to the testy and extremely loud banging shut of said person's office door. The weary, hungry and thirsty curriculum experts finally crept back to their Notting Hill bunker at around 5.30pm.

A SCAA mole muses: "The really stupid thing about it all is that under the BBC's Producer Choice scheme the resources department was being paid for the use of its offices by the team."

Doughty teachers' leader Pat Hawkes is living something of a curious double-life at the moment. On top of her day job - teaching traveller children in sunny Sussex - she has just been appointed president of the National Union of Teachers for the grand total of 11 weeks. Aficionados of NUT politics will recall that there is a vacancy at the top because elected president Steve Sinnott was last year voted deputy general secretary and therefore heir-in-waiting to Doug McAvoy.

Fortunately Pat has done the job before, because that's not all she has got on her plate at the moment. As the Brighton council member on Shoreham Port Authority she has been somewhat embroiled in the issue of veal and live exports, and was to be found last autumn issuing Cassandra-like warnings to anyone who would listen that the decision to allow such shipments through the harbour would only lead to tears.

Still, the copious interviews on veal and education cuts are turning Pat into something of a celebrity. Walking into a class-room one day last week after a horribly early appearance on GMTV, she was greeted with the cry: "Saw you on the telly this morning, Miss!" A perplexed reader, Josef Lopuszynski, contacts us from Walsall with a copy of Patten's Folly - the Parent's Charter - which the Department for Education has kindly sent on his request.

On first glance, he wondered if his carefully annotated copy had been doctored by some wag inside Sanctuary Buildings, but more careful reading of the comments suggested otherwise.

For instance, there's the page telling parents what action they can take if their offspring does less well than expected in an examination. Shaky handwriting at the bottom adds: "Whitewash. This page puts parents off because by time the authority makes up its mind the child has probably left school. "

On page 25 the Charter explains piously that "Teachers will want to keep you up-to-date, and will listen to your concerns". Not according to our resident cynic, whose view is: "Sometimes they listen."

But the pice de resistance is the way in which Mr Patten's foreword - his explanation for why he sent this priceless document to every household in the land - has been hijacked by the anonymous correspondent. Demanding less time off for teachers, Government-financed apprenticeships, and teaching of the Christian faith "and not other faiths", the final clue comes in response to Mr Patten's paragraph saying: "If you are a parent or guardian of children at school you will want to read it carefully and put it to one side to refer to in the future."

Underneath, the proud reply: "Not at our age group of 80-plus." So now all is clear. The Americans have the Grey Panthers. We have the Old Codgers Against The Education Reforms - but why is the DFE giving them the oxygen of publicity?

And now, the second in our occasional series of Patten sightings. And where did the former Education Secretary turn up last week but cutting the ribbon on ... a luxury showhouse on an Oxford estate. With prices ranging from Pounds 167,500 to Pounds 255,000, the executive boxes come somewhat cheaper than the schools Dr P was accustomed to opening in happier days. Still, he is the local MP.

In an increasingly politically correct world, Carborundum is becoming a connoisseur of the pithy wit and wisdom of shadow education secretary David Blunkett. His rather unexpected greeting - "Nice to see you" - which appears slightly at odds with the constant companionship of his guide dog, Lucy, has become largely accepted as a little quirk. But George Varnava, president of the National Association of Head Teachers, is still recovering from hurrying Mr B and dog down the wrong corridor from a conference hall last week. "This is a case of the blind leading the blind," remarked Mr B, beaming evilly from ear to ear. Carborundum suspects he'd been saving that one for a long time.

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