6th October 1995 at 01:00
Betrayal is always a popular topic at the Socialist Education Association, the self-proclaimed "education conscience" of the Labour party which likes to take prime credit for setting up comprehensive schools.

And who better to address the SEA's Labour conference meeting in Brighton, than that other prolix conscience and former deputy leader Roy Hattersley. The general theme: "Why David Blunkett and Tony Blair have sold us down the river."

As the temperature rose to dangerous heights, driven up by the force of earnest indignation, the debonair Mr Hattersley explained that he also knew a thing or two about betrayal.

He had of course been Labour's education spokesman in Opposition, and a very good spokesman too, according to the SEA. His time in the early 1970s included rousing speeches about why all schools should be comprehensive.

Alas this was not to Harold Wilson's taste. And when Labour won in 1974 Roy Hattersley was denied the education prize and had to make do as Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Five days later he was summoned to the Prime Minister's office where the whole sorry business was explained.

"Roy, I didn't give you education because I'm afraid I can't trust you, " said Wilson. "I wanted to appoint someone I can trust."

The lucky recipient of Roy's rightful place was Reginald Prentice -the man who defected to the Conservatives three years later.

What can the Funding Agency for Schools be up to? The quango which runs Britain's 1,000 grant-maintained schools is on the look-out for private consultants with a view, it would seem, to purchasing advice on the six or so officially deemed to be failing.

It all looks and smells like a GM "hit squad"; in which case it probably is, although the FAS refuses to confirm as much.

A number of questions remain. Why are these super-duper GM schools failing in the first place? Why do they not have education associations imposed upon them like LEA schools? Why is the Department for Education and Employment's list of approved experts not thought adequate? And where is the money coming from for any remedial task force? Such a thing was not previously thought necessary and has made no appearance in the budgets to date.

Whatever happened to the Audit Commission's eagerly awaited volume on the topical theme of nursery education? This overdue document is likely to play an important part in the current debate about expanding pre-school services through Mr Major's "voucher" plan.

Or not as the case may be. Far from rushing out a paper which is understood to put voucher schemes in perspective, to put it kindly, the Audit Commission has decided to wait until the Government has published its very own voucher plans. So that the bean counters can comment on them too.

When, in the distant future, they are faced with implied criticism from the Audit Commission paper, education ministers will doubtless rush to rewrite the scheme they have just spent time and money launching.

More news from the grant-maintained sector which is not as hi-tech as we hicks might have supposed. Despite the millions of extra pounds put their way, GM schools fail to use their expensive computers to best effect.

A Carborundum special investigation shows that a large and increasing number of local authority schools are busy saving time and paper for the Government by pumping information straight into the computers at the Department for Education and Employment.

This is known as Electronic Data Input and these helpful schools file their returns for the School Census using a computer package called the LEA Gateway System (LEAGS).

How many GM schools take advantage of this whizzo technology? According to the DFE the answer is not unadjacent to zero.

As one sour LEA officer remarked, EDI makes it very hard for individual schools to fiddle their numbers.

What a curious thing.

Virginia Bottomley, the psychiatric social worker turned minister of fun and games is yet to embrace the spirit of her new job.

At a bash to launch Kenneth Baker's new book, The Prime Ministers, an irreverent political history in cartoon, the Heritage Secretary joined a group clustered around Wally "Trog" Fawkes, doyen of political cartoonists.

Pointing across the room to Norman Lamont, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mrs Bottomley said she supposed Mr Fawkes had done him rather a lot.

"Not as often as as he's done us," replied the cartoonist, a remark which caused fits of laughter from Kenneth Clarke and Kenneth Baker, both standing nearby. Mrs Bottomley, not known for her jokes, stalked off.

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