25th August 1995 at 01:00
Sao Paulo, Brasilia, Rio and Buenos Aires - a gruelling six-day schedule, but such is the suffering endured by our captains of industry and education. As many as 16 persons of public spirit have been persuaded to accompany the Secretary of State, Gillian Shephard, on this arduous tour next month of Brazil and Argentina "to promote British educational and training excellence".

So without further ado, we applaud the following: Baroness Pauline Perry (chairman Department of Trade and Industry sector group on education and training); Graham Badman (director of education, Avon); Jeremy Nicholls (head of Stowe School); John Hillier (chief executive National Council for Vocational Qualifications); Professor Graeme Davies (chief executive Higher Education Funding Council) Peter Barrar (Manchester Business School); Dr Malcolm Parry (Surrey Research Park); Professor Judith Greene (OU); Tony Duff (International House); James Rose (OFSTED); Dominic Savage (British Educational Suppliers); Peter Bird (Darwin Instruments Division); James Arnold Baker (OUP); Professor Peter Mortimore (Institute of Education); Tony Male (Central Bureau for Educational Visits and Exchanges); Andrew Rowe MP (member of Lady Perry's Education and Training Sector Group).

"With vocational education increasing in importance in both Brazil and Argentina we are ideally placed to promote our expertise in this area," trumpets the Department. What will the Latins make of the GNVQ?

The spirit of commercial genius is percolating through the system. The Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath is offering patients a full-colour tour of their own stomach - for a small consideration.

What amounts to the ultimate home video started as a training device for medical students and features the results of an "endoscopic" examination. Friends and family will marvel as a fibre optic probe passes through the throat down into the hitherto unknown. The meter-long cable, normally used to identify ulcers and other gastric problems without the need for surgery, acts as a lens and sends back pictures to the viewing doctors. Or in this case dinner guests; a fitting revenge for those tedious wedding videos.

Spotting a retail opportunity, the hospital decided to flog recordings to its patients at Pounds 10 a time (all the proceeds will be used for new equipment and training).

It is surprisingly popular and 15 patients a month have taken up the offer of a journey from the departure lounge of the mouth through to the heart of the digestive system. One up on the gallstone cufflinks, perhaps. Others may feel that medical bores have been given a new and terrifying tool.

Even the kids are in on the enterprise act in Sunderland where, according to the local newpapers, there is a new form of pigeon fancier at work. Children are said to be catching boxloads of the birds and selling them to dealers at 50 pence a time - who then sell them on as meat. For those thinking of trying it themselves, the hapless pigeons are noosed around the legs with thread when they land to feed, explain the papers.

Good news from the well-known Commission of Socialist Teachers in the European Community where the British Treasurer has finally got her hands on the dosh. This after a full 12 months of trying to trace the missing money. It may have been Eurosceptic distrust or pure Gallic gall. But whatever the reason, 18,000 Marks (Pounds 8,000) proved curiously hard to liberate from wherever the previous treasurer, a French woman, had put it.

One year on and the money has been thankfully retrieved. "We have had some difficulties having the money transferred," agreed a CSTEC insider. "I'd like to think it's harder to transfer money than we had believed."

It's goodbye Kenneth Baker and goodbye John Patten, two of the most prominent education secretaries then and two of the most prominent Conservative deserters now. Some 40 Tories will not be seeking re-election.

Mr Baker, MP for Mole Valley and progenitor of the 1988 Education Act, was responsible for the largest overhaul of the school system since 1944. Thought to be somewhat oleagenous with his careful speech and apparently slicked hair, he was ruthlessly characterised as a snail in the satirical Spitting Image series. He is now aged 60.

Hair was also a defining point of the bouffant John Patten, a man whose tenure at the Department is now considered a political disaster. The author of a particularly bitter resignation note to John Major, Mr Patten's low standing with the teaching profession was a great benefit to his replacement Mrs Shephard. Mr Patten, aged 50 and MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, says he hopes to influence Conservative thinking from outside the Commons.

These two are joined by former education ministers John Butcher and George Walden.

A trawl of recently published Hansards throws up the following gem of verbal dexterity: "Yes, sure; I did not even realise that Lancashire was a Labour authority, actually; I thought all authorities were Labour these days, but still."

All within the scope of a single sentence.

Which of our flexible friends might this be? Come on down Her Majesty's Chief Inspector, Mr Christopher Woodhead, caught in the act of giving evidence to the Education Select Committee.

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