21st July 1995 at 01:00
Oh, to be a fly in the atrium of Sanctuary Buildings in these steamy, post- merger days of the life of the new Department for Education and Employment. Carborundum's burning question is this: have relations improved at all between Secretary of State Gillian Shephard and her trusty, eats-wets-for-breakfast sidekick Eric Forth?

Eyebrows were raised all round when Mr F - famous for his subdued taste in tailoring, neckwear and 18-carat gold - was not shifted out of the department in the reshuffle, after a fairly long stint.

Not only was he felt to be ripe for promotion and a move to pastures new, but more seriously, relations between him and the Boss had apparently become rather strained during Mr Major's leadership campaign.

You see, Mrs S was a fervent member of the Major team - a major reason in itself, it is believed, why her power portfolio was doubled by the addition of great swathes of the Department of Employment. Mr F, meanwhile, was spotted entering Mr Portillo's Westminster not-a-headquarters (you remember, the London pied-a-terre where a man in BT overalls, installing phone lines, claimed to be working for British Gas) during the phoney war over the putative second round of the election.

Anyway, word is that Mrs S, egged on by various press reports, rather fancied standing in any second round herself, and was somewhat put out to discover that full-blooded support from her underlings might not be forthcoming. She was not best pleased.

Meanwhile, it's always a joy to see civil servants emerge, blinking, into the limelight, as recently happened to one Peter Thorpe, of the (then) DFE. Accompanying Mrs Shephard to a conference of grant-maintained primary schools recently, the train broke down at Milton Keynes. The minutes crept by. Mrs S, mindful of the three-line whip she had to attend in the Commons that evening, began glancing nervously at her watch.

Eventually, a London-bound train was halted to whizz the Secretary of State back to London, while Mr Thorpe continued, with the hastily-amended speech, to take his mistress's place. By all accounts, he was greeted with cries of joy. "He's always very popular with our members. He always understands our problems," confides John Wallace, head of Wold Newton primary on Humberside, who proposed the vote of thanks.

Just how much do parents expect of teachers? The Independent Schools Information Service has been running a little research project among parents of pupils in its beleaguered boarding-school section. ISIS wanted to find out what they really felt about boarding for their sprogs, but director David Woodhead confessed that they were bemused by one answer.

"We are extremely pleased with the improvements in his speech and behaviour, " wrote the concerned parent, "but disappointed that there has still been no improvement in his appearance."

Either it's a cushy life for staff at the Government-backed Further Education Development Agency, or they should hire a proof-reader. According to the agency's staff expenses form, "public transport rage" is worth 22.3p a mile. Most people would agree that the frustration incurred waiting for trains and buses is worth at least as much, but claims must represent quite a drain on the coffers. The same form assures staff that the cost of a meal eaten on a train or cross-channel ferry will be reimbursed, as will "gratitudes to 10 per cent of the total".

Sniggers at the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority over a giant advertisement in the weekend's press, asking (loudly) "Will Reservoir Dogs be on the national curriculum by the end of Mazda's free 5-year warranty?" The denizens of Notting Hill think this reflects rather well on their own promised five-year curriculum moratorium, finally propelling them into the big time of the national consciousness. "I know English teachers love pulp fiction but we're Tarantino'd about this," quipped one, horribly, emerging blinking from a pile of levelness indicators.

Students at the South East Essex VI Form College feel they have upset the natural order of things, and who is Carborundum to disagree with them? It turns out that a group of five A-level economics students has just won the Business Investment Management Game, a national competition entered by many of the country's top companies. The Essex team made a Pounds 15.3m profit, handsomely beating their nearest rivals - management consultants KPMG - by almost Pounds 5m. SEEVIC's head of economics adds modestly: "Another interesting point is that KPMG are the appointed college auditors."

Being an official in the lecturers' union isn't such a great job in these days of redundancies and more redundancies, so Paul Mackney - NATFHE's Man in the West Midlands - was rather taken aback by a conversation he had recently with an Adult Education member. Could she claim a redundancy payment after her hours had been cut, she wondered.

Mr Mackney asked the reason for her reduced hours, and was told the management had blamed it on unforeseen circumstances, and in particular an unexpectedly low enrolment. Making polite conversation while trying to work out her contractual and legal entitlements, Mr M asked what she taught. The reply struck him as somewhat ironic. "Recreational astrology," she said.

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