Diary

9th January 1998 at 00:00
Security is something most schools take seriously these days. Nailing down computers, locking pencils in the safe at night, that sort of thing.

Increasingly, schools are kitting themselves out with burglar alarms. Carborundum hopes, however, that the problems experienced by Tiverton high in Devon are unique.

Late last year, the police were summoned to the school at a hideously early hour, several days on the trot. Officers and bleary-eyed staff searched for signs of unauthorised entry or theft. But everything was as it had been on locking up the previous night.

A design fault was then blamed, and the engineers called in. Whereupon the intruder was unearthed - a large, hairy spider.

The arachnid had set up a cosy home behind one of the alarm's sensors. As the school's central heating came on the creature would wake up and scuttle off in search of breakfast I activating the sensor.

"It was most amusing," said school finance and premises manager Stephen Downe gamely, after grimly cataloguing the number of enforced dawn visits from the local constabulary.

Instead of squishing the culprit, the school has decided instead to replace the sensors with less sensitive models. And it is running a competition to name the beastie. Front-runners currently include Rob and Trigger.

Fans of the apocryphal tale that NASUWT was formed by the merger of two unions - one of schoolmistresses and the other of woodwork teachers - are apparently claiming proof is to be found within the pages of Teaching Today, the association's termly organ.

One reader sent his copy to the Diary with a cryptic covering note: "Maybe you could show the enclosed to Carborundum to reflect on the significance of pictures on pages six, 10, 11, 13, 16, 30 and 31. How does Nigel de Gruchy get away with it?" Mystified, we began to thumb through. Page 6: a piece by Education Secretary David Blunkett, complete with three portraits. Page 10: something by national executive member Terry Bladen, with his picture. Page 11, an article by Sir Herman Ouseley, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, also with his picture. Page 13, a page by union staffer Terry Boone, with picture. The penny began to drop. Each page carried at least one snap of a bloke with a beard (of positively biblical proportions in the case of Mr Boone).

Is this a case of a union practising positive discrimination for beards at a time when new Labour backbenchers have been quietly ordered to buy razors? Or is Nigel de Gruchy (immaculately-shaven) really presiding over a gang of horny-handed woodworkers?

For the first time in nearly 30 years, Heather Humphrey did not while away the Christmas holidays preparing lesson plans. The world of targets, attainment and financial crisis has finally become too much for her. She has quit her job as deputy head to become a vicar.

Heather belongs to the old school which believes in education as a caring profession. She admits to sobbing into her handkerchief during the nativity play, and says she is leaving Bredon Hancock's primary near Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, because the new hard-nosed approach leaves no time for cuddling children.

"Schools used to be child-centred places where everything stops if a child has a problem or need. Now with the national curriculum, you have to keep on target and account for every single thing you do. Hugging is not allowed," she says.

Carborundum says: Stop right there Mrs Humphrey! What about the product? What about your input, output, targets?

Christmas brought out the best in everyone in the world of education. East Birmingham College sent out its own card, containing a cod quiz and with the following vocational-style instructions. "Each question scores two credits, one for getting the answer right and one for the key skills of spelling it right, presenting it lovely (sic), and being funny. Anyone getting 100 credits will qualify for the Associate Degree of the University of Greenland, a merger with a Birmingham college of your choice and a change of postcode."

Meanwhile a (genuine) questionnaire landed on the desk of a hard-working college registrar asking him what use he made of the computerised national database of national vocational qualifications (that well-loved national institution). That yuletide-weary soul had just been scouring said database for an NVQ in Christmas - you know the sort of thing: evergreen foliage decoration, festive gratuity operative or heated alcoholic beverage manufacture and serving (level 2) So he was able to reply truthfully to the survey: that he used the database for entertainment.

A gloomy press officer answered the call from a lone phone which was ringing in the Department for Education and Employment in the dog days of December. He said: "I'll see if any officials are around. We're all watching To the Manor Born."

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