23rd January 1998 at 00:00
There was much moaning about Ofsted by English headteachers at last week's Anglo-Swedish conference on headship organised by the London Leadership Centre. Michael Barber, Mr Blunkett's standards and effectiveness man, was there to listen and learn and put the Government's point of view. According to the evidence, said Barber, the majority of heads thought inspection had been of some benefit to their school. But, he added, there seemed to be significant improvement before the inspection, less evidence of improvement afterwards. So, the logical thing to do would be to tell all schools they were going to be inspected and then only inspect half of them...

Mr Barber said the Government wasn't actually going to do that. But Carborundum wonders whether the idea has in fact already been adopted by Ofsted. Perhaps that would explain the recent stories about heads being told they were going to be inspected and then being told it was all a mistake (see page 3) If so, Ofsted seems to have got it slightly wrong. To secure maximum improvement, they should have let the schools sweat until just before the inspection and then cancel.

Are travelling Swedish educationists particularly accident-prone? Certainly the Swedish contingent at last week's Anglo-Swedish conference of heads at the London Institute seemed to have had their fair share. First Hans Forsman, of the Swedish Association of Local Authorities, turned up to speak despite thick fog, a 12-hour flight delay and - the pi ce de resistance - a traffic jam on the way in from Heathrow caused by an overwide load getting stuck on an overnarrow flyover. He missed the morning session. Next came Olof Johansson, director of the Centre for Principal Development in Umea, north Sweden. He was looking unusually dapper, explained the chair of the session, because his luggage had got lost so he had rushed out and bought a new suit.

Professor Johansson urged his audience to attend a conference on school leadership in Umea in March. All the leading experts would be there, he said, and they could learn how to ski. Not such a good idea, said Gunilla Nordquist, head of the European Network Institute, an Anglo-Swedish educational company. She had spent 10 months on crutches after a skiing holiday last Easter.

The relentless hyping of Cool Britannia may be starting to pay off, if the latest international survey of attitudes to residents of these islands is anything to go by (we are now seen as witty rather than arrogant). But some attitudes die hard, as education minister Stephen Byers has just discovered.

Mr Byers had the jolly good fortune to play host to a gang of visiting French politicians at the height of the media furore over the Tamworth Two, the porkers whose daring escape from the abattoir was pursued by Fleet Street's finest.

The French, Mr Byers told the Society of Education Officers' annual bash in Harrogate, were fascinated. Especially the bit where the boars failed to be enticed out of a coppice by a particularly sexy sow.

Reminding each other of the famous remark by Mme Edith Cresson that all Englishmen were homosexual, the French visitors giggled: "And so are your boars."

It's a fine time to be a conspiracy theorist in a local authority. Not only can you feel undermined by the news that private enterprise is to be encouraged to take a major role in education action zones, but the hot gossip from one British contender is that American businesses are keen to join in the fun.

Carborundum is informed by a rock-solid source that Sylvan Learning Systems, a leading private sector education business which runs dozens of state schools in Baltimore, had wasted no time in dispatching a team of executives to Britain within hours of the official announcement.

At the Maryland headquarters of Sylvan Learning Systems, however, the response was tight-lipped to say the least. "Yees, some of our executives are in London, England," a spokeswoman reluctantly confirmed. "But they're on holiday. "

What a coincidence, rejoined the Diary - and, by the way, did Sylvan have any plans to bid for contracts to run British schools?

"I have no statement to make on that." Watch this space, then.

Meanwhile, campaigners to get more cash for Shropshire achieved an unexpected result last week. Teachers and parents of Church Stretton School set up the fax to spend two hours solid sending missives to the offices of ministers involved. Eventually, John Prescott's private secretary rang the school.

"Government is coming to a halt," he complained, hinting strongly that the fax blitz would do nothing to further the county's case. "Nobody here can do any work," he protested.

Headteacher Dave Oliver was uncowed. "For a government spokesman to voice veiled threats to the school just shows how effective our simple campaign has been. I hope more Shropshire schools follow suit." You have been warned.

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