Diary

10th April 1998 at 01:00
Customer Service and Quality Assurance may be the new mantra handed down from on high to heads. But it appears that the finer points of dealing with customer complaints haven't yet reached the Department for Education and Employments HQ in Sanctuary Buildings. At least not the Standards and Effectiveness Unit. For it has devised a novel way of dealing with letters from the disgruntled.

Professor Michael Barber, responsible for prising up school standards, has let slip what happens to letters from teachers who - rather irritatingly - refuse to agree with all he says.

He apparently keeps a standard reply on his PC called the 'What planet have you been on?' letter. Complaint? Worry? Concern? Just send them the 'What planet . . .' letter. Nice to know in this age of genuine consultation, that teachers' concerns are taken so seriously.

A distressing side-effect of the nose-to-the-grindstone tendency in education these days is that it's all getting so dull. Where are the mavericks of yesteryear?

A fascinating example of this glorious heritage came in a tersely illuminating fax received at Chateau Carborundum. 'Here are details of Crofton Cooper, who died at the weekend. Although known primarily in the chicken industry, Mr Cooper also had an academic career, teaching at Dulwich and in Gloucestershire.' Eh?

Mr Cooper, it turns out, was a most colourful character with a mastery of the private sector which would make a Labour education minister salivate. An Irishman, Mr Cooper taught classics, later opening his own boys' prep school which the Second World War forced him to move to Netherswell Manor in Stow-on the-Wold.

It is at this point that the tale takes a peculiar twist. Or as obituarist Jim Hunnible puts it: 'Once in the country environment, he soon decided that farming was a greater love to him than teaching.' Mr C started out with a few cows, but it wasn't until the late 1950s that he made his great discovery.

Chickens.

He flogged the school, built some sheds on his farm, and moved into the broiler industry (that's roasting rather than egg-laying birds, a knowledgeable colleague informs Carborundum). With a couple of other enthusiasts, he formed a company which eventually became a part of Buxted.

Later, Mr C appears to have decided that breeding was the way forward, and firms with which he was involved included Chunky Chicken and later Cobb, whose UK sales consultant he still was when he died at the age of 87.

The last word should go to Mr Hunnible, Cobb's managing director. 'He was a gentleman, overflowing with wisdom and understanding. He could turn problems or potential disasters into amusing situations, and even when that failed, a drop of 'Scottish wine', as he affectionately called it, would certainly do the trick.' So it's true. No-one forgets a good teacher . . . especially if he breeds chickens.

And now, an unworthy anniversary. Since the Era of New Labour began on May 1, no less than eighteen grand's worth of stuff has, er, walked from Sanctuary Buildings - some of it in rather peculiar circumstances.

Laptop computers seem particularly prone to leaving their owners' laps - at least six have gone AWOL, and that's not counting one nicked from a car and two which disappeared 'in the post'.

As Dr Kim Howells, giving a parliamentary answer on the matter, said: 'The level of reported thefts from Sanctuary Buildings has given cause for concern.' The unmistakable sound of a foot being shot comes from the Technology Colleges Trust. The trust, representing the city technology colleges launched as beacons of excellence in the 1980s, and the technology schools, their slightly less ambitious successors, has carried out a survey into the computer skills of the teachers in these cutting-edge institutions.

(David Blunkett's son goes to one in Sheffield). But the results are, shall we say, surprising.

The survey was completed by 10,000 teachers at the trust's 500 affiliated schools, most of which already have specialist status and others which aspire to it. It shows fewer than one in five 'had sufficient confidence and competence in the use of generic IT applications to enable them to apply the applications in the classroom or to develop IT capabilities in pupils'. In plain English that means hardly anyone knows how to use computers in their teaching, or how to teach children to use them.

The other main finding in this astonishingly honest piece of self-evaluation (The Man Who Inspects Schools for the Queen, Chris Woodhead, would be proud) explains the reason: 'The great majority of teachers have had no training in either generic or specialist applications.' So most teachers in the city technology colleges and schools haven't got a clue about computers and have had no training.

Helpfully, the press release concludes: 'We will soon have a teacher underclass populated by those who confidence (sic) has been shattered and who find themselves deskilled.' All this and the Millennium bug, too.

Carborundum .

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