27th March 1998 at 00:00
Grant-maintained schools are dead. Long live foundation schools. The strategists behind the Grant-Maintained Schools Centre, which was set up to deal with the needs of academies which opted out from local education authorities, have had the forethought to register a new company name - the Foundation Schools Centre.

It would seem the advent of a Labour Government has not been as bad for business as might have been expected. Prominent figures in the grant-maintained sector speak warmly of Minister Most Tipped To Make The Cabinet - Stephen Byers, the standards supremo. Perhaps surprisingly (but is anything surprising about New Labour?), they say he pays more attention to their views than ever true blue Gillian Shephard did.

They are also more than pleased about the the return of the pound;25,000 they have paid to lobbyists Charles Barker for advice and briefings on the Education Bill which is currently churning its way through Parliament.

Attendance at the annual conference for GM schools at Bournemouth last week was well down on previous years, but the optimists have silver linings in their sights. In two years' time, the theory goes - when more schools have opted for foundation status - the gathering could be bigger and better than than ever.

There can be few men in public life so brave and yet so self-effacing as Liberal Democrat education spokesman Don Foster, as shown by the following story - which we reprint with thanks to the Daily Telegraph.

"Police are warning the public not to follow the example of a Liberal Democrat MP who ran barefoot after an armed robber. They urged people to be more cautious and consider their own safety.

"Don Foster, MP for Bath, acted after his accountant, Wendy Pope, was robbed at gunpoint outside his home in Belgravia on Sunday night. They chased the thief for 100 yards before he disappeared."

And that, sadly, is all the detail we have. Mr Foster, asked to expand further on his bravery, would only say - with great modesty: "I have much more important things to talk about, like education." Give that man a medal!

Champagne corks will be popping in the London borough of Newham at midnight when Graham Lane's membership of the Socialist Educational Association expires after what seems like decades.

Carborundum regulars may recall that this once-mighty organisation has been in schism for months - effectively with one faction led by chair Max Morris and the other by general secretary Mr Lane, who is also a leading light in local authority politics. At the heart of the dispute, according to Mr Lane, was the position of the organisation vis-a-vis the Government.

In recent months the situation has turned into farce. The national executive committee effectively split into major (Lane) and minor (Morris) factions, both claiming the exclusive right to run things. Morris suspended Lane for bringing the organisation into dispute: Lane et al argued that since there had been a vote of no confidence in Morris, he had no power to do this. But last Saturday they reinstated him anyway.

Meanwhile, the Morris faction threatened court action to get the membership database out of Lane (who said he didn't have it), while Lane took legal advice. Confused? And that's the simple versionI In the midst of all this, membership has halved to 750, transforming it from one of the party's largest affiliated organisations to one of the smallest.

Anyway, sense has finally prevailed and the Labour party is to run the upcoming elections for a new NEC, pleasing both Lane and Morris who are in rare unanimity. Mind you, they didn't arrange it together: one went in the morning and one in the afternoon.

So this could be the end of the saga? Well, perhaps. Except that the ballot papers contain a clause declaring that the SEA accepts Labour party policy. The candidates fall largely into two slates (in other words, the current factions), all apart from the doughty Fred Riddell, recently retired from Nottinghamshire's chair of education.

The last word should go to Mr Lane: "Whoever wins is going to find it's not exactly glamorous. They can look forward to a lot of photocopying and sticking stamps on envelopes," he grins. And fingers that bottle of champagne.

The last word should go to Walkergate junior school in Tyneside, where a teacher gently broke the news to a parent that her daughter was not doing any homework. This elicited the somewhat surprising answer: "That's my fault. When she brings homework home and shows it to me, I say, 'you can put that in the bin! Those teachers have enough to do without bothering them for extra work'."


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