27th February 1998 at 00:00
The latest foray of The Man Who Inspects Schools For The Queen into the wider world of education has so far not run particularly smoothly, the Diary learns.

So enthusiastic was Chris Woodhead to revive and perfect in his own way the rather jaded idea of teacher training centred on schools - thus bypassing those unwholesome institutions, the teacher training colleges - that he sadly failed to learn the lessons of history. Which are: don't go asking industry for the cash to fund potentially sensitive projects.

Business in the Community, the Prince of Wales's charity, was asked to help out (possibly because the Prince and the Man Who Inspects Schools for His Mother have matching views on education) and duly put in some punishing sessions contacting organisations felt to have a few millions in the bank. But to no avail, as a brief glance at the history of city technology colleges might have suggested. Getting involved in schools and education is a bit too hot to handle, especially as the more astute organisations might have wondered just where the Teacher Training Agency came into the current plans.

Mr Woodhead was reportedly not best pleased when he learned that his plans had been thwarted, and told Business in the Community so in no uncertain terms. And that's why funding for the yet-to-be-officially-announced scheme is coming from a hitherto obscure London-based Jewish charity.

Heartening evidence that there may actually be a nascent sense of humour in the grim world of colleges comes from Terry Melia, chairman of the Further Education Development Agency and former chief inspector to the sector.

At a recent gathering of the great and the good, he took the opportunity to stress that there should be no more sleaze: instead, colleges should look forward to the challenges ahead.

And what might one of those challenges be, by any chance? Mr Melia explained: "To overcome the demands of a harsh and intrusive inspectorate."

Curious literary references littered a recent meeting of the Commons committee through which one of the Government's two education Bills is currently grinding. A Lib Dem amendment blocking the creation of foundation schools - the final resting place for grant-maintained institutions - appeared to rather upset Angela Browning, the Conservative education spokeswoman, who said: "I was reminded of someone who, having slaughtered a creature, takes a stake and runs it through its heart. The amendments are the piercing of the heart."

Further vigorous exchanges, and chairman John McWilliam - a stickler for parliamentary language whose pebble-lensed spectacles are enhancing his new reputation as a bit of a heart-throb among regular Committee observers - saw fit to issue a warning.

"Order. I caution members of the Committee. Although the Hon lady may quote from Bram Stoker if she likes, she should not start on Lady Chatterley's Lover."

Mrs Browning apologised. "I was not aware we could quote from certain publications but not others. I recall that in my youth, Lady Chatterley's Lover was not a book deemed suitable for reading, but I am now 51 and it is for sale in WH Smith, so I seek your guidance, Mr McWilliam, as to whether it is a suitable publication."

Mr McWilliam: "Order. I read it at the time and could not see what was wrong with it, but there are some bits of unparliamentary language in it."

Final words go to the doughty Mrs Browning. "We strongly oppose the two amendments. The Hon Member for Bath said he will pursue his crusade, so the blood is on his hands and it will not wash away."

Not all the results improved at Birchwood High School in the aftermath of this summer's literacy school. But one person is delighted with the outcome of the pilot. He is Steve Kelly, the school's caretaker, and the only member of the school who practised his reading using hundreds of free copies of The Times newspaper that were delivered daily to the door, as part of the scheme.

He is now the proud owner of a metallic blue Vespa ET2 Piaggio scooter that he won in the paper's summer competition.

Mr Kelly, 40, is thrilled with his prize as he has walked everywhere for the past 11 years and pleased to be able to give his legs a rest.

There is just one catch as far as Mr Kelly is concerned. He still has to pass a test I his driving test.

Ever on-the-ball, lecturers' union NATFHE, has found a snappy new slogan to support calls for more cash for colleges . "The inadequate quantum!" screams the comrades' evidence to the Commons Education Select Committee. Very catchy.


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