Diary

10th November 1995 at 00:00
There is further proof, if proof were needed, that Mrs Shephard is the natural successor to grey man and educationist John Major. Either that or she is trying preternaturally hard.

Her performance on last week's Desert Island Discs was a skilful piece of voter-friendly blandness, spookily similar in tone to Mr Major's tour de force on the same programme in 1992. Similar in content too. Both chose to get with-it by purporting to like the music of Ms Diana Ross. John went for the "The Happening", echoed by Gill's "One Shining Moment".

The Education Secretary could scarcely match the outrageous scale of Mr Major's middlebrow offensive: a back-to-the-Fifties hit parade which included "Pomp and Circumstance", Sinatra and Basie, "Rhapsody in Blue" and cricket commentary by John Arlott. But she had a go, proffering a seamless run of popular classics: Bach, Mozart, Schubert, Cesar Frank and Cleo Lane. Not to mention Ms Ross. Carborundum had hoped to hear "Up, up the ladder to the roof" or possibly "Stoned love".

She may alas be out of her depth, slipping up with the surprise appearance of Britten's Peter Grimes and her choice of book, The Waning of the Middle Ages by Johan Huizinga.

The Master had chosen a bowling machine and The Small House at Allington by Anthony Trollope.

Another small creature has scuttled from the education undergrowth, drawn out by the bright lights of power and glory at the next election.

Pauline Latham is on the Conservative shortlist at Mid-Dorset and Poole North. Pauline who? I hear you ask. The voters of Derbyshire, where as Conservative education spokeswoman she was a vociferous campaigner for opting out, know her very well, as do grant-maintained schools.

Last year Mrs Latham was appointed as one of the founder board members of the Funding Agency for Schools (the quango which deals with the GM sector).

This was controversial at the time as her husband, Derek Latham, runs a firm of architects which looks for business from grant-maintained schools; he offers a consultancy service to help them prepare bids for capital funding.

The FAS has always insisted there is no conflict of interest.

Mrs Latham has now quit her FAS post, citing personal reasons; which probably include preferring to be in the Palace of Westminster.

This left the Agency advertising for three new board members - it wants to expand by two - to occupy the two-days-a-month, expenses-only posts. For which it has attracted an astonishing 1,700 applications.

Some of these may be Conservative MPs anticipating free time ahead. The FAS refused to say if the seatless minister of state, Eric Forth, has tried his hand.

Good news for grant-maintained schools in the recent annual check up on their financial probity by the National Audit Office. "Schools were achieving generally good practice across the whole range of their activities," said the men in dark suits. "None of the 80 schools (that they examined) had serious financial management problems."

How very puzzling. Among the 80 is the sports-mad Gilberd School in Essex where thousands of pounds of expenses have been handled in an unorthodox manner. The head, Len Brazier was asked to repay Pounds 1,340 of entertaining and clothing expenses after he misunderstood the detail of his "relocation package" to help him move from the West Country.

The Funding Agency for Schools was so concerned that they appointed the accountancy firm of Touche Ross to go over the school's finances. Their report is now with the Secretary of State for Education.

With the backing of the National Audit Office, The Gilberd, which was praised in the Prime Minister's PE document "Raising the Game", clearly has nothing to worry about.

One of the few entertaining legacies left by Elizabeth Esteve-Coll, the ex-director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, now vice-chancellor of East Anglia University, is the bug committee.

It appears that carpet beetles known endearingly as "woolly bears" are on the march in the museum, devouring the contents of the textiles and dress department - so much so that a memo has been circulated to staff on "instructions on procedure following the discovery of insect activity". It soberly advises that conscientious employees "alert the collections and conservation staff; put insect remains in a sample bag and attach this to a completed insect report form.

"You will have played an important role in the control of insect pests in the museum by not panicking," it concludes.

Forward to February 1996 when members of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers will turn to their union's diary, looking for hope or solace perhaps in the published weekly quotations from Marcel Proust, John Ruskin and... Dolly Parton ("The way I see it, if you want the rainbow you gotta put up with the rain").

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