27th October 1995 at 00:00
Further news of Sheila Lawlor, high priestess of the educational right, who will set up her own think tank on social and economic issues when she leaves the Centre for Policy Studies at the end of this month.

It is to be called Politeia - a name surely suggested by her other-worldly husband John Marenbon - will be based in Westminster, and seems likely to see convivial gatherings of the great and the bad in the best tradition of the old CPS.

Dr Lawlor, who has secured the Prime Minister's blessing and no less a patron than Lord Cranborne, Leader of the Lords, for her new venture, stresses that it will be a forum, not a one-woman show.

She wants to tackle the question of educational standards, as one of Politeia's first exercises, inviting speakers from various points on the spectrum to have a debate. She herself will probably do less writing on education from now on, leaving that field to others while she brings her free-market approach to bear on other social issues such as broken families and unemployment.

After seven years as deputy director of the CPS, Dr Lawlor might reasonably have expected the director's job itself when the current incumbent, Gerry Frost, leaves. But Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, the centre's chairman, and his board of directors, after flirting with several distinguished candidates, opted for Tessa Keswick, Kenneth Clarke's former political adviser.

Mrs Keswick, while generally agreed to be handsome, bright and rich, is not an intellectual heavyweight. Concern has been voiced in right-wing quarters that the centre will lose its cutting edge under her leadership. One such person (not Dr Lawlor) wailed: "Tessa's got the academic qualifications of the Princess of Wales!" A ghastly prospect looms. The Government is running scared that bolshie bishops and other religiously-minded peers will throw out the proposed new grant-maintained legislation - John Major's Lazarus-style attempt to re-invigorate the GM movement. Legislation which, of course, includes unwelcome plans to deprive Catholic and Anglican schools of parental ballots.

In the face of such lordly intransigence, Ministers are thinking of creating a new peer with educational expertise, to stiffen the sinews of Conservative waverers.

For whom, we ask, does the ermine beckon? One contender is of course the smooth Sir Robert Balchin, chairman of the publicly-funded Grant-Maintained Schools Foundation, chairman of the privately-financed Grant-Maintained Schools Centre, a member of the Funding Agency for Schools which handles GM finance, and the man whose advice to Mr Major is generally reckoned to lie behind the latest opt-out initiative.

Another shadow has been discerned, however, in the shape of Dr John Marks, slayer of 1960s dragons, grammar school fanatic and leading inhabitant of the right-wing educational zone. Dr Marks is already a close colleague of Baroness Cox, who has for some time now used the red leather benches to scold national enemies like the teacher trainers and multi-faith RE syllabuses.

Two old friends were pressing the flesh with some vigour at the Conservatives' Blackpool conference. Former right-wing darling and education junior minister Michael Fallon and current Minister of State Eric Forth both seemed delighted at their invitation to a bash hosted by potential peer, Sir Bob Balchin . . . who by coincidence is also chair of the South-east region of the Conservative party.

The apparent availability of safe seats in the South-east and the current craving for such seats experienced by Messrs Fallon and Forth cannot, surely, account for their presence at such a prestigious event.

The National Union of Teachers is copping it from the School's Out campaign, a group which wants the union to "radically increase the support it gives to the promotion of lesbian and gay equality in schools". Already with an eye to embarrassing next Easter's NUT conference, the campaign is proposing a motion urging an annual Lesbian and Gay Teachers' Conference.

Enquiries reveal that School's Out has not so far tried its hand with the stern Professional Association of Teachers, nor with the trenchant National Association of School Masters Union of Women Teachers. "We have a policy on class sizes, but no policy on bringing schools out," said NASUWT general secretary Nigel de Gruchy, who plainly misunderstood the question.

The marathon three-year correspondence between former NUT general secretary Fred Jarvis and Downing Street on the direction of education policy has at last received national recognition. It takes up nigh on a page in Too Close to Call, the political memoirs of Sarah Hogg and Jonathan Hill, former heads of the Number 10 Policy Unit and the Downing Street Political Unit respectively.

"If by any chance Fred Jarvis should read this, please - please - do not bother to write," says a sad little footnote.

Paddy Ashdown, a man of notably Liberal persuasions, gives a stirring account of the individual's right to choose. Driving along one rainy day, he picked up a hitch-hiker dressed in army fatigues and combat jacket. This turned out to be a woman who had hitched all the way from London to visit her son at a private school in Lyme Regis . . . the fees for which she paid by working as a prostitute. "It's not a lifestyle I would support or recommend to others, " says the wise Mr Ashdown.

"But people have to have the freedom to opt out of the state education system."

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