2nd June 1995 at 01:00
A fascinating press release from Ann Williamson, the new head of West Heath "elite boarding school" in Kent. It urges parents and their daughters to realise the importance of a proper education for girls.

Apparently, she believes education has failed if pupils leave schools unprepared for the competitive world of work, and adds: "All over the world, parents make the mistake of spending more money on sons than on daughters, despite the worldwide shortage of jobs which results in the need for women to become breadwinners."

The release suggests, that, while hardly revolutionary, Mrs W's position is one which might have surprised a previous generation of parents at the school, many of whom believed their little angels might go on to Switzerland to be "finished" before marrying well.

She is, however, determined to prepare girls for "a world where today, privilege is a less secure hedge against future adversity than proper educational qualifications."

The headline on this missive is - without a trace of irony - Princess Diana's School Stresses The Importance Of Work. In the past, the fragrant one herself - whose brother was educated, rather more expensively, at Eton - has confessed she is "as thick as a plank". It has also become known that she won a school prize for best-kept guinea-pig. But educational qualifications? Rumours abound of an O-level - but in what?

Carborundum's research team ploughed nobly through acres of newspaper cuttings, to no avail. Buckingham Palace will only say, stiffly, that these are matters on which they do not comment. West Heath is silent as the grave. But a lackey at Majesty magazine is more forthcoming. "Nobody knows if she's got an O-level or not. Nobody's been able to find out."

Pity the unfortunate princess. Had she attended West Heath 20 years later, she might at least have left with a vocational qualification in applied pet care - a useful bulwark against an uncertain future in the Royal Family.

We've had A-level howlers, GCSE howlers - and now we foresee a whole new industry. National test howlers. Carborundum rather likes the response of a Nottingham 11-year-old to the test question on the Time Machine.

For those fortunate enough to be unfamiliar with the national test papers, 11-year-olds were asked to fill in the missing words in a science-fiction story and then copy out a paragraph in their best joined-up writing. One girl thought this final request too dull for words, and instead continued the story. We reprint her ending verbatim.

"The proffessor (sic) clung onto the sides of time machine. Whirrr! Bang! The proffessor frowned. 'The stupid thing never works.' He cursed. As he stepped out a teacher handed him a test paper. The proffessor was suprised (sic). 'Maybe being 11 wasn't a good idea after all,' he said as he read the list of questions!"

It's not just kids who make mistakes. Eyebrows were raised by those reading the Office for Standards in Education report on the Wey Valley School in Devon when they reached paragraph 116. "The timetabled day of 24hrs 15 mins includes 23 hrs 45 mins of subject teaching time, which is below the recommended minimum."

More raised eyebrows at a middle school in Buckinghamshire, where the head took exception to a 10-year-old's reading of a Point Horror book involving the sentence: "And a sexual quiver passed through her body."

"Where did you get this book?" demanded the head, furious at such unsuitable reading material. "From your daughter," was the reply from the boy.

Commiserations to Liz Kearney, who just failed to win a Labour candidate's nomination in Oxford West and Abingdon last weekend - thus disappointing thousands who cheered when hubby Tim Brighouse took former Education Secretary John Patten for a rumoured Pounds 90,000 in an out-of-court libel settlement and rather hoped his wife might follow this by relieving Mr Patten of his parliamentary seat.

Would Sir Ron Dearing have been so gainfully occupied if the Blessed Margaret Thatcher had got her own way over the national curriculum at the outset?

The battle was eventually won by Kenneth Baker, who got his own way on the 10-subject curriculum - until the teachers began revolting over their workload.

Presumably in the full conviction that she was right all along, Mrs T shared her idea on what education should be in a Sunday Times interview. "History, mathematics, scripture, morning assembly with well-known hymns, a lesson and prayer."

Almost as illuminating is the accompanying excerpt from Mrs T's latest memoirs, which deal with her schooldays in a few paragraphs.

Although her main academic influence was apparently her chemistry teacher, Miss Kay - largely because of her natural enthusiasm for science and the added excitement of new discoveries - it was the headmistress of Grantham and Kesteven Girls who provided real inspiration.

Miss Williams's quiet authority apparently dominated everything, and of special interest to the young Margaret were the outfits she wore on speech days.

"But she was very practical," recalls the former pupil. "The advice to us was never to buy a low-quality silk when the same amount of money would purchase a very good-quality cotton. 'Never aspire to a cheap fur coat when a well-tailored wool coat would be a better buy'."

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