Diary

26th July 1996 at 01:00
Is the talent for self-publicity evinced by The Man Who Inspects Schools For The Queen his secret weapon or his downfall? Evidence to support both cases has been received by a bewildered Carborundum this week.

On the one hand are the legions of awestruck officials and politicians at the Department for Education and Employment who marvel at the manner in which Sir Christopher Woodhead (the title surely cannot be far away) effortlessly garners acres of newsprint and film for his pronouncements, leaving the parent department ineffectually flapping in his wake.

But on the other hand is the curious case of the Prince of Wales (yes, the Diary is finally By Royal Appointment), no stranger to the pop of a flashgun himself. A couple of weeks ago, HRH made one of his rare speeches on education at the Aim High awards at Lancaster House. Alongside him was Dr Nick Tate, new guardian of the nation's morality, occupier of Mr W's old post at the Government's curriculum agency - and therefore another of Mr Inspector's rivals.

Being an old-fashioned chap, HRH's views on education are suddenly back in fashion. In fact, his speech sounded as though it could have been scripted by Mr Inspector: traditional teaching methods for literacy and numeracy in primary schools, teacher training of the highest standards, poverty no bar to achievement, and so on.

However, HRH was reportedly not amused to discover that - by coincidence - Mr Inspector had chosen the same day to announce that his gang of merry men and women would be dispatched forthwith to the nation's previously inspected teacher training colleges to rigorously and vigorously root out the trendies. Or words to that effect.

The problem was, you see, that HRH's words of wisdom were deemed less interesting than those of his mother's schools inspector, and thus received less attention on the news broadcasts and in the papers. Rumours that Mr Inspector was originally likely to speak at the same awards are no doubt purely mischievous, but perhaps the Chief Inspector will be remaining a plain Mister for the time being.

With the wedding ceremony between those erstwhile rivals the Association for Colleges and the Colleges' Employers' Federation now a mere formality, letters have been going out to staff explaining the new arrangements. And, frankly, Carborundum thinks the missives sent out by the normally-sensitive Ruth Gee to her AFC employees could have been a tad better phrased. She explains: "On August 1 our assets and liabilities, both human and physical, will transfer to a new company called the Association of Colleges." Hands up all you physical liabilities out there.

Ten baffled council leaders are still blinking in astonishment at being singled out to receive a personal letter from John Redwood, the Conservative backbencher who becomes ever more ubiquitous in times of crisis.

This missive - intended for the 10 authorities at the bottom of the league tables - confuses the matter somewhat by explaining that the Government's Skills Audit has shown up problems in the teaching of numeracy and literacy. It continues: "Your authority is one of the worst performers in these areas. The problems begin in primary education. There is increasing evidence to show that more whole- class teaching, more learning of tables, more direct teaching of simple grammar and punctuation and more concentration on spelling can raise standards quickly. There is also considerable evidence that the real books method of teaching reading does not work, whereas the phonic method achieves excellent results.

"It is now agreed among the major parties that raising standards is vital, and that traditional methods are more successful. I do hope that you will use all your influence in the schools under your control to improve the methods of teaching."

Puzzled, we asked Mr R why a being so logical as himself - sorry, we're getting him mixed up there - why such an eminent backbencher wishes to lecture local councillors. "I want the debate, and because I care deeply about the children of this country." Carborundum is lost in silence, giving the former leadership challenger a chance to add philosophically: "That's the role of an MP."

Further mutterings emanate from deepest Notting Hill Gate about that infamous football match between the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority and the lads from the Department for Education and Employment.

Readers of last week's Diary may recall this notorious five-a-side sporting fixture, the result of which was an almighty punch-up, and resulting (erroneous) setting-off of the fire alarm at the Civil Service sports and social club in Chiswick. Oh, and a scoreline of 3-2 to the DFEE, who claim to have been unbeaten for the past 12 years.

The cause of the altercation remains slightly unclear, with SCAA claiming the ref (a DFEE employee) told them they'd lose even before kick-off, and some unpleasantness about a penalty. It now emerges that there is some needle between the two sides (again, details are murky) and Sir Ron's Rovers took exception to the DFEE's claims of recent invincibility. "We beat them two years ago," complains one of SCAA's star players.

But as the silly season approaches, it appears that the dispute is about to escalate. SCAA is prepared to field an 11-strong side against the boys from SW1 and is officially throwing down a goalkeeper's glove in challenge. Their only condition: that the referee is demonstrably impartial. Perhaps John Major would like to step into the breach to test his theories about the benefits of team games.

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