12th July 1996 at 01:00
Officially, the shotgun marriage between the bodies responsible for school and vocational qualifications is still under consideration. Unofficially, the fallout has already begun.

Ministers are fairly keen to marry the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority to the National Council for Vocational Qualifications, and the ceremony is being regarded as such a foregone conclusion in some quarters that the honeymoon is being booked for September 1997. As always, there could be some casualties.

The NCVQ's concerns have been not dissimilar to those of the male Black Widow spider on the eve of mating: the wedding night could be jolly good fun but then you get eaten by the bride. However several senior SCAA bods have cause for concern, because unlike their counterparts at the vocational end of things, they are blessed with short-term rather than permanent contracts of employment.

Several individuals, including chief executive Nick Tate, money man Bill Scott and media supremo Tony Millns signed up for three-year contracts - later extended to four years - which take them through until autumn next year. Should they not be offered jobs in the new all-singing, all-dancing qualifications authority - which is unlikely to be making any appointments until next summer - that leaves them with a couple of frantic months printing out CVs.

Given that downsizing the SCAA operation would cost precisely nothing - compared with statutory redundancy payments which would have to be paid to their NCVQ employees - there are grumbles that the dice has been loaded. In fact, the situation bears more than a passing resemblance to the comparative arrangements for the marriage of the two college employers' bodies.

Intense negotiations are going on between the SCAA Three and their Government overlords to extend their contracts or at least provide some assurances about short-term security if they proved surplus to requirements after any merger, but it would not be surprising if the situations vacant columns were attracting their attention.

This may help to explain the Great Kensington and Chelsea Mystery, in which the retiring education director Michael Stoten was apparently going to be replaced by one Nick Tate . . . and then he wasn't. The posh London borough was reportedly somewhat peeved that Dr T - who applied for the job, no headhunting - changed his mind at the last minute.

A vow of silence appears to have been taken by all involved, with Dr T willing only to say that he is staying at SCAA and KC refusing to comment on personal matters but admitting that they have now employed one Roger Wood, late of Bromley.

Since the KC job paid Pounds 75,000 - appreciably more than Dr T gets in Notting Hill - Carborundum can only speculate that at the very least certain assurances about the future must have been given.

You have to feel sorry for the North Eastern Education and Library Board in Northern Ireland. Last week it invited the great and the good to a bash to launch its strategic plan to 2001, complete with a lovely new logo. Grandly, chief executive Gordon Topping promised it would shape the way the board works in the run-up to the new millennium.

Alas, Michael Ancram, who dabbles in education when he has a few hours to spare from his political development portfolio, chose exactly the same day to announce the board was to be abolished.

The North East is not being singled out, because the five boards are to be replaced by three, but thenews certainly put a dampener on the celebration. Ancram must have managed a wry smile, though, because his Labour shadow, Tony Worthington, was chosen to launch the board's new image.

Mr Topping had even prepared a few light-hearted remarks about the feather which replaces the L in the new NEELB logo. "We believe we deserve a feather in our caps and after 23 years as a driving force in the education field we believe we can take off the 'L' plate," he joked.

It appears someone has stolen the car. Is that Michael Ancram we see joy-riding to Stormont Castle?

The Media's Voice of British Parenthood, Margaret Morrissey, was enjoying a lovely sunny break in Spain a couple of weeks ago and finding the sun, sand and Sangria a relaxing change from the day job of running a pub and opining on the nation's schools. That is, until her holiday companion, an un-named woman friend, got going.

On the beach, the pair found themselves alongside a Scottish family with two small children, Friend explained cheerfully about Mrs Morrissey's status in the National Confederation of Parent-Teacher Associations and a long discussion ensued about the relative merits of the education systems north and south of the border. "I made her suffer for that," grumbles Mrs M.

But worse was to come. A day trip to Gibraltar was decided upon, and once there, they made for the caves. Inside was a fascinating tableau about Neanderthal man, that great civilisation once famously compared to the NCPTA by the then Education Secretary, John "Tactful" Patten.

"Stand in front of it and I'll take your picture, so I can send it to Patten," ordered the "friend". Groans Mrs M: "God! You just can't get away from it, can you?" And continuing our series of educational urban myths, here's one from Israel. An infant of around three in a kindergarten was asked to spell "mother" in Hebrew. Lisped the technology-friendly moppet confidently: "A-M-A - enter!"

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