5th July 1996 at 01:00
Smart money, now, apparently, is against the shifting of the sensible Robin Squire from the Department for Education and Employment. Danger loomed last month when Conservative Central Office and the Daily Telegraph beefed that Sanctuary Buildings contained too few hardline ministers. Now it appears to be beef which has saved Mr S, the Man Who Understands The Common Funding Formula.

Apparently a major reshuffle was likeliest if John Major acceded to the urgent demands of one David Davis to kick Douglas Hogg, the Minister for Mad Cows, into the political wilderness over his handling of the Europeans' inexplicable reluctance to tuck into British burgers. Now that Mr Hogg has in his sticky mitt a congratulatory epistle from his boss, that scenario looks rather less likely.

Anyway, we on the Diary think Mr S should be promoted, for two reasons: * Hands up anyone who's ever seen Lord "Invisible Man" Henley, the Department's Minister of State. Whereas you can't escape Mr Squire on the telly, the radio, at conferences. . .

nAnd who else would have had the chutzpah to run a press conference on improving schools and the Internet (not wildly sexy to the media at the best of times) at the height of football mania and the day before the launch of the White Paper? Present bright and early in a Sanctuary Buildings room was Mr S, six civil servants and. . . George Low, editor of the fledgling Education Journal. Hope he asked lots of questions.

And more on the Education Journal, the publication that rose from the ashes of the old Education and now operates from the spare room of a flat in Hove, home to Demitri Coryton (dangerously left-wing chairman of the Conservative Education Association), wife Tracy (now production editor) and toddling twin girls (a photograph of whom appeared on the cover of the first issue). Said infants, have, incidentally, been banned from the EJ nerve-centre for posting coins into the disk drive of the computer holding subscription info.

The current issue features a rather less cute picture of Chris Woodhead, the man who inspects schools for the Queen, publicising a less-than-friendly article he has penned within. It seems he was commissioned to write on education and perhaps misunderstood, writing instead about Education and Education Journal. By the time his words arrived, the cover was organised. A flavour of his prose follows: "Perhaps the whole point of the Journal is to pander to the professional psyche; to reassure the down-trodden through its attacks on all those who are judged to be the enemy; to engender, in short, a solidarity of plight which is emotionally comforting in itself, or to travel hopefully, a possible springboard for future defensive action... is it going to be the old mix of cliche and gossip; the never-ending meditations on, for example, 'the future role of the LEA'; the same shaky and oh-so-predictable editorial logic? I'll suspend disbelief for six months and tell you then, if you want to hear, what I think."

Still, while Mr Inspector may not approve, the governing party is erring on the side of caution. On the day the White Paper was published Mr Coryton received two phone calls trying to calm his concerns about its contents (handy for his later Newsnight appearance). One was from Eric Pickles, a vice-chairman at Conservative Central Office. The other from a Mrs Gillian Shephard of SW1.

Quite a few headteachers get to celebrate a quarter of a century in the job, but most of them don't send out a press release to disseminate news of their staying power to an admiring public. Not so Michael Marland, he of the trademark bowtie and backswept barnet - and incidentally, head of North Westminster Community School.

Mr Marland (CBE, MA) also laid on a little party to celebrate his silver anniversary. And it seems he didn't get where he is today without a little advance planning. Back in 1972 he hoarded copies of The TES, a paper which at the time was highly dubious about the wisdom of raising the school-leaving age to 16, warning of the mayhem which would be created by all these new fifth-formers. Years later, they came in jolly handy as wallpaper for his 25th anniversary bash.

Still, his speech just goes to show that ideas, like fashions, are cyclic. In the week when the Government announced its plans to effectively return to the banding system in schools which want it, Mr M recalled an incident in the late 1960s when a senior teacher at one such establishment (where pupils were designated academic, building boys, commercial girls and general - that is, no hope) seriously advocated the teaching of art to commercial girls on the grounds they would need to know how to make themselves up for the office.

Good heavens. Someone working for Conservative Central Office has a subtle and wicked sense of humour, if its spoofing of Labour's manifesto - a scarlet-bound document called The Road To Ruin - is anything to go by. Take the section entitled "Educating the stakeholders of tomorrow": "A New Labour Government will eliminate selection. We recognise that some parents continue to prefer the right to choose selective schools for their children. Yet we believe that selection is deeply divisive. Indeed, it can cause bitter rows between parents who agree on other political issues. In some areas, we would expect to remove selection swiftly after taking office, In others, notably in the London area, it may take longer, so that some of our children who have just joined selective schools will complete their education before the full benefits of comprehensive schooling are introduced." Who could they mean?

TES july 5 1996

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