2nd February 1996 at 00:00
Who is this hooded figure shuffling towards the luxurious Department for Education and Employment? An unfortunate victim of Care in the Community perhaps, drawn by the soporific calm of Sanctuary Buildings and its institutionalised inhabitants? A passing group of chief education officers is certainly moved to surmise as much.

Imagine their astonishment when, doffing her hood, the bag lady turns into our very own Secretary of State who then steps purposefully beyond the cascading foliage to the secret depths of the policy machine.

Eagle-eyed sources insist that Mrs Gillian Shephard is regularly seen walking the streets in flat shoes and sensibly wind-resistant duffle coat. Carborundum promises a suitable reward for all reliable sightings andor explanations.

Bradford and Ilkley College has many talents, some of which remain curiously hidden. Few, for example, know of its successful textiles department and the part it played in producing costumes for the blockbusting BBC Pride and Prejudice.

Anxious to make amends, the college is now actively seeking publicity for its latest odyssey in fabric: the construction of giant vegetables for a pantomime in Wakefield.

Anthea Millett and her teacher-training apparatchiks have been driven to extreme measures in their attempts to dampen speculation about a looming teacher shortage. All discussion, it seems, is to be shrouded in impenetrable tedium.

Faced with the Commons Select Committee on education, never the sharpest of instruments, a heavyweight combo from the Teacher Training Agency resorted to a series of mind-numbing disquisitions of wholly uncertain import. "The worst session we've had so far," wailed a bewildered member on the Labour benches.

A worrying snippet from next month's edition of Support for Learning magazine, published by the National Association for Special Needs: "Parents in one LEA, when asked if they wanted to contribute to their child's assessment, wondered how much the contribution might be as they were not sure whether they would be able to afford it."

Lord Gowrie, chairman of the Arts Council, has a useful card up his sleeve. Jazz. Such stuff will, we gather, receive no grant this year. But next year, says Lord Gowrie, it just might.

This is a subtle point for the rhythm-crazed Chancellor and former Education Secretary Kenneth Clarke to negotiate. Gowrie is already angered by the shock imposition of a Pounds 5 million cut in the Arts Council grant and has accused the Treasury of cynically misunderstanding what can be foisted on to the National Lottery.

"They won't be allowed to get away with it again," he snorted at assembled hacks.

Anne Campbell, Cambridge MP and Labour spokeswoman on educational technology, tells of an entertaining tangle with her local squatters. While still a county councillor she had a call from the unlawful occupants of a one-time bike shop requesting the removal of a rat.

The squatters' case was not helped when they stipulated that the rat must not be killed.

Sir Ron Dearing, chair of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, has received a delightful letter from Christ Church C of E School in Chorleywood, Hertfordshire.

Rebutting the recent suggestion that British pupils are duffers who cannot add up without using their fingers and toes, a pupil writes:"We would just like to say that this is not the case. People in my maths group can find the square root of a number to two decimal places, in their heads.

"We think that this is disgraceful and British children are being criticised for no reason. We think something must be done about it at once."

So there. By some remarkable coincidence, Judith Conway, a member of the SCAA, is also a teacher at the school.

St Thomas the Apostle School in Southwark has some puzzling photographs in its archive. Although artistically of uncertain merit, they plainly depict a formal prizegiving with a well-appointed lady at the centre of proceedings.

St Thomas, which is grant maintained, does rather well academically and this year got 42 per cent of its smartly attired pupils through five GCSEs at grades A to C. The lady handing out the cups is said to have been full of praise.

Some have suggested that the woman in question is none other than Harriet Harman, the Southwark resident and constituency MP whose children are well known non-attenders of Southwark secondary schools.

Carborundum insists there is no more than a superficial resemblance, whatever the school may say to the contrary.

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