Diary

26th January 1996 at 00:00
Panic, not to say desperation, broke out among the Labour whips in the House of Lords. It was with some care that they had placed the following "starred" question on the schedule of debates:

"To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they consider that the right of schools to choose their pupils is more important than the right of parents to choose their children's schools."

Quite a poser for the Government ministers on the red leather benches, cunningly constructed and grotesquely mistimed.

As the cyclone of adverse publicity whistled through the the lobbies and corridors the whips were seen scurrying to prevent Lord Monkswell from actually launching this self-defeating grenade in the debating chamber.

Monkswell is one of the more colourful members of the Upper House. A one-time van driver and lathe operator, he was given a 14-week jail sentence in 1994 for attacking a former lover's psychotherapist with a spanner. He believed the therapist to have adversely affected their relationship.

On this occasion he proved biddable and the question was not asked. Fortunately for Labour, the absurdly named Conservative peer, Lady Gardiner of Parkes, was not allowed to ask the question in his place, despite her attempt to do so.

You might have thought that former headteacher Chris Searle had enough on his plate. The poor chap was relieved of his post by Sheffield City Council after his school, the Earl Marshal, was declared "failing" by the inspectorate and the local Labour Party decided he must go.

Mr Searle has now received a message of support from the following highly placed people: Tony Benn, Dennis Skinner, Bernie Grant, Peter Hain, Max Madden, Diane Abbott, Brian Sedgemore, Jeremy Corbyn and Alice Mahon.

They have all signed an Early Day Motion praising Mr Searle to the skies for his services to multi-cultural education.

We have been contacted by the Disney Channel UK eager to tell us of its 1996 Teacher of the Year Awards.

The address of the Awards office is given as Bleeding Heart Yard in the City of London. A reference to the liberal persuasions of the likely winner perhaps. Or more plausibly to the increasingly dangerous nature of the job.

Mr Bryan Davies, the Labour party's mouthpiece on further and higher education, was ashen-faced as his colleagues trooped into the debate on nursery vouchers, their pitch somewhat queered by Harriet Harman's selective taste in secondary schools.

"Just don't mention education," he observed to Portsmouth MP David Jamieson. Was this a black joke?

It may have been a serious tip as Mr Davies, engrossed in the hunt for a safe seat, has adopted what might be described as a low key approach to his shadow duties.

March sees the Conservative party's Local Government Conference, an event which will take place in the West Midland's borough of Solihull. This is an understandable choice as Solihull has the privilege of being the Conservatives' last remaining metropolitan authority outside London.

Unfortunately it is also a national centre of resistance to the controversial nursery voucher scheme, which this week made its first appearance in a House of Commons debate.

As neither Iain Mills, the local MP, nor council leader Geoffrey Wright have exactly reined in their criticism to date, the delegates seem set for an in-depth discussion of the issue.

The hard lessons of going it alone came very early for Gravesend Grammar School for Girls which had a sodden start to life as a grant-maintained institution. The staff and pupils arrived to find several classrooms full of water - the result of the New Year's bursting pipes. Faced with Pounds 50 000 of damage, the head naturally set about filing an insurance claim.

Naturally, Kent County Council's insurers have refused to pay up because there is no proof that the flooding took place before January 1, when the school officially went GM. And, naturally enough, the grammar school's new insurers are contesting the claim on similar grounds.

Nottingham Trent University has come up with an exciting nominee for an honorary degree. Step forward Mr Kenneth Clarke, former Education Secretary and current Chancellor of the Exchequer who apparently deserves the gong for his "services to education".

This year his services have included slashing the higher education budget by 7 per cent; a further 12 per cent cut is to come over the next three years - the equivalent of Pounds 500 per student.

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