12th January 1996 at 00:00
Hard-pressed, the advocates of phonetic teaching have formed an underground movement, we learn from the Daily Telegraph whose intrepid correspondent was "passed from cell to cell as if through hostile territory". This samizdat grouping includes one Ruth Miskin, head at the Kobi Nazrul primary school in the London borough of Tower Hamlets. Does the secret network extend to her partner, chief inspector of schools and well-known phonics enthusiast, Chris Woodhead?

Teachers at Star primary school in embattled Stratford, east London, were predictably anxious at the prospect of a visit from the Office for Standards in Education.

Their jangling nerves were in no respect soothed when, on the very first day, a mother tumbled into the entrance hall shrieking: "That's it. I'm taking my child out. There are perverts loose in this school."

It emerged that she was disturbed at the sight of grey-suited men who had entered the playground and spoken to the children. The school told her that men from the ministry always act that way.

The fortunes of politically remaindered John Patten, former Education Secretary, seem to be matched by those of his heavily-discounted book Things to Come - the Tories in the Twenty-First Century. It was spotted this week in the Bloomsbury branch of Dillons having sunk from the dizzy heights of Pounds 17.99 to Pounds 4, Pounds 2.24 and now to an ignominious Pounds 2. "It seems to be working," said an assistant. "We've sold one copy."

Celebrity naturalist David Bellamy bursts from the undergrowth with a prophylactic New Year message. Too many young people do it far too often without due care and attention, says the bearded botanist. Their activities, with the attendant threat of massive overpopulation, are endangering life itself.

Half a billion young people will enter their reproductive years between now and the year 2000, explains Dr Bellamy in the annual report of development charity Population Concern: "They must be able to separate their decisions about sex from those of reproduction." The world, it seems, is in the hands of sundry biologists and the PSE brigade.

Graham Lane, feudal overlord of the Socialist Education Association and chairman of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities education committee, has fallen strangely silent on the fate of Stratford school in Newham, east London.

For months Mr Lane, who is also leader of the Labour-controlled borough, had been sharing with anyone prepared to listen the "news" that grant-maintained Stratford was doomed to closure.

That was until the Government told Stratford what a good job it is doing, that it has a clean bill of health and will be staying very much open.

Does the entertaining slanging match between professors Michael Barber and Sally Tomlinson have deeper roots than at first appear?

Prof Tomlinson, you may recall, launched a ballistic attack on Prof Barber and the NE London Education Association for deciding to close Hackney Downs school. Last week's TES saw Prof Barber's bare-knuckled reply.

It is worth recalling that when Ann Taylor was in charge of Labour's education policy, Prof Tomlinson was a leading force. But no longer.

The power in the land of Blunkett is now a Professor Michael Barber from London's Institute of Education.

Cheryl Gillan, fag-toting minister for women "spelt W-O-M-E-N", seems to be one of the lads. Reprimanded by a policeman for smoking out of bounds in the Palace of Westminster, she retorted:"You sound just like my mother."

We learn that public relations firm Hill and Knowlton was employed by Kuwait to jolt Western governments into action against Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War.

This is the same Hill and Knowlton contracted to sell teaching to the British public, an altogether harder task. Things are not going so well: applications for secondary training - where shortages loom - are already down on last year. On the other hand, universities are bent beneath the weight of applications from people wanting to be primary teachers . . . a sector which is this year looking to cut its numbers.

Step forward boarding schools, the latest corrupting influence on the fabric of national life. In an evidently desperate bid for a with-it clientele, Arthur Hearnden, chair of the Independent Schools' Joint Council, tells the magazine of the Girls Schools' Association that boarding schools are not at odds with female careerism. Far from it, getting rid of a child is an excellent tactic, he writes. "The message is clear enough: the flexible boarding arrangements that schools now offer make it possible to reconcile motherhood with a busy professional life to the benefit of all concerned."

Former Goodie Bill Oddie ran into trouble over his musical tastes at Fitzjohn's primary school in Hampstead. Its Christmas concert was stopped mid-flow until a bout of baby-wailing had passed. Mr Oddie, whose daughter attends the school, leapt up with words to the effect that, "I'd rather hear the cry of a baby than Benjamin Britten." Chaos ensued when, according to Camden council, "an altercation" broke out between Mr Oddie and an upset head of music.

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