Diary

5th April 1996 at 01:00
The drive to acquire new skills is not just being espoused by Sir Ron Dearing and the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority. Saint Ron's indefatigable publicity supremo and personal fixer, Tony "Busy" Millns, is apparently taking to heart the message of his boss's newly published 700-page blueprint for 16-19 education.

"Busy" was to be seen striding purposefully from SCAA's Notting Hill bunker last week, explaining: "I've got to buy a bag."

Further questioning elicited that the object of his trip was an unglamorous plasticised shopping bag, to be bought as a present for mild-mannered Judith Judd, education correspondent of the Independent.

A curious choice of bribe, Carborundum suggests. Mr Millns sighs. "She came up at the launch of the report and said she was going to sue me. Apparently she'd put it into her trusty shopping bag and it snapped under the weight."

Meanwhile, SCAA's assistant chief executive, David Hawker, is opening his post warily after receiving an extraordinary communication from one Hugh Emil de Cruz, the self-styled Divine Inner Light Life God Within Man. (Example: "Dear Sparks of God's Light, I am a Teacher. Asleep and Dreaming light expansion in ANOTHER PROBABLE REALITY. Since inner light energised consciousness travels at SPEEDS science CANNOT MEASURE.") A possible clue is to be found in one missive's photocopy of an ancient Times article, headlined: "Headteachers want end to compulsory worship in schools".

Alongside sits the following caption (Carborundum finds Hugh's staccato writing style curiously infectious): "MAILED 5,000 ENVELOPES TO EVERY HEADMASTER AND TEACHER IN EVERY SCHOOL ACROSS ENGLAND. RESULT IN THE HEADLINE SHOWN HERE. THIS IS THE GREATEST INNER LIGHT EXPANSION WORK THE WORLD HAS EVER SEEN. PLEASE STICK A SMILING FACE STICKER ON THE BACK OF EVERY LETTER YOU MAIL. IT IS A UNIVERSAL LIGHT SYMBOL".

A cynical colleague of Mr Hawker's has another explanation for why he might have been singled out for such an honour. "He is a Vulcan. They probably think he'd understand that kind of thing."

So farewell then to Education magazine, which managed to go out with both a bang and a whimper last week. The bang - an extremely jolly party. The whimper - settlement of a libel case brought by Lindsay MacDonald, head of Claremont School, a grant-maintained establishment in Brent.

Not only was a grovelling apology in order, but also the payment of compensation and all legal fees.

And a very happy Easter indeed to Barbara Reseigh, headteacher of Hillcross School in the London borough of Merton, who forced stationery giant W H Smith to modify its promotional activities.

Perhaps a scarlet leaflet called "National Testing: How to help your child prepare for the tests at each key stage" was always going to be a red rag to most teachers' bulls, but Ms Reseigh's ire was first roused by "several glaring inaccuracies" designed, she thought, to part anxious parents from their money.

But it was the penultimate sentence - "If you have any further questions about national testing, please ask a member of staff at W H Smith" - which really got her going. "I suppose if I want to know how to perform brain surgery I should pop into the nearest branch of Boots," fumed Ms Reseigh.

A charitable thought occurred. Perhaps Smith's staff had actually undergone training in the subject. "I decided to conduct a little customer research. I went back to my nearest branch armed with a few questions. (Differentiated, of course, to take account of a possible wide range of ability.) "In their defence, it has to be said that the two staff who served me did their best to be helpful, but after they had informed me that there were four or five levels in the national curriculum and that key stage 2 covered ages 10 and 11, I realised that maybe we had a fundamental problem."

The individual booklets proved even less helpful. "At this point, the assistants totally redeemed themselves. Realising that they were floundering out of their depth, they actually suggested that the only people who might know the answers to these questions were teachers, and suggested that I consult one!" At this point, Ms Reseigh decided to consult the managing director of W H Smith with what she describes as a "strongly worded" letter citing various Education Acts. Imagine her surprise at receiving a reply conceding many of her criticisms and announcing that the offending leaflet was to be withdrawn forthwith. "I almost fell over," she confides. Celebrations are muted, however: Ms Reseigh has spent the first days of her Easter holiday painting the staffroom a tasteful Apple White with her chair of governors.

Perhaps Ms Reseigh's next campaign should be to lift the quality of press releases. Carborundum is still reeling from a missive sent on behalf of Mensa-leaning Newton Prep in Battersea - apparently written by Hugh Emil de Cruz - encouraging scholarship applications from juveniles with IQs of 135-plus. "Bright children have specula [sic] needs," the headmaster explains.

The sparkling prose continues: "After two or four years nurturing at Newton Prep. The Headmaster expects pupils to gain further scholarships at secondary schools, to be to compete for assisted places, or to gain strong entry to the leading state schools, which are becoming increasingly selective."

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