29th November 1996 at 00:00
With social trends of the late 20th century being charted by the rise of the urban myth, Carborundum is proud to announce that school inspection has finally arrived. Only last week we heard the following story from a colleague who heard it at a party from someone who'd got it from the horse's mouth over dinner. So it must be true.

The head of an unnamed secondary school, in the throes of an inspection, was drumming her fingers impatiently on the desk waiting for her Reggie to turn up for a planned meeting one morning. Eventually he arrived, 90 minutes late and out of breath, but with an excuse of which Reginald Perrin might have been proud.

Mr Inspector, to save on hotel bills, had opted to stay with friends near the school and they had left the house before him. No doubt eager to meet the challenges of the day ahead, he made his way into the bathroom swathed in nothing but a skimpy towel to perform his ablutions, and somehow got locked in. Pulling, tugging and banging at the door made no difference.

He bellowed for help. After some time, passers-by stopped laughing and alerted the fire brigade. An engine with a long ladder was sent out. Then Mr Inspector refused to descend in his state of damp undress. A fireman went up the ladder, collected his trousers, and took them to the bathroom so that he could cover his modesty.

It is not recorded whether the head scored extra highly on the inspector's report for keeping a straight face. But it sounds as though she's been dining out on the story ever since.

Stop Press: the Diary has just found the ideal post for an energetic VC: at Slippery Rock University, Pennsylvania. Or perhaps not.

The Man Who Inspects Schools for the Queen is like a favourite book: you like him so much that you yearn to lend him to someone. At least, that is the only explanation Carborundum can find to explain why he always seems to be rumoured to be in the running for some job or another.

Last time, we were earnestly assured, Chris Woodhead was up for a job in New Zealand. He laughed it off, saying he didn't want to leave his old mum, and he was having "too much fun" in his current post. (But Carborundum has since been told that he made the shortlist for permanent secretary in the department of education there.) Now there is the mysterious case of two university vice-chancellorships in which we are assured that Mr W has no interest. One is for Oxford Brookes, the other Manchester Metropolitan (handy for climbing in the Lake District).

According to conspiracy theorists, with an election coming up which the Government may not win, Mr Woodhead might do well to call in political favours now. Labour would be unlikely to sack him (to do so might be to appear soft on trendy teaching) but he would be unlikely to enjoy his current level of influence at Number 10.

The current incumbent of Manchester Metropolitan, Sir Kenneth Green, is also said to enjoy influence at Number 10, and there is your connection. No doubt he'll put in a good word for Mr Woodhead.

Laughter floats down the phone from Mr W's HQ. "He's always very entertained by what you come up with about him in the Diary," chortles a minion. We'll see.

Hollow laughs are doing the rounds among refugees from the late-lamented Association for Colleges at the latest glossy publication from the Government.

Last year the AFC - now gobbled up by the Association of Colleges - published its annual report. In a triumph of optimism over experience, the cover was embellished with proud darting rays in purple and red, out of which rose the sun. How symbolic.

Last week the Government (not late but occasionally lamented) published its strategic guidance to training and enterprise councils, with a lovely glossy cover featuring darting rays in purple and red - yes, the same picture.

Just one horribly symbolic fact. The picture was printed upside down, thus effectively showing the sun setting.

It's nice to know that staff at the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority retain that gallows sense of humour in adversity. This week - when a massive power failure caused the entire Tube system to grind to a halt, stranding 30,000 people - billboards for the evening paper read: "Tests to blame for Tube blackout". This so affected chief executive Nick Tate that he rang the office on his mobile to wail: "This is getting out of hand."

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