Suit you, sir

21st August 1998 at 01:00
Stephen Byers, lately of this parish, has been in his new Treasury post barely a month. Yet already the Fat Cats have felt the rough edge of his tongue, lambasting them for taking mega pay rises, and Mensa members have applauded him for being the second-most-politically-astute member of the Cabinet (scarily, outshone only by spinmeister Peter Mandelson).

All of this comes as no surprise to the Diary, which has been watching the career of Mr B with interest ever since the day, many years ago, when he had a longish, liquidish lunch with a journalist (now a senior luminary of The TES) and accidentally ended up buying a hideously expensive suit on his way home."I didn't even need it," he wailed a few days later. The TES hack found getting home enough of a task in itself.

It is a talent not lost on his Tory opposite number, Treasury spokesman Michael Fallon (you remember - the chap who as education minister wanted to ban the Australian soap opera Neighbours.) The pair were doing a knockabout turn at a right-wing think-tank earlier this summer. Fallon described Byers as "even further to the right than me". Mr B, obviously taking this as a compliment, quipped: "The difference is that we're making these policies work." Scary.

Long gone from the world of education Mr F may be, but he is not forgotten.

He looms large in the memory of John Sutton, the soon-to-retire general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, and the following anecdote has no doubt been heard at leaving parties the length and breadth of the land. (Mr S's send-offs started with an American do last February, have spanned "umpteen" in the middle, and there are more still to go).

Anyway, at a meeting between the union, the minister and civil servants, Mr F was asked if he knew of any other profession in which appraisal of senior staff was performed by lay people. Crows Mr S: "He turned to his senior civil servant, who deadpan said 'None, minister'. It was a happy moment."

Poet's corner

And now, time for some poetry - and apologies to those readers who have already come across the following stanzas, distributed through a curious schools samizdat system flourishing under the iron yoke of the Office for Standards in Education.

"There's only one f in Ofsted But that's quite enough for us.

If there's no f in lesson plan There's one hell of an f in fuss There's an f in form to fill in For everything that's said.

There'll be no f in future if that fails to please the head.

There'll be no f in inspector When your lesson is first rate And there's no f in good excuse To explain why you are late There's no f in parking space For half the f in staff Reserved for f in Ofsted Who have the last f in larf There's only one f in Ofsted With its education speak Thank God there's an f in Friday To end this Ofsted week."

A covering note with the Diary's copy reads: "This appeared on the staffroom noticeboard at the end of Ofsted week. We think it came from the registered inspector."

So that's what they do.

Susan Young

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