The Week

15th January 2010 at 00:00

Then came another dump of snow. And another. Schools were forced to shut, but most reopened for the all-important exams on Monday. Then some that had reopened had to shut again. And, damn, it was cold. Then yet more snow. Such was the way of the Deep Freeze. Then, when the hardy teachers of Britain did return to their classrooms, Ranulph Fiennes-style, the ice was everywhere. Should schools really reopen? Was it safe for pupils? Was it 'ealth and safety gone mad? Such was the way of the Deep Freeze.

Adventurous professionals not deterred by blizzards included delegates at the North of England Education Conference (NEEC) in York, the lure of three days of edu-wonk-speak proving just too irresistible: "Dust down the snow plough, Darling, I simply have to hear the latest on Schools Bulletin 469!" Indeed, schools minister Vernon "I used to be a deputy head" Coaker undertook a passable Scott of the Antarctic impression to make sure he could deliver his keynote. But it was Tory schools supremo Michael Gove who grabbed the headlines by deciding that it's too hard to sack bad teachers and there should be no upper limits on the time heads can observe staff. The classroom unions loved that. What was that sound in the distance? Was it the Social Partnership falling off a cliff?

If the NEEC wasn't enough to get the old blood pumping, surely the annual celebration of educational excellence that is the secondary school league tables must have acted as anti-freeze for the arteries. Educational excellence, you say? Ah. The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail must have missed that when, on Wednesday, their reporters penned such hardy perennials as "GCSE league tables: half of pupils miss target" and "One pupil in five fails to gain a C at GCSE". Depressingly, yet predictably, this year's coverage largely failed, of course, to report that England's secondaries are doing better than ever before.

But if schools were doing well, imagine how great their achievements would be if pupils had healthy packed lunches. As we all know, since Jamie Oliver landed on our screens like a mockney saint to save Britain's youth, there are few things Fleet Street's finest like more than a school food story. Apparently, just 1 per cent of the contents of lunchboxes are up to the mark. Right then, Oliver, time to give the dinner ladies a break. If you thought they were tough, the parents are something else all together ...

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