The week

26th March 2010 at 00:00

"scab, scab, SCAB... OUT, OUT, OUT." Oh what fun it is to be back in the 1970s. Unions everywhere, in the headlines and on the street. Unite, one hand bankrolling Labour's electoral machine, the other undermining its chances by pinning BA's 747s to the deck. The oil and rail workers doing an Arthur Scargill. Our own NUT taking on the government over Sats. Unlikely though it may seem, one politician who should be allowing himself a wry smile is shadow schools secretary Michael Gove. It turns out that this erudite Tory, the anti-Balls, has his own history as a member of the awkward squad. Sunday saw The People publish a brilliant 1980s picture of a geeky, bespeckled Mr Gove on an NUJ picket line in Aberdeen, where he was very much involved with a strike against his publisher. Apparently he was popular with the union reps. Go Google it - it's outstanding.

One wonders whether Gove's Massive Brain predicted what would happen if you let a bunch of free-thinking academics and educationists loose on the entire exam and qualification system? Surely he must have known that Sir Richard Sykes, former rector of Imperial College London, and his chums would come back with a whole bunch of stuff that might not play too well in the build up to the most important election in more than a decade. Cue wriggling of the highest political order on Tuesday.

Talking of ivory towers, Oxford University published some rather intriguing stats this week that did nothing for its reputation as an institution in cahoots with independent schools. The figures show that while last year saw an increase in applicants from the maintained sector (from 5,979 in 2008 to 6,485 in 2009) there was a decrease of 3.9 per cent in those offered places. Whatever the justification behind these statistics, they were always going to play badly in the media and in the schools where such institutions spend gazillions on widening participation.

And finally, what with Wednesday's budget and the question of ring-fenced school spending very much up in the air as the election looms, insecurity about edu-spend is all around us. Twitchiness is apparent wherever you go - would Labour live up to the promised increase if it wins? And are the Tories planning swingeing cuts? Just be thankful, though, that at least the public sector isn't suffering the 7 per cent pay cut being experienced across the Irish Sea. Now that would really get the unions chanting.

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