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Diary

magazine article | Published in TES Newspaper on 25 July, 1997 | By: Carborundum

It's that time of year again, when the silly season is almost upon us and curious little tales stalk the land.

Amusing the gossipmongers just now is a delightful little tale suggesting that Mr Chris Woodhead, the Man Who Inspects Schools For The Queen, is giving some thought to what might be considered an unorthodox career move.

Kent is alive with the suggestion that the wiry-haired Woodhead is seriously interested in taking over as education director when the colourful Roy Pryke departs. The job, paying a hefty Pounds 95K, was advertised in last week's TES.

Giving some credence to the rumours are newspaper cuttings from the locality, all to the general effect that Mr W is a sterling chap who has been visiting schools in the area recently in an attempt to show his human side. As one correspondent pointed out to Carborundum, darkly, Mr W is a man who leaves little to chance.

Other reasons why the story might be true which are currently doing the rounds are that Mr W's aged parents live in the vicinity, it's handy for his partner's job as head of an East End school and (Carborundum's contribution to the tale, this) the only decent climbing to be had in the boringly flat South-east is at Harrison's Rocks on the Kent-Sussex border. Mr Woodhead's idea of relaxation is to shin up vertical faces at vertiginous heights, with only the protection of a rope.

But if - if - the tale is true, why on earth would anyone who so obviously relishes his current high-profile role as slayer of inefficient teaching and less than rigorous local authorities want to bury himself in a job where the risks are higher and rewards far less obvious?

The rumour-mongers have an explanation for this, too. What with the new onus on local authorities as the engine for forcing excellence out of schools, and imminent inspections by Mr W's band of merry men and women at the Office for Standards in Education, thereis a temptation to prove he canrun the perfect service. Hmmm.

Whether or not the story turns out to be true, however, anthropologists and Freudians might find interesting the sheer number and scope of new-job-for-Woodhead fantasies in circulation. There was the story that he was going for the job of director of education in New Zealand, tales of applications for vice-chancellorships at Oxford Brookes and Manchester Metropolitan universities, and another tale involving Norfolk local authority. Either Mr W is a dab hand with the CV at the moment, or there are an awful lot of wish-fulfilment fantasists out there.

The report of the sainted Sir Ron Dearing into universities, the universe and everything has proved leakier than Thames Water's pipes. Well before the gargantuan tome was officially published this Wednesday, it had been subject to leak, counter-leak and counter-counter-leak to the point where Betty Boothroyd, the Speaker of the Commons, made her displeasure known about the current series of Government initiatives which appeared first in the press, and only later at the Dispatch Box.

The Dearing fun and games are particularly interesting, since the Government took the opportunity during the weekend to leak its own version of its plans for highereducation - which are somewhat at variance with Sir Ron's, to his apparent alarm. He and his committee have, after all, spent some 14 months on the task while New Labour has not had as manyweeks.

Still, Sir Ron and the Speaker are not the only people left rather cross by this episode. Education minister Stephen Byers has been moaning that the premature appearance of some Dearing proposals last week scuppered Labour's own plans to leak it to selected outlets over the weekend.

In Carborundum's day, student residences were entirely sordid places, filled in equal measure with furry yoghurts, green milk and cockroaches. A bath was something you queued for, clutching towel, soap and tin of Vim. But no longer.

At King's College in London, every room in the Stamford Street Apartments has an en-suite shower room, fridge and Internet link. At Pounds 70 a week, this could prove popular with reclusive but obsessively clean anoraks. Another similarly luxurious hall of residence will be ready for occupation in September, while at least six provincial universities are offering the same palatial service.

Nice to think the university buildings departments have such high regard for their students that they want to spend millions ensuring that the poor darlings enjoy all mod cons.

The truth, sadly, may be more prosaic: universities are in hot competition for the conference market, and have to compete with hotel-standard facilities. Significantly, the trend started at the University of East Anglia and has since spread to the likes of Lancaster, Bath and Birmingham. "It's just the way things are going," confided a King's College source.

How unromantic. Student culture - and students' love lives - can only be the poorer for the ending of the age-old tradition of the dripping trudge - wrapped only in a towel - down the mean corridors of the residence block.


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