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The test is yet to come

THE CONTROVERSY over the resignation of Helen Williams as High Mistress of one of Britain's most academic schools, St Paul's Girls' in Hammersmith, London, took a new turn yesterday when parents finally received some sort of explanation from the school's governors for her abrupt departure. Mrs Williams left two weeks ago after what she has described as 'two months of sheer hell'. The reason was thought to be that she had alienated some of the school's most influential parents, including Michael Howard, Secretary of State for the Environment, and John Elkington, the environmentalist, by restricting the number of GCSEs girls could take. Yesterday, however, parents received a letter from Henry Palmer, chairman of the Mercers' Company governors, denying that there had been any disagreement between Mrs Williams and the governors over educational policy or that Mrs Williams's resignation had followed criticism from the press or parents. Many 'discussions with Mrs Williams over aspects of the management of the school' in recent months had 'given them (the governors) concern,' he says. 'Unfortunately, this gave rise to a breakdown in the mutual confidence which governors and head must have in each other and the position became irretrievable.' Meanwhile, in a move that is bound to infuriate traditionalist parents, Mr Palmer says the new policy will continue, although the acting High Mistress, Janet Gough, will conduct a 'review' of the subjects girls will be allowed to take at GCSE.

AND WHAT do you suppose has just won a nomination for the Prince of Wales Award for Innovation? Why, a speech scrambler for preventing unauthorised persons from intercepting and listening to private telephone conversations, courtesy of GEC- Marconi.

Hard lesson

SPARE a thought for 40 aspiring law students who thought they had been awarded places on Manchester Polytechnic's law/ language and law/government degree courses. Last week they were sent literature setting out enrolment procedures, which also referred to the fact that they had already been made an offer of a place. Wide smiles all round and pats on the back from mum and dad. Now the hapless 40 have received letters from the poly saying that in fact they have been rejected. There had been an administrative error - a hard-pressed secretary had made a mistake. 'Nobody regrets this error more than the law department,' the admissions tutor told us yesterday. To date the department has received 12 anguished calls from disappointed parents and would- be students and is considering what, if anything, can be done to make amends. And the admissions tutor's name: Timothy Burton. As in places 'gone for a . . .' we suppose.

DARK mutterings about nepotism at the Daily Telegraph, where Alexander, the son of the regular cartoonist Nicholas Garland, is standing in for his dad. Charles Moore, the paper's deputy editor, denies that this is a case of jobs for the boys. 'It's not a job,' he told us. 'He is just standing in for the week.' Still, it's nice work if you can get it.

Hunt the customer

AND NOW the latest in cheap stunts by hotels to get bums in beds. Except this one's not so cheap. The Redworth Hall Hotel and Country Club, near Darlington, is offering a special weekend break for anyone wishing to track down the mysterious Durham puma, first sighted in 1986. For just (]) pounds 175 a head you're equipped with a room, along with maps of the area, telescopes, a pith helmet, a video camera and two legs of lamb to distract the beast should it get too close. And there will be a 25 per cent discount if you bring back any puma droppings.

A COLLEAGUE receives a postcard from a friend on holiday in Zimbabwe, where millions are facing starvation because of lack of rain. 'Victoria falls was disappointing,' the correspondent writes 'because of the drought . . . But the sunsets are just as I remember them - electric red.' Ah, that's all right then.

STILL can't find a use for those book tokens Aunt Mabel sent for your birthday? Try this from Richard Hutchins, a retired solicitor who is a cycling and youth hostelling enthusiast: Wind Assisted Cycle Routes between BR Stations.

A DAY LIKE THIS

27 August 1921 Siegfried Sassoon staying with the Sitwells at Renishaw writes in his journal: 'Looking up from (Shelley's) Epipsychidion (with a yawn) I see below my window the soft green lawn, the four grey still statues that look towards the silver lake, white and purple flowers, the dark-green wind-wobbled yews, and the aspens blown sideways, all in a shower of thin rain, which blurs the dullness of receding Derbyshire. The wind talks on the roofs and rattles the windows, and its noises mingle with the distant surge of a train that creeps across the middle distance under its own gusty streamer of smoke. Having finished this literary-flavoured paragraph, I light another pipe and continue cogitating.'

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