Contract for Chris

The Government is facing a tricky dilemma. Chris Woodhead's current contract expires next year. Do I hear hysterical cheers emanating from the nation's schools? Not so fast. Education Secretary David Blunkett and his education team are locked in deep debate as to whether the Chief Inspector of Schools' contract should be renewed or not. So what is the dilemma? If they decide to renew it, teacher morale, already touching zero thanks to Woodhead's many controversial outpourings against the profession, would plummet to below freezing. If they do not renew it, teacher morale might well soar to unaccustomed heights, but both Woodhead and the Government which, after all, has given him carte blanche, will lose face. I understand that the alternative would be to find Ofsted's boss a new and acceptable job. Now, which vice-chancellorships are up for grabs? I believe there's a vacancy at the University of Outer Mongolia.

Rectors hit capital

Last week's conference of European rectors (only the Brits still insist on calling themselves vice-chancellor) at London Guildhall University and Guildhall can't have been much fun. With the whole of London to choose from, the 250 or so rectors went to fairly dreary places (Guildhall itself being the exception). How different from the great meetings at other European cities. I recall one incident at the Bologna conference to which I was invited many years ago. All the rectors went on a charabanc outing and ended the day with tea at a beautiful hotel on the way back to the city. Lord Annan, then Provost of University College, London, who was not a conference delegate, happened to be on holiday in Italy and staying at the same hotel. He was snoozing at the side of the swimming pool when five coaches disgorged their passengers. Some 300 assorted rectors and vice-chancellors, many of them known to Noel Annan, were marching down the path towards him when he awoke. He stared at the oncoming hordes in terror, and later said: "I thought I had died and had gone to hell!"

Take cover

Some universities are extremely fortunate in the gifts they receive - and, yes, some things are more valuable than money. The University of Reading, for instance, has received a collection of gorgeous Victorian sheet music covers in perfect condition. The donors: Doreen and Sidney Spellman, a London couple, who had not only collected them, but even wrote a book (Victorian Music Covers, 1969). There are some humdingers. There's "The Railway Guard", a "new song" by Arthur Lloyd, showing a splendidly bearded guard standing by a green Rugby-bound train, and a laden porter struggling along the platform; "The Sailor's Dream", a "descriptive fantasia for the piano" by J Pridham, shows a sailingboat, shaped like a hammock, enfolding a sleeping sailor and, above him, his dream in which he is being greeted by a beautiful woman in front of a church. And then there is one called "Ten Graduates" - "a comic song written by A Graduate", complete with a row of mortar-boarded graduates, clearly enjoying themselves. Ah, those were the days.

Lucky seven

It is certainly less boring and a great deal more satisfying to win hard cash from the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust than from the National Lottery. Set up in 1990 to mark the Queen Mother's 90th birthday, it is open to applicants of any age who wish to improve their skills. This year, just seven will share nearly pounds 40,000. Barbara Jones, aged 41, comes from Yorkshire and is acknowledged as Britain's greatest authority on straw bale building. She wins pounds 6,000 and will use it to learn cob building techniques (that's using clay and chopped straw). Others include: Lucy Turner, 26, from the East End of London, a puppeteer (pounds 5,800 to learn puppet-making skills from experts in Italy and London); Stephen Lewis, 27, a stained glass conservator (pounds 3,800 to study conservation at Cologne and other cathedral cities); and James Mackay, 40, who makes early musical instruments (pounds 9,750 to learn violin repair). You'll have to wait until October for the 1999 entry. Forms will then be obtainable from the Trust (don't forget an SAE) at 7 Buckingham Gate, London SW1 6JY. Good luck.

King's Queen

When Anne Dudley received her Master of Music degree from King's College, London University, she never for a moment dreamed that just 20 years later she would be flying to Hollywood to attend the Academy Awards ceremony - and collect an Oscar of her own. It was, of course, for the best musical score for the film, The Full Monty. Not that Anne is a newcomer to success. She has a score of great scores behind her, including for the films The Crying Game, When Saturday Comes and Buster, and such television soundtracks as Kavanagh QC and The Krypton Factor. And among the many who have benefited from this young woman's talents as a composer, arranger and producer are Paul McCartney, Liza Minelli, Tina Turner, Rod Stewart, Pulp and Wham. No wonder King's is proud of this gifted alumna.

Square mile bonus

They used to say small is beautiful. The Corporation of London, which is that bit we call the City, comprises an area of not more than a square mile within the capital. But in that square mile, all kinds of goodies are on offer. Here's just one example. If you happen to live and work within the City limits, and wish to take an educational course at a London institution, all you need is an understanding employer and you could get yourself a voucher of up to pounds 400 to pay for it. And the course need not - nay, should not - have anything to do with your work but be something of special interest to you. One chap wanted to learn Mandarin so he could chat up his fiancee's parents. Success. But you must also contribute. If a course costs pounds 600, your employer coughs up one-third, the Corporation's City Workers' study scheme provides another third and you make up the remaining pounds 200. If the course costs only pounds 150, then it means pounds 50 each - and so on. Good? You betcha. Better still, if you're over 60 with a travel card, pension book or the like, or unemployed with a UB40 card, additional vouchers worth pounds 40 to pounds 275 are available. Well done, the City. And please take note, Dr Kim Howells, Lifelong Learning Minister.

And finally...

Last week's examination howlers proved so popular, here are a few more from the collection of Wye College, London University's agricultural establishment (needless to say, they are from the pens of children, not Wye students): "The spinal column is a long bunch of bones. The head sits on the top and you sit on the bottom"; "A circle is a figure with no corners and only one side"; "The earth makes a resolution every 24 hours"; "The largest mammals are found in the sea because there is nowhere else to put them."