Education: Word of Mouth - So how many Labour delegates still know The Red Flag words?

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Where there's brass

Tempers at last week's TUC get-together at Blackpool's Winter Gardens might have flared far more than they did, had it not been for the presence of youngsters playing soothing, as well as invigorating, music as delegates assembled for their daily dose of adrenaline.

Trade union hats should be raised to Blackpool's St George's High School Wind Band and the Park School Brass Band for their regular foot-tapping contributions (even Ofsted managed to praise the latter as "excellent and possibly unique" in a recent report). A flute quartet from the Wakefield Girls' High School and a group of super singers from Colne Valley High School, Huddersfield, also provided some entertaining rhythm to cheer delegates.

All part of the service provided by Music for Youth, which is organising more jazz, brass and string accompaniment for next week's Labour party shindig at Blackpool. A brass band from Smithills School, Bolton, will provide the traditional "Red Flag". I wonder how many delegates these days even know the words.

Prison patter

Prisons and young offenders' institutions come under the eagle eye of Chris Woodhead, the Chief Inspector of Schools, whose contract has just been renewed at a vast salary of pounds 115,000. That is perhaps why Ofsted has ordered, not one, but six copies of Angela Devlin's book, Prison Patter (which you may recall was reviewed in Word of Mouth). All of them have gone to a member of the Woodhead army of inspectors.

"It's no easy task inspecting prisons," an Ofsted spokeswoman explained. "It was considered useful to understand some of the language that might be used. After all, this is a serious book."

I only hope those doing bird (or porridge, time or bit - all meaning a period in jail) will beat the Ofsted rap (withstand harsh interrogation), and that the inspectors don't get too screwed (upset or anxious).

And for those who want to keep up with Woodhead's minions, Ms Devlin's splendid dictionary is obtainable from Waterside Press, Domum Road, Winchester, SO23 9NN, priced pounds 12, plus pounds 1.50 p&p.

Manchester ahoy

Every now and then, Manchester strikes the jackpot. Take last week, for instance. The annual residential retreat of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals was held in Manchester. By coincidence, the CVCP's chairman is Professor Martin Harris, vice-chancellor of the University of Manchester. By further coincidence, the new president of the Association of University Teachers is Chris Bannister, who is also at Manchester University. Last week, however, he was not to be found in the city. He had hopped over to Blackpool for the TUC conference.

Forward with Tony

There's something exciting about going back to your roots. So when I received word from the Ottershaw School Old Boys' Society about last Sunday's reunion to mark its golden jubilee, I anticipated great tidings of great joy. Instead, its president, Tony Forward, gave some old boys six of the best - only verbally, of course.

For instance, he said that Sir Patrick Fairweather, former ambassador to Italy, had broken all contact with the school, as had actor John Challis (pictured above), who plays Boysie in Only Fools and Horses. "When canvassed for support at the stage door by one of his old school chums, he made it clear he had no interest," Forward sighed.

Charlie Whelan, special adviser to Chancellor Gordon Brown, and John Romer, TV presenter of Romer's Egypt, were other ex-pupils to be verbally spanked for their disloyalty. "I'm surprised John Romer, the Egyptologist, wasn't eager for the reunion, if only to examine some living fossils and old bones," he chortled.

But what and where is - or rather, was - this school? It was set up near Chertsey in 1948 - a state school providing public school quality education for the sons of the working class. Alas, it was forced to close in 1980 after Shirley Williams, then still an "old" Labour Education Secretary, killed off the valuable direct grant sector. She clearly held early Blairite notions before turning LibDem.

Old Boys carried on meeting each year, but more and more dropped out. Two faithful supporters were BBC Top Gear presenter Tiff Needell - and toastmaster extraordinary Tony Forward who, incidentally, is a retired police chief superintendent. Last Sunday, he said sadly, was probably the last of the reunions.

Fishing in style

There was never a truer workaholic than Clifford Fisher. He studied art and was strongly advised to become a professional artist. He declined, preferring to teach.

He was the founding head teacher of Malaysia's first comprehensive school and later, back in England, he became head of Beverley School, in Kingston- on-Thames, a boys' secondary modern, which he ran on public school lines - and it worked. There was a boat club, and prefects wore purple gowns. Boys took pride in their school and exam results proved his point.

Clifford retired in 1984 - and prefectorial gowns were scrapped. But I understand they now are back again. As for Clifford, he returned to his other love - painting - and made a success of that as well. If you are anywhere near Eastbourne, his home town, do yourself a favour and visit the exhibition of his work at the Devonshire Club in Hartington Place (hurry up, because the exhibition closes on Saturday).

Not since Canaletto have I found a painter who has got the light of Venice so right. He has experimented with many styles and each painting draws gasps of admiration. Oh, and he has authored more than 30 books, and made telly and radio appearances galore. Not bad for a chap of 76 summers, eh?

And finally...

I recently received an unsolicited little tape through the post. A covering letter asked me to listen to Dr Joel Wallach who, it appears, was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1991. Dr Wallach is heard speaking about health matters, on which I'm no expert, but I found it all quite fascinating. What startled me was the tape's title: Dead doctor's (sic) don't lie! I don't suppose doctors, whether dead or alive, can be held responsible for grammar as well as for bodies.