Chalk talk: Careers lesson - new role models urgently needed

A sign of the times, maybe. A visiting dignitary was touring a primary school in the North-east and asked a young pupil what he wanted to be when he grew up. "I want to be an uncle," the lad said firmly.

"A what?" asked the dignitary, feeling he had misheard.

"An uncle," said the boy emphatically. "They always get the comfiest seat in the living room and they're always cooked special teas. My mum's introduced me to lots of them."

So what's the moral to draw from this encounter? The visiting dignitary thought it showed that there was a need to develop more careers training in primary schools. Spot on, when you consider that a similar question asked of primary schoolchildren a couple of years ago elicited the answer: "A celebrity."

However, some would say the problem goes deeper than that.

* Speak to any headteacher for a while and it won't be long before they moan about the number of forms they have to fill in to pacify the health and safety lobby. Maybe they would think differently if they were leading a school in Brunei, though.

"It certainly puts things into perspective when they have risk assessments for what to do when a snake comes into the dining room, and how to deal with a monkey that wants to steal your snack," Andy Falconer, chairman of the Independent Association of Preparatory Schools said after visiting the country. Makes you realise that sometimes there are valid reasons for health and safety precautions.

* An unlikely new heroine of the Tory right emerged at their party conference in Birmingham this week. Step forward Katharine Birbalsingh, deputy headteacher at the St Michael and All angels Academy in Camberwell, south London, who confessed she had flirted with the Socialist Workers' Party whilst at Oxford.

Instead, though, she told the party faithful, she had plucked up courage and put aside all guilt feelings and voted Conservative at the May election. The reason? She was sick of the "excuses culture" over failings in the state education system and the "dumbing down" of exams.

She was one of a number of heads and teachers shepherded on to the conference rostrum by Education Secretary Michael Gove and won a standing ovation for her efforts. Expect to hear more of her in Tory party circles in future.

* Lenny Henry has been chosen to compere this year's Teaching Awards, to be screened later this month on BBC2. The comedian-cum-serious-actor has several close ties with education – notably playing super-head Ian George in the BBC drama Hope and Glory, when he is said to have based the character on Sir William Atkinson, who turned around one of the country's most challenging schools, Phoenix High School in west London, and became an adviser to the Blair government.

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