Chalk Talk: Go straight to the bottom of the class, Kevin Brennan


It could happen to anyone. However, just when Labour was warming to its theme of attacking Michael Gove's plan to bring back O-levels on the grounds that everyone should have the chance to study for a world-class qualification, Labour's schools minister Kevin Brennan made the kind of gaffe that used to earn ministers pictures in downmarket tabloids with a dunce's cap on.

Referring to the GCSE pass rate in 1997, he said three out of ten students, "that's 60 per cent" – got A* to C grade passes. It must have been a slip of the tongue because Brennan was an economics teacher in an earlier life.

It did, however, allow Gove to make the point gently that perhaps statistics were not Labour's strong point.

At least Kevin Brennan can comfort himself that he is not on his own. Remember 8 x 7 = 54? Stephen Byers will do. That was the answer he came up with when launching a document on improving maths teaching. I suppose you could say he made the case for the document.

* It has been a week for reviving memories for former Labour education ministers. Andrew Adonis popped up at a conference to promote assisted boarding school places for children from broken homes.

He has always been a champion of giving assisted boarding school places since he himself was the beneficiary of one at Kingham Hill in Oxford – which changed his life for ever.

His recollections of his time there at the conference were not always as glowing as one might expect. It had, he said, given him a pathological hatred of rugby. The way in which it was conducted, he added, was "the nearest thing to fascism I have come across in British society".

Happily, he was soon back on message again – calling for an expansion of the scheme to give hope to disadvantaged youngsters. Best not to mention the cold showers and the cross-country runs then. (Sorry – that's my own recollections coming in!)