Chalk Talk: How to knock pupils into shape - get them to Come Dancing

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The Independent Online

It was a nostalgic moment when Ann Widdicombe turned up in Blackpool last week to chair the annual North of England Education Conference. The last time the Conservative MP turned Strictly Come Dancing Star was in town was when the BBC1 show visited its glitzy ballroom just before Christmas.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, she issued a clarion call for pupils to be encouraged to take up ballroom dancing. It would, she said, help with discipline and fitness and also memory skills. "If I'm making a 45-minute speech, I never get lost for words but – in a 30 second dance routine – if Anton (her dancing partner Anton du Bec) says 'go left', I go right," she said. "I just can't remember which foot goes where."

It would also help improve relations between boys and girls. "Anton always said he regrets the arrival of Chubby Checker," she said. "Before the twist, boys and girls used to dance with each other."

She did, however, admit that she would not necessarily make a good role model or teacher for ballroom dancing. Nor, though, would her bête noir – Strictly judge Craig Revel-Horwood. His habit of "barking" when he found fault would put off too many children if it was transferred to the classroom.

Meanwhile, when the schools minister Nick Gibb was facing a hard grilling from the conference about the Government's record, she was quick to quip: "You see – that's the difference between a politician and an ex-politician. Nobody's been rude to me all week."

And now from the country that gave us "free" schools, another idea the Coalition Government might to take up. In Sweden, inspectors have powers to talk to children privately, with no adult present, when they inspect their schools, the Children's Commissioner, Maggie Atkinson, told the conference.

They also have the power to close a school down if they consider it is not up to scratch. She described it as an "interesting development", given Sweden's influence on policy development in the UK.

Somehow, though, I cannot see Education Secretary Michael Gove going for this one. He would be too wary of headlines saying "seven-year-olds are to be given the power to close their own schools", methinks.

Quote from Andy Burnham, Labour's education spokesman and former party leadership contender, after being introduced as a high-flying politician: "I used to be a high-flyer before I had a rather big job application turned down."