It's funny how those bemoaning current standards can so often put their foot in it. A recent example surfaced at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers conference in Manchester, where delegate Malcolm St John-Smith, from Wakefield, sought to show how the pressure on teachers from Ofsted and league tables had failed to improve standards.
"In 2002 – 14 years ago – the UK was ranked fifth internationally in science and maths," he said. (Incidentally, we now rank 20th in science and 26th in maths.)
It was a similar slip to that of Stephen Byers, the then Schools Minister, who, when launching a programme for boosting maths standards in schools, told a radio reporter that 8 x 7 was 54. Perhaps the standards of today's young are not as bad as some might think.
Meanwhile, the current Liberal Democrat Schools Minister David Laws showed he was getting into the spirit of these teachers' union conferences by appearing with his arm in a sling. It was not as a result of a bust-up with ATL delegates or as a result of a fracas with his boss, Education Secretary Michael Gove, with whom he is beginning to show more signs of disagreement – witness his strong words over the Gove plan to allow unqualified teachers into state school classrooms. .
It was actually as a result of him slipping over while canvassing for the European elections. When he reported it to his boss, apparently his first question was "Which arm?" – fearful that his deputy might not be able to sign his fair share of documents. He can rest assured – it was not his business arm.
As is the case at teacher union conferences, Mr Gove was again the butt of many a joke from delegates. I would repeat just one, from Frances O'Grady, general secretary of the TUC, who recalled the Education Secretary writing to his former teacher confessing he had been a "clever dick" while at school. "At least he can get things half right," she added.