Education diary: Teaching union bosses on the naughty step

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The Independent Online

The bosses of the two biggest teaching unions find themselves on the naughty step. Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the NUT, and Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, failed to turn up to the Children, Schools and Families select committee last week. "Two witnesses on Monday failed to show, in one case giving no excuse, and the other with a rather poor excuse," said Barry Sheerman, the chairman. Tut, tut! Sheerman sent stern letters to the absentees, telling them that to treat this committee with such contempt was "really very poor". Placing Sinnott and Keates in a pantheon of wrongdoers, Sheerman said people could remember Arthur Scargill not wanting to give evidence to the energy committee and the Maxwell twins at the Public Accounts Committee, but it was really very rare.

Sheerman then turned his attention to Jim Knight, the schools minister who, it emerged, had invited himself along to give evidence with Sir Bruce Liddington, the schools commissioner. Couldn't Sir Bruce give evidence on his own? "We just think ministers should be accountable," replied Knight, with gusto.

Sheerman, sensing impudence, gave him a severe look. After all, senior officials always turn up for a grilling without a ministerial chaperone. "You wouldn't be trying to set a precedent here?" Sheerman asked, hands on hips, right foot tapping.

"We certainly take your comments on board," replied Mr Knight, adding, "I wouldn't want one of your stern letters." Is there no limit to this man's chutzpah?

Gordon Brown's visit to China and India included a big higher education contingent. The PM took Richard Branson and other businessmen on his trip, but was also accompanied by five vice chancellors. They were Rick Trainor, boss of King's College London and president of Universities UK, Drummond Bone (Liverpool), John Hood (Oxford), Malcolm Grant (UCL) and Colin Campbell (Nottingham).

Their job was to promote the increasing number of exchanges and partnerships between British and Chinese universities. We hope they had fun, too – mastering chopsticks and buying themselves silk smoking jackets. Then it was on to India where Oxford's John Hood (above) announced he was setting up an Indian business centre and a new chair in Indian business studies at Said Business School. Business schools are finally realising how much we have to learn from the subcontinent.

Twitchers ahoy! This week saw the launch of the world's biggest bird survey, the RSPB Big School's Birdwatch, which runs until 1 February. Children will be setting up bird feeders, turning classrooms into bird hides, and spending time counting the feathered creatures in their school grounds. Schools are asked to identify different species and send the results to the RSPB. A press release says that schoolchildren will be "getting into position with their noses pressed up against the window this fortnight". Birdwatching, that is; not simply dreaming of a life outside the classroom. For a free schools pack visit

One independent school boosting its charitable status is Rugby. The Warwickshire school has added an search box to its intranet, allowing pupils and staff to raise cash while searching the internet. The money goes to the Arnold Foundation for Rugby School, which aims to provide funding for 40 full boarding places at the school annually, within 10 years. Let's hope the Charity Commission reads the Education diary!