Education diary: What Friends Reunited reveals about our education system

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The Independent Online

A close friend of the Education Diary has just joined the website Friends Reunited – Facebook for old fogies – and was interested to note what his old school chums were up to. Between the ages of 11 and 16, our friend attended a comprehensive school which, being in close competition with the local grammar school, was effectively a secondary modern. Having done well in his GCSEs, he won a place at said grammar school to study for his A-levels. Surfing on the social-networking website, he has noticed that his friends from the comp entered steady careers in quantity surveying and the like, and had either taken early retirement or been made redundant. His more illustrious grammar-school cronies, meanwhile, had been out and seen the world, and then returned to become something big in the City, or prominent lawyers. This binary divide was the product of the education system of 40 years ago. Would it be any different today? Plus ça change, we say.

Last week, it was alleged that Jack Straw threatened to punch our dear education secretary, Ed Balls, during a cabinet meeting about youth crime. The news sent techies at Conservative Party HQ into a frenzy. They quickly came up with a game to exploit the internecine strife across the House. The result,, is a retro beat-'em-up arcade game (above), in which the player is rewarded for giving Balls a good clip around the ear (or worse, if you can master the killer-combo roundhouse kick). Reaction on the web has been mixed, some calling it "below the belt". Regardless, the game, which went online last Friday, had some 7,000 hits over the weekend. When you consider the fact that you need to land about 30 to 40 punches to win, poor old Balls has probably taken about 250,000 blows over the past week. Tough old game, politics.

This week sees the 10th anniversary of the teaching awards. Every award-winner since the contest began in 1999 has been invited for a slap-up meal at the Norton Park hotel, Winchester. Among those who have addressed the occasion are the likes of Jim Naughtie, Seb Coe, Sandi Toksvig and Giles Brandreth. Apparently, there have been more nominations than ever this year – 8,400 – with more than 50 per cent of them coming from pupils wishing to thank a teacher for a contribution he or she has made to their lives. Who says that teachers are undervalued?

Word has it that outgoing NUS president Gemma "butter-wouldn't-melt" Tumelty (above, right) isn't quite so sweet. We hear that when she and her allies lost the recent vote over internal reforms to the organisation, Gemma Tumultuous seized the mic and began to rant about what a poor show it was that the union had rejected the reforms. "She was getting quite het up about it," says our source, who was listening outside the room on the conference PA system. "One of my friends said, 'Oh dear, she's lost it.' All we heard was her voice getting louder and louder and then they cut her off. Twice." At least she went out with a bang.

With the application deadline on 30 April, universities in the East Midlands (yes, all eight of them – rather a restricted audience for this one!) have just two weeks to get their entries in for the Lord Stafford Awards. Entrants must showcase the success of their innovation in partnership with business partners, with £5,000 up for grabs in each category. See