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Last Updated: Saturday, 23 December 2006, 01:17 GMT
Mike Baker's Christmas turkeys
By Mike Baker
Education correspondent, BBC News

Mike Baker
In the spirit of Scrooge, this column ends the year with the traditional awarding of "Christmas turkeys" for the best - or should that be the worst - education gaffes and disasters of 2006.

For those who say I should be celebrating the achievements of the year, I have just two words: bah and humbug.

We start, appropriately for the time of year, with food. There are two contenders for the "lumpy custard and tapioca award" for failure to promote healthy eating.

The first is the London school that put up a notice advising that, as it could no longer sell unhealthy items at lunchtime, pupils should ensure they bought their fizzy drinks and chocolate snacks at break-time, as this was not yet covered by the new restrictions.

However, the first prize (a Turkey Twizzler meal for two) goes to the parents in South Yorkshire who got round the junk food ban by handing burgers and fish and chips to their offspring through the school railings at lunchtimes.

The "spinner unspun award" (prize: a bucket and spade for burying bad news) goes to the Department for Education and Skills.

In August, which is hardly a crowded month for news, it managed to choose GCSE results day to release the test statistics for 11-year-olds, revealing that once again the national targets had been missed.

However, in fairness, I should exempt those press officers whose e-mails suggested to others in the department that this was not a good idea as, in the long run, it would serve only to bring more bad publicity. How right they were.

'Fastest U-turn'

I'm afraid to say the government picks up another award, this time for the "U-turn of the year".

So step forward Alan Johnson for the rapid change of heart over the proposal that all new faith schools should take 25% of their intake from families of other religions or no faith at all.

This radical idea was reversed within days.

Johnson's decision may have been pragmatic in the face of the opposition of the Catholic Church, but it was a political gift for Conservatives like Lord Baker who accused him of executing "the fastest U-turn in British political history".

Union climbdown

The "Grand Old Duke of York leadership award" goes this year to the University and College Union (UCU).

It pains me to award this, as it has clearly been a tough year for both the leaders of the newly merged union and its members, who endured a long industrial dispute.

Boris Johnson
Mr Johnson made a gaffe over healthy eating in schools

After three months of boycotting exam work, the UCU suddenly called off its action, settling for an award which many regarded as barely much better than the one already offered, and nowhere near the 20% they had been asking for.

While students were relieved, many union members felt they had been through a lot of pain for very little gain; a special conference passed several motions critical of the leadership for agreeing to a "derisory" offer.

Bringing together the formerly separate unions, Natfhe and AUT, has been a culture shock, made more difficult by the long-running dispute over lecturers' pay.

As Paul Mackney, joint general secretary of the UCU put it, the merger was "like trying to reverse evolution with a merger of birds and reptiles". This made him a contender for the "sound bite of the year award".

However, Paul's quote was simply vivid, rather than falling into the foot-in-mouth category, so he was soundly beaten to first prize by Boris Johnson, the Conservatives' spokesman on higher education.

In inimitable fashion, he undermined his party leader's support for the healthy school meals campaign by saying there was now '"too much pressure" on children to eat healthily.

To rub ketchup into the wounds, he elaborated on the policy to a Conservative Party conference fringe gathering, saying: "I say let people eat what they like. Why shouldn't they push pies through railings?"

Sex targets

The "really should know better at your age award" goes to joint-winners, Sir Alan Sugar and Gordon Ramsay.

These two celebrity role models were roundly told off by the teachers' union, the NASUWT, for setting a bad example on bullying by reducing contestants on their shows to tears.

So dunce's hats to Sir Alan and Gordon and bang go their chances of starting a second career in teaching.

Finally, the "just too much information award" goes to head teachers who agreed to give away their bedroom secrets in response to a questionnaire about their workload.

Apparently, one in three head teachers reported that over work often left them "too tired for sex".

If we go any further down that road there is a danger that government will impose targets for improving the sexual attainment of head teachers, bringing demands for a whole new category of school performance tables. Perish the thought.

Finally, thanks to readers of this column over the past year and for the many fascinating responses you have sent in. Do please send us your nominations for the education "turkeys" of 2006.

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Boris denies Jamie Oliver swipe
03 Oct 06 |  Politics
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