You have to be a little careful when talking about schools. Alistair Campbell, Mr Blair's media guru, got into trouble with the educational establishment earlier this year when he used the phrase “bog-standard” to describe some comprehensive schools.

In fact, the word appears in the latest edition of the Concise Oxford Dictionary as meaning “ordinary, basic” - which should not really be regarded as offensive. However, describing classroom assistants as “pig-ignorant peasants” is another matter entirely.

This phrase is also in the dictionary which says it means “extremely stupid or crude”. It was used last week by Nigel de Gruchy who is general secretary of the second largest teachers' trade union, the pithily named National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, or NASUWT.

He was criticising proposals by the government to increase the number of classroom assistants to 20'000, making more than 64'000 in total, and used the offensive phrase in the course of doing so. Mr de Gruchy's comment was immediately attacked by his comrades in the Unison union which looks after the interests of the classroom assistants; Unison said that Mr de Gruchy should apologize.

He said, of course, that he had been misquoted but the Times Educational Supplement which had first reported his remarks, said that it had checked its report with him before printing it. Yesterday afternoon Mr de Gruchy apologised, saying, of course, that his remarks had been “misinterpreted”.

Mr de Gruchy, who is known for his sharp tongue, will have to be more careful when he becomes President of the Trades Union Congress next September.

Ray Fleming

Germany decides

An historic vote took place in the German Bundestag on Friday when, by a very narrow margin, Chancellor Schroeder won approval for the German army's first combat mission since the end of the Second World War; as a result of the vote a force of 3'900 will be committed to operations in Afghanistan. It is easy to criticise this decision as coming too late, but this is not the fault of the German government. It could hardly have foreseen the collapse of the Taliban forces and, in any case, it is bound by the German Constitution to seek parliamentary sanction for any overseas military operation. This constraint was accepted by Germany in the early post-war period as a necessary measure to counter any sign of a resurgence of militarism; a similar restriction was accepted and still remains on the overseas use of the Japanese military. Gerhard Schroeder faced the additional difficulty that his government is a coalition between his own party, the Social Democrats, and the Greens; together they have a narrow majority over the opposition Christian Democrats but a sufficient number of the Greens were opposed to the deployment of German military to make the government's victory uncertain. In the end, with the help of his foreign minister Joschka Fischer, himself a Green, Herr Schroeder scraped through with a majority of two votes. Although the day was won, the narrow victory places a question mark over the future of the coalition and therefore over the outcome of next year's elections.

Monitor

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