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Soaping up the summer books

THE TERM ended well for Stephen Byers, the ambitious school standards minister; England celebrated a rare win at cricket and the French Prime Minister took lessons from the Tony Blair spin doctor school.

Before Blairite Mr Byers gained a Cabinet seat as First Secretary to the Treasury, boss Tony escorted Lionel Jospin around his Sedgefield constituency. The day began at the Rainbow Fun Club where 20 primary school children indulged in face painting. Mr Jospin painted the French flag on the cheeks of eight-year-old Andrew Elliot while Mr Blair painted the Union flag on Michael Hitch, aged six. What a lark.

However, art of the Turner Prize variety, is no laughing matter for Leonard McComb, retiring keeper of the Royal Academy Schools, who believes brick walls and bottled body fluids are the emperor's new clothes.

He was disturbed by the art careerists who promoted "cutting-edge" art simply because they demanded sensation. Cathy de Monchaux, who is shortlisted for this year's Turner Prize and has been acclaimed for her sculptures of folded and stuffed suede disagreed. She retaliated by calling his outburst "a reactionary, middle-aged male response to change".

Boys at Oundle public school adapted another art form replacing the traditional fig of classical sculpture for modestly-placed rugby balls and dumbbells for a Pirelli-style calendar to raise money for charity. It was originally planned to have his and her versions, but the girls chickened out. All the chaps are 18 and took part because they knew that once the calendars were on sale, they would have left the school. They should go far.

Another promising, if precocious, talent is Ashley Storrie, a 12-year-old comedian. She writes her own gags and silences rowdy Glaswegian audiences with a warning: "Please don't heckle me - a Lego brick thrown by a small child can take your eye out."

Girl power struck again in a week when researchers blamed "macho culture" of the "three Fs - fighting, football and f***ing" rather than the three Rs for boys' poor school performance. Male role models should reinforce the message that reading is not "sissy", they said.

Publishers Everyman are puzzled by some schools' reaction to its Millennium project to give its entire list of 250 world classics books to every school. Some teachers said the gift was too boring and too challenging.

Help could also be at hand from an unlikely source - TV soaps. As part of National Reading Year, which starts in September, the likes of Brookside and Grange Hill will feature characters with reading problems, or cosy scenes of parents reading to their children.

In the meantime, happy holiday reading!

Diane Spencer

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