And finally, after the hit squad . . .

26th September 1997 at 01:00
Hit squads in Hackney and curfews on kids. According to the BBC Radio File on Four programme these would be as nothing if Tim Brighouse, vice-chairman of the standards task force, were to decide the country should follow the school reforms of Chicago - the US metropolis twinned with his authority of Birmingham. In the Windy City failing schools are "reconstituted" with every member from the head to the caretaker sacked - zero tolerance writ large, or gone mad?

A jolly time was had by all at the Foreign Office where ministers and Sir Humphreys tried to dispel the stuffy, middle-aged male image of the institution by inviting schoolchildren, especially girls and ethnic minorities, into its elegant HQ. Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, shirt-sleeves rolled up, told them he wanted an FO representative of the whole of modern Britain.

Fun, too, for City of London workers who deserted their posts, pubs and wine bars to watch the rare spectacle of the whole of Christ's Hospital School, founded in 1552, marching from St Paul's to lunch at Guildhall in full school uniform to mark the centenary of the school's move to Horsham, West Sussex. The 850 girls and boys wear ankle-length Tudor "housie" coats, breeches or skirts and knee-high canary socks. This striking garb is no stranger to cricket buffs as the school's rousing band regularly entertains them at Lord's during a Test match lunch break, but it was too much for one taxi driver. "If I made my kids do that, they'd never speak to me."

Equality time for the Liberal Democrats, as delegates at the party conference berated Paddy Ashdown for doing too little to increase the number of women MPs.

Justine McGuinness, chair of the women's Liberal Democrat's group, said: "When it comes to Paddy and his advisers, it is a woman-free zone ... We are worse off than the Tories when it comes to the percentage of women MPs."

But no equality on age. Although we are an ageing society - by 2020 one in four people in Europe will be over 60 - employers, it seems, don't want to know if you're over 30. Teachers are particularly hard-hit as schools can save Pounds 7,000 by recruiting a newly-qualified teacher rather than one aged 29. So much for seven years' experience.

In the aftermath of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, the Child Bereavement Trust helpline has been inundated with calls from parents distressed at their children's sudden obsession with death. They have become confused, emotional and often terrified that their parents will die.

Other sombre news from Preston where a 15-year-old boy was stabbed between the shoulder-blades by a fellow pupil at Christ the King RC High School. He should make a full recovery. Another 15-year-old, in west London, was ordered out of the council flat where the boy had cared for his father for five years until he died of a heart attack. Eamonn Zada is too young to take over the tenancy.

In the week when the Welsh said "Yes" to devolution - just - a Sunday Times survey revealed an unprecedented upsurge in English nationalism among teenagers.

Two-thirds of the 1,500 sample said they felt English rather than British. Glenn Hoddle's football team, Coronation Street and EastEnders represented their national identity rather more than the monarchy. And English pupils can take comfort in findings that they are more willing to take risks, try things out and think for themselves than their French counterparts. However, they can't do sums as well as their continental cousins.

With statistics showing that one in three 16 to 24-year-olds is a smoker, the Health Education Authority is targeting students with a host of anti-smoking initiatives and messages - not least, the cost: 20-a-dayers will spend Pounds 3,700 on cigarettes during a three-year course. Think of your overdraft. Doctors are also worried about the increase in diabetes in children under five which has doubled in 10 years. The British Medical Journal said researchers could not explain the apparently remorseless rise.

As Jack Straw is preparing to bludgeon parents into doing their duty, there comes news of a pilot project based on ancient Maori customs. Parents, aunts, uncles and victims are invited to family conferences to decide on suitable punishments and solutions to stop tearaways from reoffending. The scheme has proved highly successful in New Zealand. Whether it will translate to downtown housing estates is another matter.

And finally, a warning of another American import: litigation. Education managers meeting in Birmingham were told of the implications of contractual relationships between students and educational institutions. Academic failure, sexual harassment and sports injuries are heating up the legal atmosphere on British campuses, following the US pattern.

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