Back to school as world mourns

5th September 1997 at 01:00
As the week's news was dominated by the death of the world's most famous woman, there was little room for much else, let alone education. However, there were the now predictable annual reports that girls are outperforming boys.

Girls' schools topped the independent sector's GCSE tables, provoking a psychologist to warn that the stunning success of St Paul's Girls' School in London could turn students into neurotics who felt like losers despite their success. He is, of course, a man.

St Hilda's, the last all-women Oxford college, looks likely to survive intact after donations from best-selling author Dame Catherine Cookson and Dr Pauline Chan, a Hong Kong businesswoman. The college voted to reject male academics last April, but is short of fellows in engineering and chemistry.

Just after his return from holiday, the Prime Minister was given a dressing down by Alasdair Macdonald, head of Morpeth comprehensive in east London, who told journalists as Mr Blair drove away from his first photocall, that the Government spent too much time bashing teachers and peddling out-of-date myths about schools like his.

Another out-of-date pastime could be keeping the classroom guinea-pig. John Stodter, Aberdeen's director of education, said confining animals in cages sent the wrong message to children about animal welfare. They could be replaced with videos and CD-Roms of rabbits and mice in their natural environment, he said.

When it comes to the art of story-telling, children rate Roald Dahl as their favourite author, according to a joint survey by the Beeb and Waterstone's bookshops. His popularity is down to adults getting their come-uppance, said Daisy Goodwin of the BBC's Bookworm programme.

Some pupils will find a change in their exercise books when they start term. A marketing company has donated its Jazzy Books with corporate logos and messages from sponsors such as Weetabix and Pepsico to 700 schools.

With their new exercise books, children can learn how to spell the "most fiendishly difficult words in the English language" with the help of the Oxford English Dictionary's "back to school" campaign in which the compilers put together a list of the most common spelling mistakes.

The week was, alas, not without its fair share of advice for the bereaved young princes: restore normality as soon as possible; allow them to talk and express their feelings; and above all the media must leave them alone until they are grown up.

Amen to that.

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