Barbie's ready for Oxbridge and the Queen's visit is on

30th January 1998 at 00:00
In a week when primary schools everywhere were desperately seeking excuses for poor results, one decided to go for the top and blame the Queen. Preparing for her visit in November 1996 had taken up "a large chunk of the year ... we would have focused a bit harder on learning if this hadn't happened," said Cheryl Birkbeck, headteacher of Harrowden middle school in Bedford. But the Queen let it be known that royal visits to schools would continue.

The NASUWT, meanwhile, is trying to make its members easier to live with. General secretary Nigel de Gruchy has threatened to back direct action against any school refusing to cut administrative workloads for teachers. He has sent letters to more than 172,000 members urging them to support the Let Teachers Teach campaign.

Oxford and Cambridge universities seem to have grasped the anti-privilege nettle wholeheartedly, having rejected no fewer than six of Eton's star pupils - King's Scholars, no less.

Headmaster John Lewis said there was "absolutely no evidence" of prejudice but admitted there were "a couple of rank bad decisions which have not been satisfactorily explained". Many Etonians are said to be heading off to other blue-blood universities such as Edinburgh and Bristol instead.

If Etonians feel snubbed by Oxbridge, they can at least turn to the Tory party. Research published by the Tory Reform Group showed that the surge in the number of state-educated MPs when Margaret Thatcher led the party has been reduced to a trickle as it reverts to recruiting former public school pupils. The organisation also said the decline in the number of Etonian MPs had been arrested. "We cannot go on saying that we understand the working classes because we employ them as servants," complains the left-ish group.

The comprehensive-educated William Hague, meanwhile, has decided to wind up the Young Conservatives. A report due out early next month on party reform will propose replacing it with a new organisation, Conservative Future, dedicated to recruiting young people. Dwindling numbers and bad publicity for a series of odd causes had done for the YCs, senior Tories confirmed.

Also to be axed is another relic of Conservative youth policy. The military-style boot camp, imported from America by Michael Howard, the former home secretary, is to close after a year. The Young Offenders Institution at Colchester, Essex, was not only costing Pounds 31,300 a year per inmate but was not particularly effective at preventing re-offending, a Home Office minister said.

A quite different kind of penal servitude lies in wait for an eight-year-old boy called Christian, who has been chosen by the New Millennium Experience, the dome designers, to advise them on what should go in it. Christian, who is described as "quite trendy, hip and cool", attends a state school in Finsbury, north London, likes playing Nintendo games and cycling, and supports Arsenal. He will be unpaid but will be given books and Lego for his trouble.

Talking of trendy, hip and cool, more and more teachers are said to be sporting nose studs, eight and nine-year-old girls are past Spice Girls and into Boyzone - and even good old Barbie is having a makeover as she approaches 40. Her new look, to appear on five dolls to be unveiled over the rest of this year - Bead Blast Barbie, Rapunzel Barbie, Cool Colours Barbie, Diving Barbie and Really Rad Barbie - has darker hair, a newly sculpted and repainted face and a closed mouth. This is meant to make her look more intelligent.

A survey of swearing on television, conducted for the Broadcasting Standards Commission, has found that 18 to 34-year-olds are now much more bothered about racism and sexism than about blasphemy.

Most young people no longer regard "Jesus Christ" as swearing and "God" and "damn" barely register as causing offence but words such as "nigger", "Paki" and "Jew" are regarded as severe abuse. The "f" word has slipped to third place in the ranks of extreme expletives, behind two others family newspapers can't print.

Let us hope no expletives of any kind were used by young Ben Hodder during a match between Mickleover Lightening Blue Sox and Chellaston Boys B team the other day. He might have been forgiven, though. The nine-year-old Chellaston goalie saved 31 penalties - but couldn't get near the winner. Biddy Passmore

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