Children prefer fish to politician

18th May 2001 at 01:00
THERE'S little respite from the election as all the parties target poor old education. As if it were not enough when Tony Blair invaded that Bermondsey school to launch the election campaign, Charles Kennedy went one better and assailed two in one day.

He popped up at an Islington nursery and a Cornish primary to highlight the Lib Dems' pound;3 billion commitment to education. The children, sensibly, seemed more interested in their sand pit and fish pond. Theresa May, the shadow education secretary, called his spending plans "fantasy", while busily promoting the Tories' own notion of "free schools".

Teachers were given a taste of things to come when Mr Blair told his Sedgefield constituency of his "daring plan" for private companies to take over the management of failing schools.

Two days later, The Times published a letter from nearly 60 leading businessmen backing Labour as the party of enterprise.

That same morning a distinctly miffed Prime Minister got a pasting from John Humphrys on the Today programme over his support for Keith Vaz and Geoffrey Robinson. Mr Blair didn't like the questions. He wanted safe ones on the economy and education, and began to sound as petulant as his predecessor. Schadenfreude anyone?

Meanwhile, back in the real world, teachers' leaders are stepping up their boycott of the General Teaching Council. They are urging members not to sign an agreementto pay a pound;23 subscription to the new professional body. Unions have been campaigning for decades for a GTC, arguing it would give them similar status to other professions. But now the two sides are at loggerheads, despite Labour peer Lord Puttnam's best efforts as chairman.

By the way, lawyers pay pound;495 a year to the Law Society and doctors pound;170 to the General Medical Council.

With exams looming on top of the election, parents of A-level candidates should heed Professor Michael Howe, an educational psychologist at Exeter University. He says teenagers benefit from pop music, friends popping in, and lots of breaks. Professor Howe claims that more than 60 per cent of well-meaning parents are hampering their children's academic achievement by forcing them to study in silent isolation.

Whether it will improve their grammar is another matter. John Richards, a retired journalist in Lincolnshire, became so fed up with aberrant apostrophes - as in pounds of banana's - that he formed a society to protect apostrophes, and was inundated with letters of support from around the world. Others have joined in to defend the semi-colon and fight for proper hyphen use.

The younger generation are unlikely to join the campaign, or any campaign. Apathy rules. At Sussex University, one lecturer is trying to remedy that by teaching his students how to protest properly, or even bother to vote.

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