Enterprise boldly going

25th July 1997 at 01:00
In a week dominated by the Dearing report and dire prophesies on the future of academia, light relief was found in news of the novel by Simon Gray which depicts a university staffed by lecherous, drunken half-wits. Queen Mary and Westfield College, where the playwright has taught for the past 20 years, was reportedly not amused.

On the same day, Lady Thatcher announced her contribution to higher education: a chair at Cambridge, in her name, for the study of economic enterprise. Imagine what would have happened in the 1980s if a vain and ageing left-winger (Robert Maxwell, perhaps) had offered to endow a professorship in socialist achievement, mused the Guardian. The right-wing press would have gone berserk and the university would have said that its academic integrity was not for sale. Beware ideologues, even bearing gifts, it warned.

The media also had fun with a secret BBC report showing that 10 million xenophobes, including youngsters, would only be interested in watching programmes about the rest of the world if hosted by the likes of Chris Evans, Gaby Roslin or Ulrika Jonsson.

But the BBC can take heart from a study of children in St Helena, a remote British dependency in the South Atlantic, who have only had access to the small screen since 1995. Researchers found that they were just as well-behaved as they were before the advent of TV, and less likely to have temper tantrums or fight other children.

The St Helena lot could give a lesson to the cricket teams in two of our top public schools. It seems that Marlborough College and Radley College, both founded in the 1840s to follow the principles of the Church of England, fell out over allegations of "sledging" (abuse by fielders of batsmen. Origin usually attributed to Australians). The row culminated in the head of Radley announcing that the school would not play against Marlborough in cricket, rugby or hockey for a while. An observer said if England and Australia had taken this line, the Ashes series would have ended in the 1880s.

The Army is taking a less macho approach by softening up training methods for the benefit of "couch potato" recruits. A pilot scheme will give them an extra six weeks on a preliminary training course which normally lasts for three to four weeks, before they are thrown into the more rigorous 11-week basic training course.

"This is a sea-change . . . instead of breaking and testing, we are now in the game of developing and encouraging," explained Col Shane Hearn, from the Army's recruitment agency.

The courts had a busy time, with Pamela Phelps, 23, suing Hillingdon borough council for damages, with the help of Cherie Booth QC, because their schools failed to discover her dyslexia and so condemned her to a life of menial tasks. The High Court also ruled that the parents of a 10-year-old boy whose arm was broken by a school bully could not pursue their legal battle because their child was about to start secondary school.

A Reading University professor was cleared by a jury at Reading Crown Court of indecently assaulting two female students. But one of them is considering taking civil action against him.

The fight against drugs continues with teenagers urged to become "alcocops" to catch shopkeepers selling alcohol to under-age drinkers, and five Lancashire coroners pleading for all-out war on the drugs epidemic which is killing two youngsters a day.

There's a timely warning from the Cancer Research Campaign which has issued guidelines to help parents to protect children from the sun after a MORI survey found 58 per cent of 8 to 10-year-olds thought a tan was "cool".

To Phnom Penh, where Cambodian troops armed with assault rifles cordoned off secondary schools in the capital to prevent cheating at exams. They stopped people throwing the answers, wrapped round stones, to the students.

Meanwhile, in Scotland Raymond Robertson, former Scottish education minister and ex-secondary teacher, is to be full-time chairman of the Scottish Conservatives, although, somewhat mysteriously, his salary will not be paid from party funds. Robertson was ousted from his Aberdeen South seat by Anne Begg, Labour's first MP to use a wheelchair, and a former secondary teacher.

Cheerful news for teachers: the Education Department has given red tape a caning by setting up a task group to cut bureaucracy. Roll on September?

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