The Famous Five head for the the bike sheds

17th October 1997 at 01:00
It was a positive week for teachers as the Prime Minister paraded his favourite master in a heroic attempt to recruit reluctant, not to say recalcitrant, high-flyers to the profession.

Dr Eric Anderson, who taught Tony Blair English literature and drama at Fettes College, Edinburgh (Scotland's Eton), described his former charge unflatteringly as "a pain in the neck", but he must surely be impressed by his thespian pupil's recent performance in Brighton.

Tory strategists have discovered, to their dismay, that many people think that the decidedly down-market William Hague, product of Wath-on-Dearne comprehensive, is more of a toff than the public school-educated Tony Blair. Focus group results are extraordinarily out of touch with the reality of the two leaders' backgrounds, a Tory spokesman grumbled. "William's favourite tipple is beer while Mr Blair has a taste for fine wines."

Spoilsport of the week was the Revd Hugh Prosser, rector of All Saints, Pocklington, Yorkshire, who told his congregation to stop clapping the school choir at a Harvest Festival service. Parents complained saying their children had worked hard learning the words of the hymns and deserved applause. He later apologised.

Swot of the week was Hayley Abdullah, a 17-year-old A-level student at Oundle School, who was the youngest person to be elected to the governing body of Mensa. She has an IQ of 169, well beyond the 148 needed for membership to the kind of club Groucho Marx wouldn't be seen dead in.

Another exclusive group, the Maharishi Foundation, is seeking a site in East Anglia for a University of Natural Law to teach transcendental meditation. Previous plans were confounded by the less spiritual folk of Woodbridge who campaigned to prevent them from establishing one near them: a variation of nimbyness (Not In My Back Yard).

That kind of university would be anathema to Professor Anthony O'Hear. In a right-wing blast from the Centre for Policy Studies, reminiscent of Kingsley Amis et al who after the Robbins' expansion of universities in the 1960s argued that "more means worse" , the good professor said that Dearing's plans will tarnish the gold standard of the British degree.

The good that comes out of universities is being flogged to our competitors, as underfunded scientists are prepared to sell their expertise to the highest bidder in order to survive. A Japanese government study found that more than half the concepts and discoveries currently exploited by its companies originated in the UK.

Another British export to the land of the rising sun is the unfit teenager. As The TES reports elsewhere, our children get less PE time than their European cousins, giving rise to fears of unfit adults. But we are not alone; a Japanese education ministry survey found that today's youngsters are less fit and athletic than their predecessors a decade ago, especially 18-year-olds.

One Chippenham 14-year-old who is bucking this trend had her efforts thwarted when she was barred from rugby trials for Wiltshire schools by the Rugby Football Union because she is the wrong sex. The rules say girls between 12 and 16 can't play in mixed-sex rugby because the game is "too aggressive". Kim Oliver, known as a formidable tackler, and her equally formidable mother are fighting the ban.

The RFU is having a bad week. Another mother, Joan Ward, is taking Bath, one of the top rugby clubs, to court because they wouldn't let her accompany her son on an under-12 tour to Ireland. Fathers were allowed. The Equal Opportunities Commission is backing her case. "Political correctness gone mad," chuntered the tour organisers - all the right sex.

As the National Literacy Trust sets about its new task of organising a National Year of Reading due to start next September, the Oxford Dictionary of Literary Quotations is taken to task for omitting old favourites from its list of great opening lines - every publisher's nightmare. If they get it wrong, nobody reads on.

Enid Blyton is not on the list, but her jolly lacrosse sticks tales of Malory Towers, beloved by little girls in the 1950s, are to be given the silver-screen treatment in two 13-episode series. Stars such as Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders are being considered for the roles of the French teachers and Liz Hurley is a known Blyton fan. Tim Woolford, a producer with SVC Screen Entertainment, said the stories will be updated to include "talks about kissing and events behind the bikesheds, even though Enid Blyton never wrote about such things". We should think not. After all, Philip Larkin said sexual intercourse didn't begin until 1963.

Diane Spencer

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