Ghosts sign up to Blair project;Sideways look;Briefing;The week in education;News amp; opinion

5th November 1999 at 00:00
THE FUTURE looks daunting for Millennium babies. The Future Foundation think-tank, predicts they will start school at three, launch their first business by 20 and live another 100 years.

But is childhood already under threat? Anne Wood, former English teacher and creator of the Teletubbies thinks so, blaming marketing pressures and technology for bringing eight-year-olds to the threshold of adulthood.

Cash-strapped schools are also to blame as market researchers are bribing them to take part in surveys. Even five-year-olds are now being asked about their eating, shopping and television viewing habits with schools paid for every questionnaire returned, or offered tokens to spend on computers or software.

Parents of computer game addicts will be pleased with the findings of Kevin Durkin, professor of psychology at Western Australia university, Perth, showing addicts are more alert and do better at school.

Teenagers seem to be behaving more sensibly as a survey showed a decline in the use of cannabis and ecstasy for the second year running, reversing a 10-year trend of increases.

But there's another, sadder, decline: in Britain's rich fund of slang. Dialectologists working on a new computer register of English usage say our spoken vocabulary has reduced by more than a half in the past 50 years.

"It's the descriptive terms and slightly pejorative words that are most vulnerable," said Clive Upton of Leeds University. "In 1948 there were 80 different words for left-handed - cakky, balack-handed, and squiffy among them. My students are hard put to come up with three".

Halloween may be over; but The Blair Witch Project is still haunting a cinema near you. Dudley Castle in the West Midlands is getting into the spirit by advertising for ghosts to scare visitors, as the real ones can't be relied on to show up. Aptly, the jobs are offered under Mr Blair's New Deal.

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