Noddy and big ideas

15th August 1997 at 01:00
Pity the poor sixth-formers - not only do they have to contend with exam results but a feverish scramble is expected for university places in the wake of the Dearing report, which heralded an end to free tuition.

But those who did not do so well could take comfort in reports that universities are not up to much anyway. Higher Education Funding Council inspectors found evidence of dumbing down of courses, inflated marks and external examiners being ignored. Vice-chancellors said it was misleading to concentrate on negative aspects of the report.

The week saw the rehabilitation of Enid Blyton. The 100th anniversary of her birth was marked with an English Heritage blue plaque on the Surbiton house where she wrote her first book. The much reviled author - she was accused of racism, sexism, snobbery and bad writing - is also about to challenge Disney; her Noddy characters are to be turned into cartoons and screened in the US.

Essex, too, is seeking a new image. The council is fed up with jokes about Essex girls having more shoes than books, since it undermines investment opportunities in the county.

"It is completely unfair. We have two excellent universities, six colleges and growing success in high-quality industrial and commercial activities," complained Terry Conder, head of the county's enterprise and international relations department.

Unfortunately for him, his brave attempt coincided with headlines about the 13-year-old Essex schoolgirl who announced that her much publicised marriage to the 18-year-old Turkish waiter she met on holiday had ended.

Sarah Cook accused Musa Komeagac of failing to send money to their 10-month-old son, Mohammed, and of infidelity. Had new Labour been in power at the time, this might never have happened to her as ministers are planning to identify the teenagers most likely to become schoolgirl mothers and give them special help. Statistics showed an increase of 8,000 underage pregnancies, or 4 per cent, between 1994 and 1995.

In the wake of the tragic death of five-year-old Dillon Hull in a drugs-related shooting in Bolton, the debate has re-opened on the legalisation of illegal substances. Two backbench Labour MPs are pressing for a royal commission, but the Home Office said this would send out the wrong kind of message.

Fears were raised about another drug, thalidomide, as an action group claimed that its effects could be passed on to the next generation. Eleven malformed babies have been born to original victims of the 1960s tragedy, but experts believe their deformities have other causes.

Alarm, too, in Wishaw where radioactive material was found on derelict land near Castlehill primary and as the start of the session approached, no one appeared able to force its speedy removal.

On another sombre note, the police are to get new powers to alert headteachers and youth workers when convicted paedophiles move into their area. Names and addresses will only be published if the person is believed to pose a risk to children, and not as a matter of course.

Two psychology dons gained notoriety, with one, Chris Brand, sacked from Edinburgh University for gross misconduct for claiming on the Internet that paedophilia was acceptable in certain circumstances. The other, Professor Richard Lynn from Ulster University, caused outrage by suggesting that whites are more intelligent than blacks because they had to cope with the cold, especially in the Ice Age.

Scandal, too, in the further education world with a Stockton and Billingham college lecturer's suspension, then resignation, after allegations that pornographic photographs were taken during his course. Student Julie Clayton, who posed in the style of Demi Moore, Christine Keeler and Jerry Hall for the mature students on a City and Guilds professional photography course, said the pictures were "tasteful and artistic".

And consternation among the ranks of old school ties who are dubious about the new-fangled school dinners at Uppingham public school in Rutland. The food was praised by Egon Ronay inspectors, who sampled the delights of chicken curry flavoured with fresh spices and rich chocolate crispy cakes. Such fare is not good for pupils' characters. "It was just as well that Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton; if it had been waged in Eton's kitchens we would all be speaking French," opined a jealous old boy.

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