Not Peter's friends, then

3rd October 1997 at 01:00
An uplifting week for the Prime Minister and education as Tony Blair promised more money for books, buildings and technology in the spirit of the "new giving age". But a bad week for Peter Mandelson who failed to win over the rank and file at Labour's conference in Brighton when "Red" Ken Livingstone was elected to the national executive committee.

A good week, however, for Latin, which is making a comeback in state primary schools with the help of a new course complete with strip cartoons. Classicists attribute children's enthusiasm to Hollywood's discovery of the blockbusting potential of the ripping yarns of the Romans and Greeks. Watch out for Disney's Hercules and a TV serial of The Odyssey.

British astronaut Michael Foale heard the good news that he was coming home from the accident-prone Mir space station when schoolgirls at Harrogate Ladies College told him via a satellite link that the shuttle was on its way. The school's transmitter link was in Mir's range 15 minutes after blast-off, while NASA's was not.

The chief inspector, Chris Woodhead, delivered another broadside, this time at dubious degrees in the likes of cartooning, caring, cinematics and the Caribbean. John Neill, boss of Unipart, claimed that employers were faced with applicants who could barely read, write, add up or speak English properly.

Health horror of the week came from Birmingham, where police were trying to trace a company that illegally dumped more than 200 bin bags of blue asbestos around the city. Children were seen tearing open the bags and throwing the lethal contents over each other.

And the second biggest teacher union, NASUWT, warned teachers of the dangers of a fibreboard widely used in craft lessons as the dust it produces could cause respiratory illnesses. Dust from open-cast mining could be the cause of an increase in asthma among children in South Wales, reports in New Scientist suggested.

An ecologically sound idea came from Staffordshire where children are to emulate a north American notion of a "walking bus". Parents take it in turns to round up children and lead them in an old-fashioned crocodile to school on foot, with another adult bringing up the rear.

Drug smugglers were thought to have pioneered a worrying wheeze when they hid 100 kilos of hashish on a minibus carrying four to 13-year-olds back from a holiday in Spain. Police and Customs in Glasgow have held four men and seized cannabis resin with an estimated street value of Pounds 500,000.

The rarified philosophical Parisian world is in a state of high dudgeon over a new book by American and Belgian academics who claim that modern French philo-sophy is pretentious and verbose.

In Impostures Intellectuelles, Alan Sokal, a physicist at New York University, and Jean Bricmont, also a scientist, take on the exponents of Structuralism, Post-Structuralism and Post-Modernism. By mixing pseudo-science with convoluted language, sociological theory and obscurantism, French intellectuals had pioneered a form of "intellectual terrorism" - daunting, superficially erudite and frequently quite unintelligible, they claimed.

Human rights observers are none too happy with Warwick University which has carried on its tradition of granting places to foreign despots. Captain Valentine Strasser, 32, who seized power in Sierra Leone after a coup in 1992 only to be overthrown four years later, has just started a law degree.

Amnesty International claimed he had presided over the torture, ill-treatment and execution of captured or suspected insurgents in the West African state. A spokesman for the university said Captain Strasser will be treated like any normal student - supposedly in the same way as General Yakabu "Jack" Gowon was back in the mid-1970s. After being ousted from his post as Nigerian head of state, the affable general studied politics at Warwick and gained his doctorate there.

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