Punching at equal weights

7th November 1997 at 00:00
The Government's charm offensive to attract high-flyers into the teaching profession rebounded a bit with news that nine Scottish women had taken Strathclyde regional council to the House of Lords for being economical with equality . . . not to say mean.

The teachers claimed they were not promoted, although they did the same jobs as male heads of department. Another 500 teachers in the same boat are eagerly awaiting the outcome. And the ruling could have implications south of the border.

Equality was clearly an issue of the week. The Spice Girls scored a double hit in South Africa with the heir to the throne and the world's best-loved head of state. A more dubious record was also broken: the first boxing match between two females. The 16-year-olds' decision to fight was described as "demented" by the British Medical Association. It would just give them equal rights with men to suffer brain damage, it said. Henry Cooper didn't think much of it, either.

He, no doubt, would approve of a survey showing that 90 per cent of girls aged 7 to 14 would be willing to do the cooking when they grew up. In contrast, 80 per cent of boys said they had no intention of slaving over a hot stove, or even operating a microwave, when they reached adulthood. Plus ca change ...

Hardly surprising, then, to learn that we are now a nation of convenience food shoppers, usually from one store. Nearly seven out of 10 of us buy some every week. Even worse, we are addicted to mobile phones, according to the 40th annual Family Spending survey.

On a consuming note, 14-year-old Nathan Finnimore's progress should be noted by City types. His headteacher banned him from his lucrative trade in lollipops. The lad was shopped by a dinner lady who caught him flogging his wares at twice the price of the local shop in an unofficial tuck shop. While admiring his entrepreneurial skills, Dorian Williams, head of Tregaron comprehensive in Cardiganshire, said he feared for other children's dental health.

Another kind of pop, the alcoholic fizzy sort, is not to blame for driving kids to drink, says the Office for National Statistics. Although the amount of alcohol drunk by 11 to 15-year-olds has doubled in the past seven years, alcopops make up only a sixth of the intake and are not luring them into the habit - old-fashioned beer and cider do the job just as well.

Nasty habits abounded as monks at an abbey linked to a posh Catholic boys' boarding school were allowed to visit the local flicks to see a racy film about a wayward brother; and a "safe smacking" video was abandoned by its creator.

Monk Dawson, a film directed by Tom Waller, a former pupil at Ampleforth in North Yorkshire, tells of a monk and his affair with a lady from London in the 1970s with "a few explicit sex scenes". A spokesman said several monks had been allowed to see it as they were proud of their former pupil.

The video was the invention of an English insurance broker who now lives in New Zealand. Philip Holdway-Davis, 37, a father of three, invested Pounds 12,000 in the product, which came with a nine-inch leather strap for "safe smacking". Sam Smack, his alter-ego on the video, claimed that up to 30 lashes a day would do no harm for under-sevens. But after remonstrations from various children's societies and politicians, he had a rethink.

"There has been a negative reaction from people who do not understand that I am talking about discipline plus affection," he complained. Cartoonist Hector Breeze should have the last word: one yob to another in front of a broken window pane: "Personally I always put a Safe Smack video down the back of my trousers."

Cartoons, however, are not always a laughing matter, says the Broadcasting Standards Commission. They make up two-thirds of all kinds of children's television and jeopardise the diversity of broadcasting, it said. Some valuable shows are becoming endangered species and parents should be worried by the trend. The BBC is taken to task for reducing its pre-school output. Not so, replied Roy Thompson, the Beeb's children's TV executive. "Teletubbies is longer and more ambitious than its predecessors. We do not understand the BSC comments."

Spare a thought, as the nights draw in, for Romanian children who have been asked to take firewood into their classrooms to keep the school fires burning as temperatures fell below freezing. Even in Hackney they don't have to do that.

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