Who cares about Teletubbies in Barbados?

28th November 1997 at 00:00
Parents among our readers will wake up today knowing a bit more about how much they will have to fork out for their children's university education. Not a lot more, mind, as there's still a long way to go for the Education Bill which got under way with its first reading yesterday.

They might be surprised to learn that teenagers want Mr Blair to appoint another minister, despite their dim view of politicians. The Industrial Society found the majority of 12 to 25-year-olds in a poll of 10,000 want a minister for youth.

Presumably these worthies did not include Fenn Chapman, 16, who captured the nation's imagination - or envy - by running away from Rugby school to Barbados. He did a moonlight flit, evading the security system at the famous public school, which he confessed to disliking. Flashman would have been proud.

It's not only the pupils who go missing; but teachers. Local Government Management Board figures showed that 2.8 per cent of the workforce retired early, often for ill health, and some schools reported that up to a quarter of staff truanted regularly.

Help could be at hand with a new report, "Realising the potential -emotional education for all", by an organisation called Antidote. Put-upon staff need to have their own needs recognised and met; they should feel valued and supported by society at large; and they should help children to "get in touch with their feelings", it says. Apparently headteachers have flocked to the organisation's conferences. Perhaps they find its ideas more sympathetic than the "bash and dash" approach advocated recently by one of the teacher unions.

An independent girls' school in north London is setting an example in our new caring society by car sharing and using public transport. The Royal School in Camden was allowed to increase its pupil numbers provided it cut traffic on the school run by a third. The scheme was so successful the borough's state schools and businesses are to be encouraged to join in. John Prescott will be pleased.

And the deputy prime minister should be delighted by news that many adults won't be able to take a driving test and thus add to congestion and pollution; although, sadly for the wrong reason. Alan Wells of the Basic Skills Agency reckons that millions won't pass the theory part of the driving test which was introduced 18 months ago.

No literacy, and certainly no numeracy problems, for the five-year-old aptly named Joshua Bright who is already studying his GCSE maths with the help of his science teacher father. The two rise at seven and do an hour of maths before breakfast. But the lad does like playing football and watching The Bill and Cartoon Network after another hour-and-a-half's homework. Thank goodness for that.

Tony Garnett clearly had the likes of young Joshua in mind when he launched his scathing attack on television drama and the "oppressive times" in which we live, in a speech at the Drama Forum. The television producer of Cathy Come Home said: "We have a Government seething with sanctimony. Moves to extend the threshold to 10pm, moves to stop characters smoking, doing or saying many of the things we all do or say in life.

"They won't rest until television drama is sanitised in a Barbie doll world where real human life is unrecognisable. Think Rock Hudson or Doris Day. Your kids will have to show Jack Straw their completed homework before they can watch EastEnders."

Kids joined in the media attack by criticising the BBC on Radio 4's Feedback programme for plans to replace the only half hour a week devoted to children with another episode of The Archers, which even some fans of the oldest radio soap find excessive (including this one).

Another form of showbiz looms as end of term approaches: the Three Kings will be allowed a walk-on part in nativity plays only if teachers explain that their role is symbolic, the Association of Christian Teachers recommends in a bout of seasonal political correctness.

And a 32-year-old mystery has been solved as to who put a live black Angus cow in the dome at the University of Virginia, a prank which had kept alumni at Thomas Jefferson's august establishment guessing since 1965. Alfred Berkeley, president of the Nasdaq stock market index in Washington, confessed and paid the local sherrif just over Pounds 1,000 to cover the original investigation. He was not proud of his achievement as the cow died from the effects of tranquillisers used to get her down the building's spiral staircase.

Another, more seasonal note, concerns our friendly Teletubbies. Hamleys has been rationing them for weeks: now it's the turn of Mothercare. The toys are so popular that demand far outstrips supply. Anxious parents should take heart from the cautionary tale of a Kent mother who got her hands on all four dolls by ordering them in July, only to find her son had transferred his affections to Thomas the Tank Engine.

Diane Spencer

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