Worrying about the delinquent diets of Mums and Dads

13th February 1998 at 00:00
As David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary, urged young people to return to the spirit of self-help, hundreds of them prepared to train as counsellors to give their classmates emotional support. ChildLine, the children's advice charity, said it had been swamped with applications from schools to join a scheme that trains pupils to give advice to others. A trial run has shown they are often better at it than teachers.

Not content with counselling each other, pupils will soon be counselling their parents - about how to achieve a healthier lifestyle. Research published by the British Heart Foundation has found that nearly half the nation's children worry about their parents' health, with smoking and drinking as particular causes of concern. They wish they would eat more fresh fruit and vegetables and fewer takeaway meals.

But children seem to have few opportunities to supervise their parents' diet because the sit-down family meal is dying out. An Observer survey of nearly 500 children aged seven to 14 found that nearly half of them did not eat a regular evening meal round the table with their parents.

Sunderland Council, however, is determined that schoolchildren should have a proper midday meal. It has booked 25 prime-time slots on Tyne Tees Television to encourage young people to turn away from junk food and eat nourishing school dinners.

School refreshments are also used as a lure by Sir Henry Cooper's comprehensive in Hull, when it broadcasts reminders about parent-teacher meetings in the local branches of Kwik Save and Tesco. The school, an urban comprehensive in a deprived area, said the announcements had been "phenomenally successful".

Scientists have discovered there may be a genetic cause for attention deficit disorder, the condition diagnosed in one in 20 children in the United States but only one in 2,000 here. The disorder, characterised by hyperactivity and an inability to concentrate or control one's impulses, has been dismissed by sceptics as not a real illness. But new brain-scanning techniques have shown that sufferers tend to have smaller frontal lobes and smaller structures deep within the brain, providing the first evidence of a biological cause.

Attention deficit at some schools may be the result not of brain structures but of mobile phones. Farlingaye High School in Woodbridge, Suffolk, has told parents it will no longer tolerate the disruption. Children who feel they cannot do without mobile phones and pagers are being asked to hand them to a senior member of staff who will keep them safe until the end of the school day.

Traditionalists were upset by the appointment of Benjamin Zephaniah, a Rastafarian poet (author of "Dis Policeman is Kicking Me to Death") to the Government's new national advisory committee on creative and cultural education. But evidence continued to pour in that creativity and culture badly needed a boost. London's Victoria and Albert Museum would end up as a "fine art theme park" if the Government carried on cutting its money, said its director Alan Borg. Visitor numbers have fallen by nearly 20 per cent since the museum introduced a Pounds 5 entrance charge.

Home Secretary Jack Straw, fresh from visiting a "soft cop" experiment in Baltimore USA, was said to be keen to urge British policemen to be less John Wayne, more social worker in their approach to teenage boys.

And teenage boys, in their turn, are to be encouraged to be less macho, more in touch with their feelings. Health minister Tessa Jowell thinks this would stop them thinking of relationships only in terms of sex and might help tackle Britain's record of having the highest rate of teenage pregnancies in Western Europe.

Care, the Christian evangelical group, prefers to rely on saying no. Its sex education video Growing Up Together, to be sent to all primary schools at the end of March, tells the story of a young woman who saves herself for the man she marries.

University lecturers were outraged by large pay rises for vice-chancellors, in some cases of more than 20 per cent, while they had had to make do with less than 3 per cent. Average pay for a vice-chancellor last year was more than Pounds 100,000.

Cambridge dons may vote to reject a Pounds 2m donation from the Margaret Thatcher Foundation to endow a professorship of enterprise studies. One, seeking to quell concern about the lady's influence, said: "This university and others have long experience of taking the money and then going remarkably deaf." She wouldn't like that, you know.

Biddy Passmore

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