Your essay's in the tabloids

1st August 1997 at 01:00
There's no letting up on the Government's drive to improve the lot of the nation's children. First, holidays are blighted - or enriched - by literacy summer schools; now it's their parents' turn. They will be expected to read to their under-11s for 20 minutes a day. (How many children does school standards minister Stephen Byers have? Answer: none.) But there's a carrot, instead of the usual stick for teachers, with reports that Tony Blair wants to reward successful heads with knighthoods. Perhaps women heads should evoke the musical South Pacific, reminding the Prime Minister that "There's nothing like a dame".

Unaccustomed accolades came from the chief inspector of schools. Chris Woodhead confounded his bogeyman image by admitting that some inspectors had exerted inhumane pressures on teachers. "Teachers also deserve a lot more praise than in the past."

Recognition too for ex-Putney Tory MP and former heritage secretary, David Mellor, who is to head yet another Government task force, this time on football. Mr Mellor, who like sports minister Tony Banks is a Chelsea supporter, will tackle issues such as hooliganism, racism, and a better deal for supporters: an end to expensive seats and strips for hard-pressed parents?

Exeter University has come up with more encouraging results on the nation's health. Teenagers are fitter now than their counterparts of 10 years ago; fewer 14 and 15-year-olds drink alcohol, but those who do, drink more. And more have taken up smoking by 15. Four out of 10 buy lottery scratch cards by the same age. A TSB survey revealed that music-mad teenagers spend a quarter of their cash on compact discs, especially boys who fork out up to Pounds 30 a month.

Bad news for both sexes from an Equal Opportunities Commission paper which found that men were left out in the cold by the flexible labour market while women failed to crack the "glass ceiling" to the boardroom. On the same day the Institute for Fiscal Studies reported an unprecedented rise in inequality over the past 20 years, this time between rich and poor. The richest 10 per cent of the population now has as much income as all households in the bottom 50 per cent, and poverty has increased on all measures. Women and children fare the worst.

The week, like most others, had its fair share of crime and bullying. A senior Essex police officer claimed that 13 crimes a minute were carried out by young offenders at a cost to victims and the nation of between Pounds 5 billion and Pounds 10 billion a year. A 14-year-old Bradford schoolgirl who wrote a play about bullying spent five days in hospital after being attacked by two fellow pupils on her school sports day. And in south-east London, a boy was cleared by a court of wounding with intent another pupil who repeatedly threatened him.

A curious obsession led to an exam board official's appearance in Cardiff crown court. William Lambert, an executive at the Welsh Joint Education Committee, was given a four-month jail sentence for charges of false accounting. Police suspected that a sex scandal or gambling addiction lay behind the expenses fiddle; but it was the "unworldly academic's" love of London's galleries and museums that led him to play truant from meetings then to claim first-class fares for invented ones.

High-fliers of the week include eight-year-old Lloyd Morrison from Bristol who has reading difficulties, but won a Royal Mail letter-writing competition with an application for the job of squadron leader; and George Waugh, a 37-year-old bricklayer who sold his Pounds 80,000 home to pay his way through university and gained a BSc at the University of the West of England, Bristol.

Home Secretary Jack Straw can be flattered by imitation from the French: some 80 per cent of adults support a curfew on children under 12 in six crime-ridden towns, according to an opinion poll. Mayors have ordered the police to arrest children found on the streets after midnight.

This week's tabloid star was 14-year-old Sean Kinsella who ran off to Florida with his best friend's mother. A pocket cartoon summed up his escapade: boy to teacher whose blackboard reads: "Essay: What I did in the holidays." "I can't do that sir, I've sold it to the tabloids."

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