Off with their culottes

On the eve of the last Test match, the Ashes already lost, our erstwhile Prime Minister John Major moved into the limelight from his self-imposed exile to accuse the Government of "political spite" for banning cricket from the new sports academy - his pet project.

And two centuries of tradition ended when the women's cricket team swapped their culottes - known as "Mayfield shorts" - for trousers in their one-day international matches against South Africa, much to the regret of the chaps in the pavilion.

Good news for GCSE students whose percentages rose again amid the usual rumblings over "soft marking and falling standards". But it could be a case of the proverbial pots and kettles, as inspectors have been criticised by their appointing body, the Office for Standards in Education, for vague, woolly reports, and sloppy grammar and punctuation. The aberrant apostrophe abounds, apparently.

Students scanning those endless lists of university and college vacancies should turn to the University of Wales, Lampeter, which has introduced a degree in Australian studies. Successful applicants can study such antipodean icons as barbies, tinnies and surfies in an academically demanding degree - and spend half of their last year in Oz.

Meanwhile, parents are offered a course on the post-feminist aspects of the Spice Girls at Honiton Community College, Devon, in a cultural studies programme. Well, it's still August. And, for holiday reading, how about industrial fiction - the likes of Charles Dickens's Hard Times, Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South and Alan Sillitoe's Saturday Night and Sunday Morning? Professor Stephen Knight of the University of Wales, Cardiff, laments the demise of the genre and wants to stage a conference devoted to it. "We now celebrate remorselessly the sensitive souls of N1 and NW3 and the endless Bloomsbury trivia," he complained.

As the row over alcopops rumbles on another is brewing over orange orpeppermint-flavoured Prozac, the American happy pill, which could be targeted at children as its makers are seeking permission to market them in the UK. Paul Betts, whose teenage daughter Leah died nearly two years ago after taking Ecstasy, called for the compulsory teaching of the dangers of drugs to primary schoolchildren. The Home Office minister responsible for drugs, George Howarth, said American-style drugs courts which involve the treatment and medical testing of offenders could be introduced in the UK next year. This followed a plea from Michael O'Byrne, chief constable of Bedfordshire, who also called for better rehabilitation, resources and political will to cope with the problem.

Distressing findings from the Health and Safety Executive which said that vandalism by children as young as six was the main reason for the rise by almost 80 per cent in the number of train accidents last year. Objects on the line, arson, stones dropped on carriages or thrown through drivers' cab windows threatened the lives of passengers and staff.

But what retribution can be wreaked on young tearaways? Smacking is out, according to American research. The more often they are chastised the more likely children are to cheat, lie, be disobedient and bully others. Murray Straus from New Hampshire University said that smacking was counter-productive, even from warm and loving parents.

As an offensive game on an Internet site exploiting the Dunblane massacre was being hastily withdrawn, German scientists found that computer nerds were not sad, isolated individuals. On the contrary, those who sneer at them are usually unhappy and discontented with their lot.

This week's whizz-kid prize must go to 12-year-old Sufiah Yusof from Northampton who has won a place at St Hilda's College, Oxford, to read maths. Her older brother, 16, and sister, 14, have also gained Oxford places.

A less encouraging story came from neighbouring Bedfordshire where the families of an 11-year-old boy and the 15-year-old girl he made pregnant were coming to terms with the news.

And finally, the Teletubbies. A stout defence in a letter to The TES from a Leicestershire parent (see page 14) finds unexpected support from an Anglican clergyman. The Rev Alan Garrow from Waltham Abbey, Essex, claims the creatures' catchphrases mirror the language of Christian ritual. "Uh oh", for example, reminds him of "Amen".

For the record, The TES will not have another word said against them.

Diane Spencer

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