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Tough times for Babar too;The week in view

PITY the poor kids: they've just gone back to school and Mr Blunkett is hammering them again, this time with more homework. Is the Education Secretary showing he can be just as tough on parents as his colleague Jack Straw, the Home Secretary?

Children are being bombarded with new responsibilities: they should be taught about drugs from the age of five, says SCODA, the Standing Conference on Drug Abuse. Another charity - NCHAction for Children - is giving them leaflets on how to cope with divorce, even if their parents are happily married. Whatever happened to childhood?

Even a staple bedtime story, Babar the Elephant, has been deemed politically incorrect. Angela Aujila, from Simon Fraser University, Canada, accuses him of "internalised racism" towards the Rhinos which are portrayed as "ignorant, gruff, thick-headed and prone to violence". A stout defence came from Ann Hildebrand of Kent State University, Ohio, who said Babar was "a wonderful teaching tool for many generations to come".

Whether our own dear award-winning The Full Monty will prove such a lasting influence is doubtful, given the reaction to a talent contest at Marple Hall secondary in Stockport when five 15 and 16-year-old girls, calling themselves The Half Monty, strutted their stuff. As they peeled down to Wonderbras and Lycra cycling shorts, rather than modest swimsuits as agreed with teachers, the head, Margaret Cuckson, took a dim view and stopped the show. Parents were shocked it had even started. "A terrible lack of taste," sniffed one.

Parents at posh schools are also getting cross. Some are withholding part of their fees at Charterhouse because the head is sending A-level pupils home after their final exams as "they get up to mischief and set a bad example". Even if they are welcome to stay, many students prefer to take to the beach rather than languishing in the long grass with a good book during their final halcyon schooldays.

But if they opt for sand and sangria they should heed the latest health scare: holidays can damage your IQ. Professor Siegfried Lehrl, from ErlAngen University, found that an extended period of serious relaxation can cause a permanent fall in intelligence levels.

His research caused much mirth among travel agents. "I think many people's IQs increase on holiday because they have to work so hard to find out where the Germans are going to be so they can put their towels down."

Another researcher has good news: Thomas Landauer from Colorado University has unveiled a computer program that will relieve teachers from the drudgery of marking essays. Unlike humans it does not become bored, sleepy, impatient or forgetful, said the professor.

Computers are set to jostle old-fashioned football games such as Subbuteo off the field in the commercial run up to the World Cup. The Three Lions, the official England team video game will vie with the other official one, World Cup 98, in a multi-million pound tussle.

Millionaire football heroes, however, stand virtually no chance when it comes to persuading children to eat their greens. An opinion poll for the Cancer Research Campaign tried to discover what would induce them to love the sprout. Ryan Giggs and David Beckham would influence a mere 1 per cent. The kids were, however, open to expensive bribes, such as a pop concert Now, what will induce them to do their homework, Mr Blunkett?

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