Annual reports have changed a lot since I was a child and teachers could get away with simply writing "Fair" (a slight euphemism in my case, as far as PE was concerned) in the space provided. These days teachers have to manage a skilful balancing act, ticking off national curriculum attainments while at the same time delivering a recognisable personal portrait of your child. Consequently the meaning can sometimes be difficult to extricate from the tangled semantics - should I be worried or pleased, for example, that my daughter can "empathise with past civilisations"? Is her teacher trying to say as nicely as possible that she is some sort of freak child out of a Stephen King novel or does he just mean that she is good at history?

Readers with children at state primary schools will be aware of the little slip that comes with the end of year report, inviting your comments and requiring your signature. Like me, you probably thought you only had to fill this bit in if you violently disagreed with the verdict that your child was a lazy good-for-nothing with psychopathic tendencies (or, in edu-speak, is "struggling with core curriculum areas and has some difficulty relating to his peers"). It was only at a parent-teacher evening when my daughter's teacher asked, in a loaded kind of way, if I had filled in my slip, that I realised he expected more than my autograph. He was probably only using diversionary tactics to stop me trying to crane around his hand shielding the leading test results in his book - when will schools realise that parents are really only interested in how other people's children are doing? But still, it made me think. Teachers spend hours with their thesauruses trying to make you feel your really rather ordinary child is special - the least you can do is compose a few suitably obsequious sentences in return. After all, if parents can't thank the teaching profession, who will? Certainly not the Government.

Peter Mandelson couldn't have come up with a better propaganda coup for New Labour than the signing-up of Norman Tebbit to write a column in The Mail on Sunday. Just as we were beginning to get complacent with habitually liberal commentators having to espouse the cause of fox-hunting simply to relieve the boredom of finding themselves conforming to the status quo, along comes Norman to remind us what we're missing. Parliament, he snarls, "seems set to give approval for dirty old men to take young boys from schoolroom to bedroom for `gay' sex". Too young to smoke, but "grown-up enough to be infected with Aids as he is passed - a rent-free rent boy - from bed to bed in pursuit of the gay life of being gay." He would rather, he says, see his grandchildren with "cigarettes in their hands than holding hands with `same sex' partners" - Oh, isn't he sweet?

I don't suppose Norman will be giving his grandchildren copies of Melvin Burgess's Junk to read, then. I suspect The Library Association, which sponsors the Carnegie Medal for children's literature, is feeling rather pleased with itself as with this year's award it has managed to whip up more controversy and column inches than even the Booker achieves. I must admit I needed a stiff drink just to get through the novel - it's gruelling stuff. But I would be far more worried about the real junk out there. The serial killer is at large in children's fiction - "one-off" books of quality are an endangered species as "series" books about crime, horror or love pollute the shelves. At the risk of sounding like an inverted Tebbit I would rather find my children reading about Lily injecting heroin into her milk-swollen veins than stuck into Triple Trouble from the J- 17 series - "When three best buds fancy a trio of mega-lush lads, it looks like the perfect situation for some dream dating ..."

A letter from a reader recently confirmed my view that you can always judge a man by the newspaper he reads. "Oh dear!" he began - I'm not so sure about that bit - "You really are lovely." Ha! just as I was beginning to feel rather pleased with myself, my oldest son came in, gave the letter a cursory glance, smirked at me and pronounced, "He's a nutter." Children are so brutally honest. A friend of mine, currently undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, told me that her sons had started to appear at her bedside every morning - partly to check that she was still there but also, she said, because they didn't want to miss the moment when her hair fell out. When it finally did her seven-year-old gazed at her for a few seconds and then said, "Who's fetching me from school today?"

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