Dorothy Lawrence: the man that never was

The Izbicki Report: News From The Front Line of Education
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Lest we forget

Today we commemorate another anniversary - Armistice Day 1918. The First World War ("the war to end wars" as it had the misfortune to be dubbed) resulted in the waste of nearly 14 million lives, many of them young men not long out of school. They died for their respective countries and the least one can do is to remember them in our prayers. It was a war that gave us some remarkable poetry and amazing accounts of heroism. See for yourself.

What started as an extended homework project when John Simkin taught at Sackville School, East Grinstead, has turned into a colossal piece of research into modern history. The Encyclopaedia of the First World War recounts truly remarkable stories and is freely accessible - 30,000 pages daily are accessed by Internet users from all over the world. Simply tap in: and you will find such gems as the story of Dorothy Lawrence who, disguised as a man, joined the British Army and served on the Western Front for 10 days before being "unmasked". She was made to swear not to reveal how she had fooled the authorities.

Then there's the tale of Maria Bochkareva, who joined the Russian Army in 1914 and eventually formed a women's battalion numbering 2,000. She was twice wounded and thrice decorated for bravery. Her unit suffered terrible losses on the Eastern Front in 1917 and was called the Women's Death Battalion. A pitiful 250 retreated to Petrograd and, during the October Revolution, they tried to protect Alexander Kerensky's fledgling government as it took shelter in the Winter Palace. The Bolsheviks disbanded what was left of the battalion on 21 November 1917. So there's another anniversary coming up soon.

Wall scholars

Still on anniversaries, 10 years ago this week Europe's ugliest monument, the Berlin Wall, was dismantled, stone-by-stone, by young Berliners. To mark that historic event, the Committee of Directors of Polytechnics under its chairman, the late Gerry Fowler (higher education minister under both Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan), asked CDP members to offer scholarships to graduates from universities in the so-called German Democratic Republic. Margaret Thatcher, then still in power, heard of the proposal and ordered the Foreign Office to help fund it. Each of 32 polys provided a scholarship for young men and women from East German universities. They continued to do so annually for various Eastern-Bloc states, still with the help of the FO, until the polys became universities. Most of those scholars today hold responsible positions in industry and commerce, within Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic. They all look back to Britain and the polys with affection for allowing them that early glimpse of real academic freedom. Such gestures pay dividends. We need more of them. Charlie was their darling: On Tuesday night, the Prince of Wales joined a packed Royal Albert Hall in the Mexican wave, flourished a Union flag and stood to sing Land of Hope and Glory. The occasion was the Schools Prom, an evening of musical magic and yet one more feather in the cap of Larry Westland, the man who launched Music for Youth 25 years ago. The great thing about this event is that although it displays a wealth of true talent, no one competes. There are no winners and certainly no losers, only sheer blissful enjoyment all round.

It is therefore difficult to pick out any one performance, but a deserved standing ovation went to the 650 youngsters of the Surrey Massed Choir and County Youth Orchestra, conducted by Keith Willis, for their rendering of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, probably the most exciting Latin choral work ever composed. Scott Joplin's Ragtime was skilfully done, with accompanying actions by the Coombs Quartet from Sheffield (hard to believe they were only 12 and 13). But, for me, the lasting memory will be of Jean Price, from the Paddock School, in Wandsworth, south London, conducting pupils with severe and multiple learning difficulties in their own composition, Black & Yellow.

More equal than others?

The Government, says Professor Muhammad Anwar, is "following double standards within the same country". Professor Anwar, of the Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations (CRER) at the University of Warwick, believes that religious groups in Northern Ireland are covered by the Fair Employment Act, while on "the Mainland" religious groups are denied such protection. Claims that the Race Relations Act 1976 is rapidly losing credibility, particularly among ethnic minority groups, are made in a new report entitled From Legislation to Integration: Race Relations in Britain. The report, from Professor Anwar, and Patrick Roach of the National Association of Schoolmasters/ Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) and Ranjit Sondhi, of Westhill College, calls on the Government to apply Ulster's anti-discrimination across the UK.

Warwick's CRER opened some 30 years ago, at Bristol. Nine years later it moved to Aston University and, in 1984, moved again to Warwick where it is being funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. It is now among Europe's leading bodies dealing with racism, migration and ethnic partnerships. Now the University of Bristol has opened its own Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship. There's clearly a need. Schools and universities are unquestionably the best starting points for stamping out racism.

Picture perfect

A few surprises are in store for those lucky enough to see an art exhibition to be unveiled at the London School of Economics next Wednesday. Though called Private Painters in Public Life, it also contains some work from two photographers. One is Lord (Denis) Healey, a former chancellor and deputy leader of the Labour party; the other is Fred Jarvis, a former president of the TUC and general secretary of the National Union of Teachers for some 14 years.

However, the LSE exhibition won't feature Fred's latest project. He has managed to get round to the schools of each of the 14 winners of the 1999 Teaching Awards and pictured them in action. These photographs, many of them still in the developing tray, are likely to be shown at Sanctuary House, HQ of the Department for Education and Employment.

And finally...

They must be seeing double at the University of Reading. On 30 November, Sir Peter Hall is delivering one of a series of Millennium Lectures. It deals with urban planning. Then, on 29 February 2000, Sir Peter Hall is to deliver another Millennium Lecture, this time on the creative arts. Versatile chap. Ah, but wait. The first Sir Peter is the professor of planning at University College London; the second is the famous film producer and theatre director. And, as well as sharing a name, both are honorary Reading graduates.