Education: Word of mouth

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Woodchippings

Chris Woodhead, our chief inspector of schools, has a remarkable knack of swallowing his own foot whenever he opens his mouth. Take last week: first he managed to insult teachers once again by implying that they wasted money that could be used to repair crumbling schools by mismanaging things such as books and equipment. Then he went on to throw a few choice missiles at universities. In answer to a question following his lecture to Politeia, the right-wing think-tank, the head of Ofsted rubbished the research conducted at some (fortunately unnamed) universities and said the Government should close a few - especially the new ones. The money thus saved (he estimated it at pounds 2bn-pounds 3bn) could then be channelled into primary schools. Stephen Byers, the minister in charge of school standards, was listed among the guests and Woodhead kept referring to him in his "advice". Unfortunately, Byers had not shown up, and missed these pearls of wisdom.

No ball

At about the same time as Chris Woodhead was speaking to Politeia, Stephen Ball, professor of education at King's College, London University, had asked the great and the good of higher education to come to a meeting at number one Parliament Street, just across the road from the Palace of Westminster. He also invited a selection of people in power, including the entire parliamentary select committee on education, along with their advisers, leaders of Ofsted, some 30 officials from the Department for Education and Employment, representatives of the Teacher Training Agency - and so on and so forth. You get the picture. Professor Ball had hoped to initiate a ding-dong debate on the Government's utilitarian approach to education, and how it was not quite to everyone's taste. His side was a formidable one, with such stalwarts as Professor Peter Mortimore and Professor Harvey Goldstein of the London University Institute of Education heading the cast. Unfortunately, hardly any of the invitees turned up. One (new) MP was all the House of Commons could muster. The DfEE, which is a stone's lob away, could spare no one. Just goes to show what real interest there is on the part of our masters to hear the views of those at the chalkface of education.

Ron goes hungry

There was no absenteeism at a seminar organised by the Japan Foundation London Language Centre last week. Surprisingly, it attracted a full house. Surprising, because the meeting, on comparative education in the UK and Japan, kicked off at 1pm, a culturally unacceptable hour in this country. But then, the Japanese don't think about their stomachs as much as we do. They tend to concentrate more on the mind. In any case, the big draw was the keynote speaker, Lord Dearing. He started his splendid survey by saying: "Hungry though I am, I'm delighted to be here." In a few minutes the Blessed Ron managed to list the main reasons for our educational system's comparative backwardness, and why our children and the Japanese are at opposite ends of the international mathematics league. In Japan, he said, teachers still enjoy high status; there is absolute parental commitment; there is group loyalty; and youngsters in the main enjoy school. However, he said, we share a number of problems, including bullying and violence, and, as Professor Tetsuya Kobayashi, president of Poole Gakuin University and one of Japan's most distinguished educationists, pointed out, senior secondary schools face increasing behavioural problems and children are constantly exposed to psychological pressures. I'm beginning to think that perhaps we'd all be better off if we kept psychologists out of the classroom.

Maggietone

The current issue of the German news magazine Der Spiegel has a remarkable series of photographs showing Hitler as he might have looked in a variety of disguises. These "wanted" pictures were produced shortly after the end of the Second World War by Eddie Senz, an American make-up artist who had been commissioned by US agents to retouch a photo of the dictator. Nowadays, with the aid of computers, it's a lot easier to manipulate a face, and if you are anywhere near the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh between now and 4 August, do yourself a favour and see its Science of the Face exhibition. It has been organised by Professor Vicki Bruce of the University of Stirling and Professor Andy Young of the University of York, as part of Edinburgh's International Science Festival. Robert the Bruce has been reconstructed, as has the Mona Lisa, and there are even pictures showing faces remarkably like those of the Blessed Margaret, Lady Thatcher, and Saint Tony the Blair. There is also a series on the criminal face and family likenesses. These are, of course,quite unrelated to the computerised manipulations.

Out to win

Commiserations to Crystal Palace for being relegated, and congratulations to Middlesbrough for making it to the Premier League. I know little about football but the latter's success makes me think there may be something in England's appointment of a faith healer to help the team on the road to the World Cup. Middlesbrough did not bring in a faith healer. But before its weekend victory, the Boro augmented its medical and coaching expertise by no fewer than six others, including a technician, a nutritionist, a physiologist and a fitness coach - and all six came from the same stable: the new sport science support service at the University of Teesside. Nothing abracadabra about any of them, but I'm sure they waved some kind of magic wand.

And finally ...

I am really looking forward to a seminar at the University of Warwick scheduled for today on "Sodomy and Secrecy 1830-1889". It is being presented by Harry Cocks of Manchester University.

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