Education Word Of mouth: Oxford lands a prize catch in the trawl for knowledge

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Bodleian's fishy tails

DID YOU know (and I'm willing to bet you didn't) that Oxford's ancient Bodleian Library exists solely because of a catch of pilchards? Sir Thomas Bodley, an Exeter-born diplomat and graduate of Merton College, clearly wanted to do something for his alma mater, but hadn't the wherewithal. Not, that is, until he clapped his eyes on lovely Ann Ball, a very rich widow, whom he married in 1586.

Her late old man, Nicholas Ball, mayor of Totnes in Devon, had been a merchant who made his fortune from netting shoals and shoals of pilchards off Bantham, a major fishing port in the days of Elizabeth I. He sold them to the French before they invented haute cuisine. Once wed, the astute Bodley took control of the lucrative pilchards industry and used the money to fund Oxford's University Library. In return, they named it after him.

This remarkable story is to be revealed in a sequence of an even more remarkable documentary video now being shot as a community-based Millennium project. It deals with lives and times of the people of Buckland, Bantham and Thurlestone, and will cover 2,000 years of the history of this delightfully unspoiled part of South Devon. The Arts Council has given a small grant to the Parish of Thurlestone Society, whose members, all volunteers, are shouldering this ambitious project. But don't think this is just some amateur gig. Volunteers include the project co-ordinator, David Smeaton, a well known voice to radio listeners (he was the BBC's West of England correspondent after being its man in Japan and Germany, and one of the Beeb's best-ever education correspondents). The director is Derek Fairhead, a BAFTA documentary award winner with many films to his credit; production adviser is John Bartlett, the distinguished Westcountry documentary film producer. Plymouth College of Art students and staff complete the team.

My son the lawyer

THEY SAY that every fourth person in Israel is a doctor. But, God forbid, if a patient wanted to sue for negligence, enough lawyers there aren't. So Britain has come to the rescue. Manchester University has opened a law school in the heart of Tel Aviv, and the University of East London has set up a branch in beautiful Haifa.According to Colin Sumner, head of UEL's Law School, the new campus is the result of demand from would- be lawyers over there. Already 150 students have enrolled. "There are not enough places in existing Israeli law schools, and the population of Israel is expanding," Professor Sumner explained.

Israeli law is based on the British system, so there's no real transfer problem. Young Israelis used to flock to East London's Barking campus, but can no longer afford it. Much of the material is now transferred electronically via the Internet, but half the teaching is "live", provided by permanent UEL law lecturers. Next year, two further degrees - possibly business studies, surveying, psychology or education - are also being planned for the Haifa campus.

The Rhodes Colossus

LIKE THE proverbial Phoenix, Dr Sir Rhodes Boyson has risen from the ashes into which most other defeated politicians sink without trace, and has made his voice heard again. Last Saturday he re-launched the National Committee for Educational Standards with a one-day conference in London. Delegates swarmed along to tuck into a feast of educational opinion.

There were, of course, many of the old familiar members of the Right- wing repertory company, including Dr John Marks, director of the Education Research Trust, who described in graphic detail just how bad many of our schools are doing; and Canon Lord Pilkington, a former High Master of St Paul's School, now shadow education spokesman in the Lords, who claimed that the new Education Act would make matters worse.

I was pleased to see Laurie Norcross, who succeeded Sir Rhodes (when he was mere Dr Boyson) as head of Highbury Grove School for Boys in Islington after Boyson embraced politics and became a minister under the formidable Maggie. But not all was doom and gloom. Ruth Miskin, headteacher of Kobi Nazrul Primary School in Tower Hamlets, one of London's most deprived boroughs, brought a breath of fresh air with a superb performance that made teaching phonics sound like real fun and as easy as ABC. Ms Miskin, partner of, Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector of schools, makes sure her staff is not overworked. She advises them to forget all the theoretical rubbish they've learned during training, and insists that every child is taught to read fluently long before transferring to secondary school.

Down Underwater

I RECENTLY spent some time in Australia's rainforests, and exploring the Great Barrier Reef. There, I met a young lady who must have the best first job in the world. Erica Larsen, 23, graduated in tropical marine biology from James Cook University, Townsville, last year, and was snapped up by Quicksilver, whose boats sail tourists around the Reef. Erica leads the snorkelling, and explains the wonders of the deep. She also conducts research into the gradual erosion of the coral reef, which is being killed off by starfish and "bleached" by over-warm water, due to global warming. Over-fishing is another contributory factor, as are those tourists who simply don't know how to behave in such magical surroundings.

And finally...

IN SYDNEY I attended an entertaining open day celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Victoria Barracks at Paddington. Top of the bill was the Australian Army Band, whose musical director happens to be a Pom - Major Howard Ward - who was brought up on music while in the Salvation Army. I picked up a pamphlet about him and was amused to read that "Major Ward was born in England, in a little village called Basingstoke". Little village?

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