The Izbicki Report

News from the Front Line of Education
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The Independent Online
Number training

Maths has been subject with a shortage of teachers ever since I can remember, but there are schools that make the subject fun to teach and learn. For instance, the South Oxfordshire Education Business Partnership covers many primary and secondary schools, as well as the Abingdon College of Further Education, that persuade youngsters that sums are a joy. To understand and use measures, south Oxfordshire primary schoolchildren are taken to the Didcot Railway Centre not only to see and climb into gorgeous old steam locomotives, but also to measure them. They learn concepts such as width, height, depth, longer than, shorter than, wider, narrower, far, further, near, close and so on.

Millennium campuses

When did you last hear of a university that did not complain about financial cuts? Yet here we have two universities that are opening brand new campuses in time for their millennium student entry. Nottingham University is spending a cool pounds 50 million on a brand new Jubilee Campus on 30 acres, only a mile from its present glorious University Park. Architects Michael Hopkins and Partners have even produced a magnificent lake in the midst of which will tower a library, designed as an inverted cone, whose internal floor will spiral out towards the top. The University of East London is spending pounds 40 million on a 25-acre Docklands Campus for 3,000 students. Architect Edward Cullinan needed no artificial lake, as real water feeding the Royal Albert Dock laps its landscaped shores.

Lady in the Case

Lady Chisholm - better known as Kitty Chisholm, head of the Open University's development office - has taken over as chair at the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. Case - no relation to our own Campaign for the Advancement of State Education - is an American organisation which advises universities across the big pond on their fundraising, their alumni clubs and their press and public relations. Its success has been so phenomenal that it swam the Atlantic to share its experience with European colleges and universities. Even schools have been helped with their "development" (PR-speak for fundraising).

Europe by the day

The Generation Europe Diary (Pearson Publishing, Cambridge) will go alongside my reference books. The latest 1999/ 2000 edition is to be translated into 11 languages and distributed in 12 Euro- pean Union countries. It covers the academic year (mid-August to the end of July) and is stuffed with useful facts and figures as well as Trivial Pursuit-type info, such as: which country lies furthest to the west of the EU? Answer: Guadeloupe. And who said, "Music is the space between the notes"? Answer: Claude Debussy. Until I read this diary, I thought the French were the greatest cinema-goers in Europe. I was wrong. It's the Irish, who in 1996 went to the movies an average 3.2 times per person, compared with 1.9 times per person for the entire EU. (Get stockist information or place orders on 01223 350555.)

Cross in the classroom

Ask any nine- or 10-year-old to list their favourite books, and The Demon Headmaster is almost certain to be included. Boys at Northwood preparatory school in Rickmansworth, Herts, liked it so much that Mary Craddock, their English teacher, suggested they write to the author, Gillian Cross. I have seen a small selection of their neat, carefully spelt, joined-up letters to "Dear Miss Cross". One lad solemnly declared: "I truly think one day it could be a classic." Like most of the other 35 boys in year five who wrote letters, he pleaded with her to visit them and reveal the secret of her success. Now, what else could Gillian Cross do but accept? The letters were all written in January 1998. But, says Mrs Craddock, it was worth the long wait. Ms Cross has just visited and enchanted the boys, answering countless questions with patience and enthusiasm.

And finally...

A new book, The Economics of German Unification (Edward Elgar, pounds 50) by Geoff Pugh, of the University of Staffordshire's economics division, and Thomas Lange, of Robert Gordon University, produces a deliciously backhanded compliment about Britain. In discussing the once Communist east Germany's "economic miracle", Geoff Pugh is quoted as saying: "Depending on how you measure it, east Germany's standard of living is now similar to Britain's." Great. Nothing wrong with that. "But it will take perhaps another 15 to 20 years - a whole generation effectively - before the east Germans achieve the same standard of living as their counterparts in west Germany." Ouch.