The Izbicki Report

News From The Front Line of Education
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The Independent Online
Millennium tapestry

Many of the country's 24,000 primary and special-needs schools are pooling their energy and talent for projects celebrating the turn of the millennium. Here are just two uplifting examples. First, each primary school has been invited to produce one square metre of tapestry depicting a chosen theme to celebrate our time - past, present and future. It is likely to stretch for at least 24,000 metres.

The second project, known as JC2000, already has the support of more than half of all primary and secondary schools, and official blessing from the Government and six major religions. Pupils can use drama, music, dance, art and language to celebrate that very special birthday in one huge arts festival. (Millennium Tapestry Co: 01295-721334; JC2000: 0171-371 3716).


The Association of University Teachers has now joined the affinity credit- card game - but with a difference. Cash benefits will go directly to a South African charity called Community Heart (Health, Education and Reconstruction Training), which is a small but effective organisation run by Denis Goldberg, who was jailed alongside Nelson Mandela for anti-apartheid activities. The money will help to buy a convoy of buses to take science and maths direct to the schools where they are most needed. Each bus will cost pounds 30,000, and the same again to equip. Now, that's a lot of cash. But Frizzell, the company issuing the card, will give a fiver to Heart the first time the holder uses it and a further 5p for every tenner spent.

Now, let's see. The AUT has 42,000 members. If only half of them sign on and use the card, that's an immediate pounds 210,000 for Heart. If each spends, say, pounds 20 a week (shopping, petrol - it soon goes), that's pounds 2,100 a week, or nearly pounds 110,000 a year. Doesn't the mind boggle? So what great campus is depicted on the face of this Visa card? None. The general secretary, David Triesman, did not wish to offend any member university. The medieval academic archway pictured has been traced - to Vienna. heart

Professor Roger Hughes, the Lloyds-Roberts professor of zoology at the University of Wales, Bangor, who specialises in marine animal behaviour, has made the sensational discovery that the moment a common mussel finds itself close to its main predator, the dog whelk, its poor little heart beats faster and it "engages in a wholly ineffective defence strategy". The dog whelk wins every time.

I won't describe the tactics the latter adopts, in case you are of a squeamish disposition. Suffice it to say that this piece of research, conducted by Professor Hughes and scientists at the University of Florence, has found its way into the columns of Le Figaro and New Scientist - who am I to argue?

Stressed out

It should not come as too much of a surprise to learn that academics claim to work harder than anyone else on campus, and that their jobs have become increasingly stressful over the last two or three years. Of 1,704 members of staff closely questioned at 20 universities, 78 per cent of academics worked more than 40 hours a week, compared with only half the general office staff and 44 per cent of other staff. Blame for the rise in stress levels was put down to the "general university climate and morale and lack of time for reading and research".

New and increased job responsibilities, funding and staffing reductions accounted for the change in workload for 59 per cent of respondents. Since 1996, there has been greater dissatisfaction with university management, funding for work and career/promotion prospects.

Now, I'm willing to bet that not a single academic, nor even the AUT, would flinch with even faint surprise at this news. However, the survey was not conducted here, but in Australia, by Professor Tony Winefield of the University of Adelaide. The Oz government's education, training and youth department provided A$250,000 (about pounds 100,000) to fund it. Can you see our lot spending money on a similar survey?

John Izbicki