The Izbicki Report: News From The Front Line of Education

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The Independent Online
A narrow escape all round

Graham Zellig, re-elected last week for a further three years as Vice- chancellor of the University of London, may thank God that the Second World War ended the way it did. Had Hitler's plan been realised, Professor Zellig, for one, would certainly not have been in his present position. Why, Hitler himself might have occupied his office. I can reveal that Joachim von Ribbentrop, the Third Reich's foreign minister and ambassador to London, had done a quick recce of the capital. He chose Senate House, the university's splendid high-rise Art Deco headquarters (designed by Charles Holden and built, appropriately, between 1933 and 1938), as the perfect place for the Fuhrer. Looking at this magnificent building towering over Bloomsbury and the British Museum, one can easily imagine the insane Adolf strutting its marble corridors and giving that ghastly Roman salute from one of the topmost windows.

I doubt very much whether Hitler knew that the founding of London University enabled Jews to obtain a university education. Until University College London (the first of the university's many colleges) was established in 1836, Jews were barred from higher education in this country. London University changed all that. Not to everyone's liking. Thomas Arnold, Headmaster of Rugby School and a member of London University's senate, opposed the idea of an "education without Christianity" and felt it was "quite wrong to award degrees to Jews". Arnold resigned from the Senate in 1838.


Last summer I told you how Arthur Cottrell, principal of Kingston College of further and higher education, was hauled over the coals by the Further Education Funding Council for taking his wife on a recruiting mission to Taiwan. Someone had cried foul and alleged a possible waste of public funds. The FEFC was rightly obliged to investigate. Once it was firmly established that Yong Yap (Mrs Cottrell) speaks fluent Mandarin and acted as a much-needed interpreter, and that the mission had the full support of the college board of governors, one might have expected the FEFC to drop the matter.

Not so. The funding council spent an inordinate amount of time and public money to argue at great length with Laurence Hardwicke, chairman of governors. Among the particularly spurious arguments was that the college should have advertised for an interpreter. Hmm. Would this not have cost still more money? After all, Yong Yap's knowledge of the language, culture and customs were known to be thorough. She was also perfectly entitled to share Mr Cottrell's hotel room. No hanky panky of any kind. The FEFC also objected to the waste of one day when everything shut for the 2,550th birthday of Confucius. So, was the trip worth all this hassle? You betcha. Six weeks of tough recruiting cost pounds 18,600. The number of Taiwanese students now bound for Kingston will show a very handsome profit in fees and "invisible exports".

Primary men wanted

In last Thursday's Education, my colleague Maureen O'Connor wrote of the growing and worrying decline in teacher-training applications. Indeed, they have fallen to such an extent that some universities are hard pushed to keep units open, and Liverpool University has already decided to pull the shutters on its initial teacher-training department. The University of East London has a waiting list for its postgraduate certificate of education courses. One in five of the 141 students taking a PGCE is a man, a rare commodity in primary schools, and 46 per cent come from ethnic minority groups, sharing 28 languages. Can its success be because the course has been written by those at the chalkface - teachers and headteachers who are only too well aware of the problems and needs?

Inspections have brought "excellents" and "very goods"; even the Teacher Training Agency was impressed, placing UEL 23rd best in the country - and top in Greater London. I saw some of the PGCE students in action at John Bramston School, Hainault, and was dazzled by their cheerfulness, patience and dedication.

Record expansion

I never seem to have enough shelves for my books, so I really envy King's College, London University, which is about to move into premises that are equipped with a staggering 40 kilometres of shelves.

Early next year, King's will acquire the former Public Record Office from the Crown Estate. This gorgeous Victorian Gothic building in Chancery Lane (built by Sir James Pennethorne), has storage space for more than a million volumes, 750,000 of them on open shelves. King's will be able to move its own splendid libraries from the Strand and Hampstead campuses to this new location and have books on the humanities, law, physical sciences and engineering under the one roof. There will also be a special place for the college's fine collection of rare books, including the 1655 edition of the Book of Genesis translated into the Algonquin language, which was spoken by Native American people living around the St Lawrence and Ottawa rivers of Canada. There is also one of the earliest printed books, an edition of Punica by Silius Italicus printed in Venice in 1483.

And finally...

If you happen to be passing Guildhall, the historic heart of the City of London Corporation, and are puzzled to hear a rat-tat-tatting issuing from the West Crypt, don't be alarmed. It is not machine-gun fire but some 20 hoofers in a tap-dancing class. I can reveal that they include David Smith, the City of London education officer. For two years, he has tapped his way with gusto through lessons organised by the corporation staff association. Although David has not yet reached Fred Astaire proficiency, he is getting there.