Word of Mouth

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No sack for sex

What a liberal, forgiving lot our teenagers are. Just when the past sex life of Chris Woodhead, the nation's beloved Chief Inspector of Schools, has been put on the back burner, along comes LM magazine with a survey that throws it all up again. It appears that 63 per cent of sixth-formers surveyed don't want him sacked for allegations that he had an affair with a pupil 20 years ago. Woodhead, who has consistently denied that the affair took place while the girl was still a pupil at the school he was teaching at in Bristol in the 1970s, was silly enough to tell a trainee teacher at Exeter University that teacher-student relationships could be "educative".

The law is being changed to ban relationships between teachers and sixth formers. Teachers face up a two year jail term if they transgress.

Only 10 per cent of sixth-formers want him sacked; 44 per cent said teachers should not be sacked for having sex with students of 16-17, as against 21 per cent who said they should.

Designed to win

Where are tomorrow's best designers? At the Oxo Tower on the South Bank, that's where. It is 75 years since the Royal Society for the Arts (RSA) held its first Student Design Awards and launched some of the country's top designers including Jonathan Ive, who created the iMac computer; Andy Clarke, responsible for the Heathrow Express train; and such fashion aces as Betty Jackson, Sarah Sturgeon and Martin Kidman. Virtually all this year's winners are from "new" universities. Loughborough University, with seven winners, was an exception, though most victorious entries outside the universities came (for the third year running) from Ravensbourne College of Design & Communication. Winners to watch include three young women from Leeds Metropolitan University - Catrin Morgan, 22; Suzanne Lear, 23; and Emily Morley, 25 - who won prizes worth a total of pounds 6,500 for their snazzy interior designs; two chaps from Coventry University - Chris Houghton, 23, who designed a hockey boot with interchangeable soles, and Evan Jones, 21, with his expandable off-road caravan; and Simeon Yardley, 28, of the University of East London, with his fail-safe medical syringe.

Degree levy (continued)

Last week I had a go at De Montfort University for charging its students pounds 20 to attend their own graduation ceremony. For this, they may invite two guests "free" and get a glossy programme. If they don't have any friends or relations to invite, tough. They still have to cough up. But De Montfort is not alone in operating like this. A straw poll of 43 universities shows that 16 charge nothing for students or guests; 19 charge for guests only - anything from a fiver to pounds 35 per guest (this includes a meal - and I only hope it's a decent one.). Five charge for graduands with or without guests; and four charge for graduands whether or not they attend the ceremony. This I find quite scandalous. No school has ever charged parents for attending their children's speech-day prize-givings. Offending universities claim the fee is to "reduce the amount of administration involved". Piffle. Is it not a university's job to "pass out" those they bent over backwards to get on their courses?

The Open University, producing 10,000 graduates a year at 26 separate ceremonies in 18 venues ranging from Ireland to Singapore, rightly charges its graduands nothing, but reluctantly asks adult guests to pay pounds 7 and children pounds 4.

What's in a name?

Not many higher ed institutions can boast an increase in applications this year. There has been an overall drop of 2.5 per cent. Notable exceptions include De Montfort and Warwick universities and Northampton University College, which used to be Nene College of Higher Education, and its campus is among the loveliest in the Midlands. Well, since it was given the green light to change its title and award its own degrees, applications have shot up by 14 per cent. Just shows what names can do. Course quality may be an added incentive.

Mature guidance

This has been Adult Learners' Week. It is a concept I have never quite understood and it contradicts one of the Government's major policies - Lifelong Learning. Why just one week? The Open University and Birkbeck College, London University, have adult learners 52 weeks a year, and that's as it should be. But once again everyone has produced "special events" for the more mature.

The University of Wolverhampton alone managed to timetable dozens of special events to encourage mature learners to sign on the dotted line. Its excellent Higher Education Shop has been staging displays, exhibitions and career seminars.

Among others to join the annual frenzy, the National Trust invited adults to activities at its many lovely grounds, including a tour of Ickworth House in Suffolk with a tasting of Ickworth's home-grown wines thrown in. But while university "tasters" were free, the NT did not reduce its high admission charges.

Asian leave

We've all heard of people taking French leave. But how about Asian leave? Year in, year out teachers complain of pupils who are taken off to India or Pakistan by parents who decide to take an extended holiday in the middle of term to see "the old country" and its culture.

Now teachers at a Lancashire school have decided to follow suit. Nine out of 10 children at Eustace Street Primary School in Oldham are British- born, but from a Bangladeshi background, and miss long periods of schooling as a result of these "cultural" visits. So the headteacher Maureen Haddock and a group of her staff decided to see for themselves and took the parental route to rural Sylhet in Bangladesh.

To get in on this fascinating journey, listen next Monday, at 8pm, to Radio 4, when you can hear reporter Liz Carney's account of this fine example of absenteeism.

And finally...

I thought hacks, politicians and chief school inspectors were the only ones held in low esteem. I was wrong. Anthony Julius, who recently delivered the annual University of Essex Law Lecture, added lawyers to the list. Dr Julius, who negotiated Diana, Princess of Wales's divorce settlement and chaired the Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, said: "Scientists have begun to use lawyers instead of laboratory rats for their experiments. There are two reasons for this: the scientists had begun to get attached to the rats, and there are some things that even a rat won't do." I wonder why he found it necessary to stress that this was a joke.