Word of Mouth

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DfEE's Easter egg:

I fear that thousands of 16-year-olds might try to leave school this Easter - and justify that by reference to a booklet, Sixteen-plus. It was produced by Capital Careers, who are contracted by the Department for Education and Employment to deliver careers education and guidance in half a dozen major London boroughs as well as York, North Yorkshire and Wakefield.

If the youngsters succeed, they will be truanting. The booklet states: "if you are 16 on or before 31 January (you may leave school at) the end of the Easter term." Not so. The DfEE will be left with Easter egg on its composite face. A regulation brought in this year has shifted the earliest leaving date to after the completion of GCSE exams, which takes it to around July.

And who issued the new rule? Why, the DfEE of course.

There's an even more ironic twist. The mistake was spotted by a partially sighted mathematics teacher. Perhaps the DfEE should appoint him as proof- reader.

Secrets of


Victor Seidler had to re-invent himself when he delivered his inaugural lecture at Goldsmiths last week. Ever since 1972, when this professor of social theory started teaching at Goldsmiths, he has been known as Vic Seidler. But now he has added Jeleniewski, his father's name, which Victor lost at age 11 when he inherited his stepfather's name, Seidler.

It was to his natural father's memory that he paid homage with his lecture "Out of the ruins of memory: Modernity, Judaism and the Holocaust". His father fled Nazi-occupied Poland to England in the late Thirties - the only one of a large family to survive the Holocaust and the war. He died when Victor was five.

Last year, Prof Jeleniewski Seidler travelled to Cracow to trace his roots, just as I had done the year before. "Unless we know where we come from, we don't know who we are," he said, regretting that "as children we grow up looking at the future with our backs to the past". Modern Jews forget their "Jewishness" in order to become ordinary citizens "like everyone else".

Prof J-S considers it wrong to blot out memory. Six words played a crucial part of his moving lecture: "Memory is the secret of redemption." How true.

In for a dig:

Award ceremonies can often be a bore. So last week, when BT gave a total of pounds 500,000 to six universities for having some bright ideas, I went along prepared for a yawn - especially when each of the winners was expected to give a five-minute presentation. Whoever heard of academics speaking for only five minutes? But they did - and most of them were entertaining. None more so than Vince Gaffney, an archaeologist from Birmingham University, who only came for a free lunch.

Let me explain. He was among the winners two years ago, and while waiting for the train to take him to London and his prize, he received a message: "Come home if you want to be a father today." What could the poor chap do? He got his priorities right and rushed back to be at his wife's side and see daughter Helen born. So, although the prize - lots of dosh and a cut glass bowl - were forwarded to Dr Gaffney, he missed out on the lunch.

He gave a superbly witty presentation of what the money had been used for: the transformation of Britain's finest Roman site, at Wroxeter, into a digital landscape. He bemoaned people's concept of archaeology: "Every time I go to a party, someone asks me to dig their garden."

Congratulations to the winners: the University of Glamorgan, for persuading 14-year-olds from schools throughout Wales to gather and edit local news and produce an Internet magazine; Leeds University, for helping dyslexic and visually impaired students to complete a multimedia environment course; Napier University, whose students may integrate work experience into their degree programmes; Queen Mary College, like Napier also in Edinburgh, for developing the analysis of speech disorders for clinical practice; the University of Northumbria at Newcastle, for improving learning and support facilities within small companies; and Southampton University for its video-conferencing link of four design and art colleges in Britain and Spain.

Even Tessa Blackstone, who presented the prizes, stayed unusually long for so busy a baroness.

pounds 40m start:

Anyone walking along London's Docklands today could be excused for thinking that the Government has brought forward the Dome's opening date. But even Mr Mandelson can't work such, if any, miracles. So what's with the huge marquee and the flashy cars the stroller might spot?

Richard Caborn, minister for regeneration, planning and the regions (no, honestly, that's really his title) will fire the starting pistol to speed work on the country's newest university campus, destined to stretch across 25 acres. Among other top brass will be Professor Frank Gould, vice-chancellor of the University of East London, 3,000 of whose students will occupy the campus, due to open in time for the Millennium. The pounds 40m bill for the first phase will be footed by, among others, the Government, the university, the Peabody Trust, Ford Foundation of America and the London Docklands Development Trust.

Oh, and in case you think there'll be lots of yawn-provoking speeches, everyone, including the minister, has been given strict orders to stick to a limit of two and a half minutes each.

And finally:

Can it be that Ofsted (the Office for Standards in Education) is at last taking to heart the many criticisms constantly and justifiably being heaped upon its composite head? Its Head of School Improvement is a Ms Elizabeth Passmore.