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Very dumb card

What on earth is the Department of Education and Employment up to now? Its Investment in Young People "strategy" has produced a useless piece of plastic which its lapdog, Capital Careers, has asked schools and colleges to hand out to 16-year-olds. The plastic "Learning Card" instructs its owners to sign it on the back, just like a credit card, and "hang on to it and use it wisely". The card, the message goes on to say, is "your chance to get your career off to the best possible start - and best of all, it's free." Whoopee! So you might expect at the very least to be able to insert it into a machine somewhere and be told about employment prospects. But no. The back of the card tells the owner: "If you want to know what's available, or need help with your choice, please contact your local careers office, school or FE college".Now, isn't that exciting? And this to young people who work computers, know all about the Internet and probably sport mobile phones. The accompanying letter to career co- ordinators explains: "It is a `dumb' card since it doe's not [sic] store information." I do hope that when Ofsted has finished slagging off schools, it might try inspecting Government departments for their abuse of the English language.

The last Straw

Academics at the University of Leeds are lucky to have a staff newsletter as good as Reporter. The current issue recalls the student protests of 1968, and a headline describes the event as "four days that shook the university". And who played a central role during that historic occupation? Why, the union president, one Jack Straw, Who is today Home Secretary. A photograph of the period shows a remarkably debonair Jack Straw clasping an attractive blonde to his bosom. His dancing partner was the Duchess of Kent, the university's current chancellor. Reporter also recalls that protesting students spat at the Tory MP Patrick Wall when he came to address Conservative Association members. I congratulate the university for having the guts to recall an important part of its history. I could name and shame at least one university that has decided to brush the darker moments of its own 100-year history under the carpet.

Bell rings warning

Last week's Royal Festival Hall concert marking the diamond jubilee of the Schools Music Association was a joy, and the producer, Max Pryce, who also conducted the rousing climax, Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March, deserves a giant bouquet. And so does the concert's compere, Martin Bell, the anti-sleaze MP.He was so impressed with the 500 young performers that he stayed, enraptured, at one end of the vast stage, throughout the evening. The BBC's former ace war correspondent confessed to feeling nervous at having to appear at the RFH. He told the audience: "I get about 1,000 letters a week asking for help. Unfortunately, I can't help everyone. But I shall certainly defend the music curriculum in the classroom. These bright young people are our future. We are now richer and more peaceful than ever, yet we are cutting back on music in schools. It's a nonsense." And he quipped: "I shall take the matter up with my party and speak to my chief whip about it."

To Russia with love

President Boris Yeltsin would be well advised to take time off and study a bit of law and politics at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences. This postgraduate college, which opened two years ago, is unlike any other higher education institution in Russia. Its academics are Western- trained and permit students to play an active part during lectures. What is more, it offers master's degrees in sociology and political science (MA), social administration and social work (MSc) and law (LL M), validated by the University of Manchester, and is negotiating with another, as yet unnamed British university (watch this space) for a joint PhD programme. In Russia good news travels even faster than bad and students are queueing to sign on. It also attracts scores of students from outside Moscow to its summer schools for short courses in law. Leading lights are Teodor Shanin, the school's rector and a Manchester professor, and Abel Aganbegian, Russia's distinguished rector of the Academy for National Economy. Anne Lonsdale, president of New Hall College, Cambridge, is among the school's trustees.

Cracking tale

Cynthia Kee's latest novel, The Crack in the Teacup (NLJ, pounds 10), enters the twilight zone of a school that pays little heed to children with special needs or the teachers who attempt to care for them (there are, alas, quite a few schools that exclude pupils at the drop of a piece of chalk). Rose Pitt, Ms Kee's teacher, decides to take on a bunch of primary youngsters with emotional and behavioural problems and a head with the thoughtfulness of a maggot. The author spent 10 years with difficult pupils and trained in educational therapy at the Tavistock Clinic.She is also a journalist with a keen eye for detail.

Chasing gremlins

The gremlins invaded my computer last week. First, BT's glittering prize for developing skills in analysing a wide range of speech disorders went to Queen Margaret College, Edinburgh (and not Queen Mary); then I managed to call the London Docklands Development Corporation, a leading backers of the University of East London's brand new docklands' campus, a trust. Slices of humble pie all round.

And finally ...

When the current edition of Cub, student newspaper of London University's Queen Mary & Westfield College, published a picture of Ken Livingstone and Damon Albarn at a recent student demo against the Government's pounds 1,000 fee levy, it became something of a test of street cred. Students of 18- 24 immediately recognised the youthful Albarn as a member of Blur, but only the oldies could name the "elderly gent" - Red Ken, one of the few left-wingers in Her Majesty's Government and a leading contender for the mayoral throne of London. O tempora! O mores!

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