WORD OF MOUTH

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Parlons anglais s.v.p.

David Blunkett, Steve Byers and M'Lady Blackstone should take Eurostar to Paris tomorrow week and go to the Salle des Fetes at Raincy, just east of the city. There they'll be able to enjoy a David Compton play called Us and Them and a selection of Scenes from Shakespeare, all performed by boys and girls aged 13 to 16 of Raincy's College Jean Baptiste Corot. Independent? Opted out? No, just an ordinary state school where pupils are taught English to such a level that they take the University of London's Attainment of English exams each year with a 100 per cent pass rate. Annette Airs, an English actress living in the Dordogne, where her husband, John, runs a thoroughly British sixth-form college, hot-foots it to Paris once a week to teach drama to the pupils, who also study English civilisation and European history - in English. All leads to the European baccalaureate (not to be confused with the French bac or the International bac). Oh, and if Blunkett & co do go, they'll be among the only ones to understand the plays. The hall will be packed with parents, but very few have l'anglais.

Edinboro Penn friends:

Here's a wee giggle from across the Pond. There's a University of Edinboro in Pennsylvania whose extramural activities include the not-so-gentle art of "fighting Scot wrestling". Edinboro's public relations unit decided to make friendly contact with Ray Footman, director of information at its near-namesake, The University of Edinburgh, in Scotland. They even sent Footman a colourful poster of its wrestling team in full regalia. Well, not quite full. Though kilted, their chests remained bare and brawny. The poster has become a collector's piece in Pennsylvania. It would certainly sell like hot haggis north of the border here. Even Footman, a Sassenach, spotted in a flash that the entire team had their kilts the wrong way round, with pleats at the front.

Byers' boobs

What on earth is going on? First, Stephen Byers, Minister for School Standards, axes a school in north London and claims it as New Labour's rapid way of dealing with dry rot. In fact, he has simply rubber-stamped a decision taken last October by Camden's education committee. Had Mr Byers bothered to delve just a little deeper, he'd have spotted that a recent inspection of St Richard of Chichester Roman Catholic School had awarded the staff a remarkably high 8 out of 10 marks for teaching and that a previous inspection of the school, packed with youngsters speaking little or no English, had noted decided improvements. Now, the Teacher Training Agency has compounded the Byers boob by rejecting a St Richard authorisation-to-teach application on behalf of a highly experienced, fully-trained New Zealand teacher, with several years' added experience here. Regulations state that overseas-trained teachers may be eligible for qualified status after only one term. The TTA, which sat on the application since Easter, has now rejected it on grounds of the order to close the school. The poor teacher is now in a pathetic limbo. And all this is called democracy.

A Case of Boswells:

After spending three decades heading the Goldsmiths college secretariat and external relations office, and more recently concentrating on its alumni relations, Bus Boswell has joined another college within the University of London. She is head of alumni relations at Queen Mary and Westfield College. Her "other half", Dr Colin Boswell, is executive director of the European wing of Case, the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, an American organisation with extraordinary know-how in the fields of university development (a euphemism for fund-raising), public relations and alumni relations. Those three areas are now becoming - nay, have become - at least as important as the courses that universities teach. Vice-chancellors and principals who still balk at raising private funds and who fail to make use of their institutions' best friends, the former students (alumni), will face ever-growing financial problems. Teams like the Boswells are all too rare and should be prized.

The Rt Hon LSE:

On 15 May I asked universities to let me know if they could beat the University of Durham's "score" of 18 former staff/students now in the House of Commons. Well, I might have guessed. The London School of Economics was among the leaders with 31, including: Tony Banks, sports minister (postgraduate during that most militant of student years, 1968); Lady Blackstone, higher education minister (governor, 1989-97); Frank Dobson, Health Secretary (BSc Econ, 1962); Derek Fatchett, FCO minister (PhD, 1969); Michael Meacher, environment minister (DSA, 1963, lecturer, 1970); Joyce Quinn, Home Office minister (MSc, 1969), and Tony Worthington, Northern Ireland minister (BA, 1962).

And finally....

Hats off to Dartington College of Arts for getting 23 points out of 24 from the Higher Education Funding Council (England) assessors for teaching quality across the spectrum, from theatre, music and visual performance to writing and arts management. Staff richly deserved their slurp of bubbly and it was with justifiable pride that the principal, Professor Kevin Thompson, disclosed the score - "in percentage terms, it gives us equal pegging with Cambridge" - to the college chairman, Sir Brian Bailey. Sir Brian contemplated the news for a moment, then remarked: "Where did we lose the point?"

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