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The Independent Online
Learning to spell, with Gill

It is a tired cliche that those who can, do, those who can't, teach, and those who can't teach, teach teachers. But I am delighted to find that the education secretary, Gillian Shephard, above, has given us a refreshing new addition to the list. Those who can't spell, write grammatically, or communicate efficiently, work in senior positions at the Department for Education and Employment.

You might innocently think, as I did, that the life's work of these civil servants consists of communicating with schools; and it is an art they should have mastered by now. Alas, no. Mrs Shephard has authorised a circular from the School Communications Unit. Entitled Guidance for Department for Education and Employment Staff on Communicating with Schools, it has gone to all DFEE employees.

The guidance urges the civil servants that when drafting their letters, they they should decide "who you are writing to ... what you need to tell them ... whether the written word is the most effective medium". They are then reminded to include "the date of issue".

Having mastered these basics of letter writing, the civil servants are allowed to move on to stage 2. Here they are advised to "use plain English and short sentences; avoid unnecessary punctuation, repetition, ambiguity and padding". There are a few more handy hints for seven-year-olds such as using margins.

But my favourite piece of advice for those who run our education system is contained under point 8: timing. It reads, in its pure and simple glory: "Avoid sending material to schools during school holidays."

The last word

Michael Grade, left, chief executive of Channel 4, was in good form at the Royal Television Society dinner to honour David Glencross, the head of the Independent Television Commission, who retires at the end of this month.

Glencross has been the bane of Grade's life in recent years, not least over the late-night youth show, The Word. Grade has now had the last word. His retirement gift to Glencross was a packaged video cassette of the best (and worst) of The Word. The dinner at London's Park Lane Hilton Hotel was attended by all the great and good of broadcasting. So much so that Grade was moved to say: "If we were all to go down with salmonella, then Janet Street-Porter would finally get her chance."

Money can buy you Real Love

Valentine's Day begins today with a "new" Beatles single, Real Love, delivered to all the main UK radio stations in a marketing campaign by Parlophone Records. The song, from the second Anthology album, is, like Free As A Bird from the first Anthology album, a John Lennon song with the three surviving Beatles adding their voices and instruments.

But there is a difference. Free As A Bird was first played on British radio at 4am to coincide with its US premiere play. But 30 years on from Beatlemania, the number of people willing to set the alarm clock for a new Beatles song proved to be minimal. Free As A Bird, against all expectations, failed to get to number one. The new campaign, admits Parlophone, is less concerned with the aura of exclusivity. "The timing of the airplay is now linked to maximise sales," said a spokesman. I'm sure such vulgar language was never employed when they released I Want To Hold Your Hand.

Sparking off a row

Dame Muriel Spark, right, author of The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie, reveals an eccentricity to add to her biting tongue in her first ever film biography, to be shown on BBC's Bookmark next month. In the programme she reminisces about her disagreements with fellow Edinburgh citizen, the birth control campaigner Marie Stopes, and recalls wishing "that her [Stopes's] mother had thought of birth control first". Perhaps Marie Stopes's sin was to steal a Spark pen. In the programme she says that she only ever writes with one of her collection of black pens. And if anyone else is so bold as to use one, she throws it away immediately.

Eagle Eye

Think again, Deep Blue. Who has the plug?

Following Garry Kasparov's defeat earlier this week by a brute of a computer that can think of a billion chess positions every second, much has been written about the correct strategy to adopt when man meets machine across the chessboard. Strangely, everyone seems to have missed the obvious solution. Eagle Eye has analysed the earlier games of Kasparov's nemesis, Deep Blue, and developed a foolproof strategy for beating it.

In the 1994 American Computer Championships, an earlier version of Deep Blue's program won the title despite losing one game by forfeit when its power source failed. The lesson is clear: next time you're in trouble, Garry, go for its plug.

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