Goo-goo goo, ga-ga ga ga

Diane Spencer

Times Education Supplement 8 August 1997

Just as we thought that the DFEE had gone on holiday, along with the PM and the Education Secretary, the department - true to form - released an important document. The Framework for the Organisation of Schools, is supposed to put flesh on the bones of the recent White Paper. Essential summer reading for heads - so much for the silly season.

Other serious news included the Government's search for a "drug tsar" coinciding with reports of an 8 per cent increase in deaths among teenage drug-abusers over the past 10 years.

Ann Taylor, Leader of the Commons, chairs the Cabinet sub-committee on drug misuse, and has advertised for "an exceptional individual with the drive and determination to galvanise our efforts against drugs".

With exam results looming, Jim Brennan, an examiner for A-level classical civilisation, warned that standards are at their lowest ebb for 10 years. Many candidates couldn't even spell "Caesar", let alone "Aeneid". If he'd been allowed to penalise bad spelling and punctuation, some entrants would have got minus marks, he complained.

His grumbles were matched by grouses from John Honey, an English professor who took fellow academics to task for their misuse of language. He wants yet another tsar - this time for language -backed by a committee of the well-educated. Professor Honey is not against dialect, but he despairs of Estuary English and Cockney glottal stops.

However, a survey found that employers didn't mind London accents, but loathed Brum. The Scots and Irish lilts were most popular, while Newcastle and the Home Counties were equally acceptable.

Never mind the intonation, note the name. Teachers often judge whether pupils are well-behaved or not according to their names. Edward, James, Fiona and Annabel: good. Max, Mark, Hannah and Kirsty: bad. As for Darren, Dean, Tracey, Sharon and Wayne - don't even think of it.

It was a week of language stories. Even otherwise sensible people who talk cringe-making gibberish to babies are doing the right thing, according to American researchers. Baby talk - or on the other side of the pond, "parentese" - provides vital instructions to the child about the building blocks of language, claim the team, who studied mothers in Russia, Sweden and the US. So carry on gooing.

Just like the Teletubbies, who have produced their own "educational" magazine for the under-fives with a total of 13 words over 24 pages, including laa-la-la-la-la. It will be published monthly from October. The BBC expects it to be part of a worldwide money-spinning package.

North of the border, 15 summer schools are teaching stress management to children to cope with pressures of exams, school work and family break-ups (see Comment, page 13). The 1,000 11 to 17-year-olds are also learning study techniques, communication skills and having fun with sports.

Stress is blamed too, as well as glossy magazines, for fuelling the increase in smoking among young people. The Health Education Authority found that style and men's mags were the worst offenders in promoting a glamorous image of smoking. Thirteen to 24-year-olds associated smoking with cpower, individuality and self-assertiveness.

A coincidental study by Reed Graduates, the recruitment firm, showed that one in five students and recent graduates continued to smoke after leaving college, with arts graduates the worst offenders. The HEA said the findings challenged previous assumptions that smoking was associated with poor education and lower social class.

Work experience can go too far, hospital authorities decided, after suspending a surgeon for allowing a teenager to take part in an operation. It appears that the mystery helper was his daughter.

On the eve of the 5th Test match, Lord MacLaurin, chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, and former Tesco chief, unveiled his blueprint for the future of the English game. This could signal a battle, not only with the counties, but with the English Schools Cricket Association as to who will be in charge of promising youngsters. And the football season starts tomorrow.

Placed on EE page 1999 07 05

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