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Latest education news, comment and analysis on schools, colleges, universities, further and higher education and teaching from the Guardian, the world's leading liberal voice

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    Liz Sidwell, the schools commissioner, pinpoints schools in coastal towns as major concern

    "White working-class" communities pose one of the greatest challenges to Michael Gove's education reforms, according to England's schools commissioner, Liz Sidwell, who said seaside and coastal towns are a major concern.

    Sidwell, who was a highly respected, long-serving headteacher before being recruited by Gove to tackle underperforming schools, said attempts to turn around schools in these areas often struggled against a culture in which generations have been out of work and parents have low aspirations. Communities in "coastal areas" can lack "energy", she believes.

    "The white working class can be the most challenging [culture]," said Sidwell, during a school visit to Norwich.

    Speaking to the Guardian, she added: "In the inner city, where there are all sorts of cultures, it stirs the pot.

    "In a mono-culture, in particular seaside areas and coastal areas, they don't have the energy – they haven't come from a culture where they've got work, they think there's a more limited range of things they can aspire to.

    "You have to open their minds that they can go to the city, they can go abroad. You can't turn around a school without turning around a community."

    Department for Education figures show that white children from low-income families performed worst at GCSEs last summer. Just over a quarter of white pupils eligible for free school meals achieved five good GCSEs including English and maths.

    A third of African-Caribbean children eligible for free school meals achieved that number of passes in 2010, with 45.7% for Asian children and 68.4% for ethnic Chinese children.

    When comparing children from more affluent homes, pupils of Chinese origin still performed best but white children were ahead of African-Caribbean children and nearly level with Asian pupils.

    Sidwell made her comments on a recent visit to the Ormiston Victory Academy in Costessy, a working-class neighbourhood just outside Norwich.

    She was supported by the school's headteacher Rachel de Souza, who said it was vital to win a community's support. De Souza spoke of the importance of "getting the mothers to turn off the PlayStations".

    The school reopened as an academy last September, and this summer 62% of its pupils obtained five good GCSEs including English and maths compared with 38% last year at its predecessor, Costessy High.

    The school has introduced a uniform designed on Savile Row, and innovations such as "pizza nights" when children come to after-school clubs to do homework over a takeaway. It ran maths revision days ahead of exams when teachers toured pupils' homes and escorted them into school in a minibus.

    GCSE attainment in London, where schools are more likely to be ethnically mixed than elsewhere, is above the national average.

    Dylan Wiliam, an emeritus professor at the Institute of Education, attributed this to investment in the capital's schools under the last government's London Challenge strategy. However, the racial mix is also a factor, he said.

    "In comparison to other rich world countries, London is the only capital where [pupils'] achievement is above the national average," said Wiliam

    "I think the evidence we have is that most immigrant families seem to have high aspirations for their children.

    "Because London does have a relatively high proportion of recent immigrants, the aspirations of their parents are likely to be higher."

    Wiliam said that struggling schools in coastal areas were related to faded resorts with a low-income population. "I think it's resort areas, it's to do with the kind of population you have there. For many people its one of the cheapest places to live in."

    Sidwell, a former headteacher, was given the role of leading the intervention in failing schools in January.

    Her task is to nudge local authorities to ensure they have programmes in place for dealing with struggling schools and work with academy sponsors to identify schools that will become new academies. A total of 45 sponsored academies opened this month, replacing weaker schools in poorer areas of England. Eleven of the schools are in coastal areas.

    An analysis of these schools' catchment areas reveals that these are predominantly in working-class, ethnically diverse areas with lower than average incomes and house prices.

    Asian people constitute 7.8% in the catchment area, higher than the 5.9% figure for England as a whole, with 4.9% of people hailing from African-Caribbean backgrounds, 3.1% for England.

    Relatively high proportions of the working adults in these communities are employed in skilled trades, customer services or factory work.

    Patrick Tate of CACI, a market analysis firm that researched the catchment area demography for the Guardian, said: "These academies appear to be doing what they set out to do, providing an alternative in areas that have the greatest need."

    Sidwell also said pointed out 17 sponsored academies that are "not transforming fast enough".

    "As soon as I started looking at all the academies, [I noticed] how many weren't quite all there. That's about 40 out of 300 [sponsored academies]. Really difficult ones – 17."

    She added: "These are schools that have been stuck; secondaries that have been stuck for a long time and no one's found the answer. We're expecting them to find the answer in two years. Its just a case of talking it through, really finding a solution."

    Sidwell said the education department's focus now is to improve primary schools: "We've got a lot of primaries in trouble, 1,400 that are not performing as we would wish, 200 that are performing really poorly, that's the big focus for us, looking at a sponsor for those.

    "If you start with a child when they're five, you can identify problems, identify their abilities, really work with them, carry that right through. So I'm a great advocate of the all-through schools – getting primary and secondary working together so the child doesn't have a dip."

    Sidwell said that the freedoms academies enjoy – which include being able to set aside the national curriculum – helped headteachers turn around a school's performance.

    She gave the example of a headteacher who was able to say: "I can't teach languages for a year, I've got to teach them maths – an academy can do that.

    "Another [non-academy] school will say – I've got to keep slogging away at French when they can't even speak English."


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    As a section of the nation's youth prepares to decamp to university, we celebrate the monsters of college rock

    Chris Martin

    Alma mater: University College London.

    Degree: Ancient world studies (first-class honours in Greek and Latin), 1998.

    Martin's university years saw little evidence of him blowing his grant on booze and leaping around to Come On Eileen. Instead he captained the hockey second team, considered forming an 'N Sync-style boyband called Pectoral and founded Coldplay. Leaving with first-class honours in Greek and Latin, he's put such smarty-pantness to good use: behaving all egg-headed with Brian Eno and befuddling record buyers with abstruse album titles such as Mylo Xyloto.

    Gloria Estefan

    Alma mater: University of Miami

    Degree: BA in psychology with minor in French, 1978.

    Long before she became a conga-chugging, frizzy-haired Latin chanteuse, Estefan graduated summa cum laude (US academia-speak for "first") with a psychology degree from the University of Miami where she "couldn't separate myself from the patients". According to the singer, she was then set to follow in the footsteps of Barthes and Balzac by studying at the Sorbonne and was also approached by the CIA to become a spy. Instead, she opted for a pop career and videos featuring boomboxes being surgically extracted from her body (see Dr Beat).

    Shakira

    Alma mater: University of California.

    Course: An Introduction to Western Civilisation: Ancient Civilisations from Prehistory to Circa AD 843.

    Having been thrust into showbiz as a 13-year-old, Shakira had little time for academic proclivities while growing up. But in summer 2007, she enlisted as "Isabelle" on a six-week course at the University of California, dressing like a boy in order to avoid being recognised. Her savant spurs don't end there: she's fluent in Spanish, English, Arabic and Portuguese, plus has a reputed IQ of over 140.

    John Legend

    Alma mater: University of Pennsylvania.

    Degree: BA in English, 1999.

    Nicknamed "Doogie Howser" by his schoolmates, spelling-bee champ Legend was offered places at Harvard and Georgetown. He chose Pennsylvania (still an Ivy League institution) instead, where fraternal high jinks included presiding over an a cappella group (one highlight was a version of Joan Osborne's One Of Us) and being a member of the secret Sphinx Senior Society. After graduation, Legend worked as a PowerPoint-ing number-cruncher at blue-chip Boston Consulting Group before his velveteen larynx took over.

    Tom Morello

    Alma mater: Harvard University.

    Degree: BA in social studies, 1986.

    The guitarist from Joe McElderry-trouncing agitprop-sters Rage Against The Machine matriculated at Harvard in 1982 later founding the Ivy League's first heavy metal interest group. Upon graduation, Morello shunned mandatory data-entry serfdom by working as a male stripper in Hollywood instead.

    Brian May

    Alma mater: Imperial College, London.

    Degrees: BSc (Hons) in physics and mathematics, 1969; PhD in astrophysics, 2008.

    The Queen axe-twiddler started his astronomy PhD in 1970 but didn't finish until 38 years later (squiring Anita Dobson and popping up on the Buckingham Palace roof clearly got in the way). Finally handing in his 48,000-word thesis on "radial velocities in the zodiacal dust cloud" in 2008, to this day he signs off as "Dr Bri" on his truly cosmic blog, Brian's Soapbox.

    Rivers Cuomo, Weezer

    Alma mater: Harvard University.

    Degree: English, 2006.

    Rivers's Weezer bandmates must hate him. Every time they sample a smidgen of success, their bespectacled frontman scampers off to study again at Harvard. It all began in autumn 1995 when he started an English degree, months after first hit Buddy Holly. Eleven years later he graduated, but not before gossip website Gawker.com stumbled across a paper written by Cuomo for his course, wherein he described his penchant for massage parlours, two years of celibacy and wet dreams triggered by abstinence. Cuomo is also an avowed Dungeons & Dragons fan. Go figure.

    Lil Wayne

    Alma Mater: University of Phoenix.

    Course: Psychology (started: 2007).

    In 2007, cough syrup-guzzling New Orleans rapper Lil Wayne signed up for an online course in psychology via the University of Phoenix (he'd already attended the University of Houston two years earlier). So inspiring was the course, Wayne waxed poetic to The Guide in 2008 about "the beauty of psychology, the beauty of humanity. Psychology teaches you that you could never know someone". Three years later he was banged up in Rikers Island jail, where presumably he had as many psychological case studies as he wanted …


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  • 09/23/11--16:06: Parents home alone again
  • What happens when the children leave to start new lives at university? Joanna Moorhead talks to some empty-nesters

    Teresa Goodman

    When my son Nathan was younger, I often used to think: if only I had time! If only I had time to clear out the cupboards, to tidy the place up, to get things straight. Everything seemed such a struggle. I was working, he was going to school, life was always so busy.

    Then he went to university, and around the same time I was made redundant. So suddenly I had lots and lots of time, and I started to clear things out … and I found myself looking at photographs of my little boy, and his school reports and certificates and things, and wondering: where did he go? Where did all those years go? When I opened some of the reports, I realised I hadn't really ever read them before, I'd been too busy to look at them properly. And that made me quite heartbroken.

    It seems strange to liken it to a bereavement, but that's how it feels. A mini-bereavement, I suppose; but an enormous loss, and what I'm mourning is my child, and the life we used to have together. We live in a small house, but it seems so empty now, and when I'm out at the supermarket I find myself going down the pasta aisle and reaching for the fusilli, which was always his favourite, before thinking: I don't need that any more.

    I'm sure things will get easier, it's still very raw at the moment and it's worse because I'm not working. I keep thinking I should get a job, find something to get me out of the house, and I'm sure I will do that soon, but this last year has been a tough one, and a strange one, and I've not quite got there yet.

    Judy Ironside

    It was only when my youngest child, Haia, left that I really felt the sense of the nest being empty; and while I wouldn't say I looked forward to it, I was definitely ready for it when it came. I didn't have longings for those years to go on, or to be back there: my feeling was, I did a good enough job as a mother. I had the children, I raised them; they're out there in the world. I didn't need another go at it; instead, I had this sense of being freed up, of being liberated from those day-to-day needs that dominate your life as long as you have children living at home.

    The big thing that I know has helped is that I'm doing a job I love – I'm the founder and director of the UK Jewish film festival – and that takes up a lot of my time and energy, and I enjoy every minute of it. It gives me an identity that is not just about being a mother, and that I'm sure has helped.

    One thing that has surprised me is how much my husband, Leslie, and I enjoy meals on our own; Saturday morning breakfast, for example, when we sit around for ages with the newspaper. We hadn't realised how much we would enjoy chatting about our own topics; because the reality of raising five children is that a great deal of your conversation revolves around them. And it still does, but there's more chance to have a few other issues in there as well. The other thing I love having back in my life is spontaneity: it's so great being able to say, at 8.30pm, why don't we go out to see a film?

    Adrian Burks and Zofia Karol

    Adrian: The hardest thing, the thing I miss most of all, is quite simply their friendship. I miss their input, their stories; I miss sitting down to meals together with them.

    I didn't realise, until it happened, what a major event it is when your children leave home; I'd known it would be big, but I didn't realise it would be so big. Their moving out coincided with a really serious illness, and I almost died: so that forced me to rethink a lot of things, and to be more philosophical about change.

    What you realise, when they have gone, is that so much of your life when they're children is about firefighting – you're thinking about what to make them for tea, you're thinking about what's happening at the weekend, you're wondering who's going to drive them later to where they need to be. You don't get much time to focus on your long-term goals, because life is a series of very pressing, short-term issues; but when they leave, suddenly all that changes.

    You've got lots more time to spend with your partner; and if you are in a relationship that's not going well, and the children have been a distraction, then that can be a crunch time. But in our case, the children having left has brought us closer together.

    Zofia: When our children were younger, our lives revolved around them – we both absolutely adored having children, and we really did enjoy all of it so there wasn't much to regret, in the sense that we weren't feeling we hadn't made the most of the time. But I also felt quite apprehensive about whether Adrian and I had enough to bond us again. I found myself wondering, do we like one another enough?

    Having to think only about ourselves, after so long when we'd always be thinking about the children, was really strange for a long time. It felt as though we didn't have enough to do with our time, and that's despite the fact that I have a very busy job as a primary school head (and thank God for that, because it must be a lot easier to cope with an empty nest when you have the distraction of demanding work).

    All parents live vicariously, to some extent, through their children; and what I find now is that, whereas before we were able to be involved in so much of their lives, nowadays we can only clutch at them. But even that much is really wonderful; sometimes we get a text out of the blue, or they send us a picture, and you think – how brilliant!

    Celia Dodd

    When Paul, our oldest, left, I remember feeling this terrible grief: it was a physical grief, almost like walking around with a hangover. It seemed to me like the very opposite of childbirth: that had been about being given someone, my baby, whereas this was a wrench, my child being taken away from me. For days the grief was very, very raw; I cried a lot of the time for the first day or two after he left. And that helped a lot, because I needed to feel sad, I needed to grieve for what I was losing.

    It didn't get any easier when Adam and then Alice went, either; I remember Alice leaving to go InterRailing, and that was really the start of Tom and I having the house to ourselves; and for several days after she'd gone I wandered around in a bit of daze, I felt so sad. It felt such a shock, to be suddenly disconnected from this person with whom you've been so involved, whom you've looked after for so long.

    Each time one of them has left, I've tried hard not to cry at the moment of parting, but usually I don't manage it. The children have all been really sweet about it – they do understand, at some level, how hard it is for me. But the thing is that the experience they're having is the complete opposite to the experience I'm having: for them, leaving home is all about excitement and adventure and something new, whereas for me it's all about being worried and anxious and feeling that my life isn't nearly so exciting or interesting now they're not around in it the whole time.

    I suppose the truth is that I do have big regrets. When the children were young I worked a lot: and now I do feel that, if I could turn the clock back, I might have spent less time working and cherished that time more. But we all see the past through rose-tinted glasses: the reality was that I needed to work; and it was often tough looking after them, and you forget all that.

    For me, as for many mothers whose children are leaving home, there are other factors in the mix that conspire to make it a difficult period: Adam leaving coincided with my mother's death, and I was also going through the menopause. Sometimes it's hard not to get pulled into this downward spiral, and to think it's all gloomy and downhill, that the best times are behind us.

    But there are good things about this stage of life too. When the children are staying here, I get to spend one-to-one time with them. It feels like the right time to stand back from your life, rather than just blasting on through it as so many of us do, so much of the time. It's a watershed moment; a time to reflect on what's gone before, but also to think about what our lives will be from now on.

    Celia Dodd's The Empty Nest: How to Survive and Stay Close to Your Adult Child is published by Piatkus, £12.99. To order a copy for £10.39, including UK p&p, go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop or call 0330 333 6846


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  • 09/23/11--16:06: Black and white twins
  • James and Daniel are twins. What sets them apart is that one is white and one is black – and the differences don't end there, as Joanna Moorhead discovers

    The two teenage boys sitting on the sofa opposite are different in almost every way. On the left is James: he's black, he's gay, he's gregarious, and he's academic. He's taking three A-levels next summer, and wants to go to university. Daniel, sitting beside him, is white. He's straight, he's shy, and he didn't enjoy school at all. He left after taking GCSEs, and hopes that his next move will be an apprenticeship in engineering.

    So, given that they are diametrically opposed, there is one truly surprising thing about James and Daniel. They are twins. They were born on 27 March 1993, the sons of Alyson and Errol Kelly, who live in south-east London. And from the start, it was obvious to everyone that they were the complete flipside of identical. "They were chalk and cheese, right from the word go," says Alyson. "It was hard to believe they were even brothers, let alone twins."

    The boys' colour was the most obvious, and extraordinary, difference. "When James was born he was the spitting image of Errol, and I remember seeing his curly hair and thinking – he's just like his dad. It was another two hours before Daniel was born: and what a surprise he was! He was so white and wrinkly, with this curly blond hair."

    It wasn't the first time nature had shocked Alyson and Errol. Daniel and James were the family's third set of twins: Errol and Alyson each already had a set with a previous partner. Errol's first set are fraternal boys, Shane and Luke, who are 21; Alyson's are identical boys, Charles and Jordan, 20. The only singleton in the house is the couple's youngest child, and only daughter, 14-year-old Katie. "Apart from her, it's twin city," says Alyson. "At least life was made a bit easier by the fact that we always had two of everything."

    But it was clear that having one black and one white twin was going to mark the family out, wherever they went. "We'd go on holiday and people would say, 'Is that one a friend you brought along?'" says Alyson. For Errol the response of strangers was harder to deal with. "People didn't believe Daniel was mine," he says. "They didn't always say anything, but I could tell it was what they were thinking."

    So how does it happen that a white and a black partner – who would usually produce, as Alyson and Errol did in their other children, black-skinned offspring – have a child who is as white as his mum? I spoke to Dr Jim Wilson, population geneticist at Edinburgh University – and his first question was, "What is Errol's heritage?" Errol is Jamaican – and that, says Jim, is the basic explanation.

    "It wouldn't really be possible for a black African father and a white mother to have a white child, because the African would carry only black skin gene variants in his DNA, so wouldn't have any European DNA, with white skin variants, to pass on," he explains.

    "But most Caribbean people, though black-skinned, have European DNA because in the days of slavery, many plantation owners raped female slaves, and so introduced European DNA into the black gene pool.

    "The thing about skin colour is that even a bit of African DNA tends to make a person's skin colour black – so to be white, the child must have inherited more of the father's European DNA with its white skin variants. Added to the mother's European DNA, this led to a child with white skin – while his brother, who is black-skinned, inherited more of his father's African DNA.

    "The Caribbean father will have less European DNA than African DNA, so it's more likely he'll pass on African DNA – but rarely, and I've worked it out to be around one in 500 sets of twins where there's a couple of this genetic mix, the father will pass on a lot of European DNA to one child and mostly African DNA to the other. The result will be one white child and one black."

    Alyson got used to the comments and the stares, the sniggers about their parentage and the "stupid things people said" when her boys were babies; but then, when Daniel and James went to nursery aged three, the twins' skin colour plunged the family into controversy. "They were at this very politically correct nursery, and the staff told us that when Daniel drew a picture of himself, he had to make himself look black – because he was mixed-race," says Alyson. "And I said, that's ridiculous. Why does Daniel have to draw himself as black, when a white face looks back at him in the mirror?"

    After a row with the nursery staff, she gave interviews to her local paper and TV. "I kicked up a fuss, because it really bothered me," she says. "Daniel had one white parent and one black, so why couldn't he call himself white? Why does a child who is half-white and half-black have to be black? Especially when his skin colour is quite clearly white! In some ways it made me feel irrelevant – as though my colour didn't matter. There seemed to be no right for him to be like me."

    Daniel and James are listening politely, but with slight resignation, while their mum relays the story – it is clear that, though they are aware that they are unusual, it is Alyson who is keenest on telling their tale. They don't remember the nursery incident, they say; but nod their heads as Alyson says she took them both out of it in protest.

    Primary school passed without colour being an issue: but, says Alyson, everything changed when they went to secondary school. And at this point the boys, too, add their voices: because the racism they encountered there had a huge effect on them, and on what happened to them next.

    It all started well, says Alyson. "The school was almost all-white, so James was unusual. But it wasn't a problem for James – it was a problem for Daniel.

    "The boys were in different classes, so for a while no one realised they were related. Then someone found out, and the story went round that this white boy, Daniel, was actually black, and the evidence was that he had a black twin brother, James, who was right here in the school. And then Daniel started being picked on and it got really ugly and racist, and there were lots of physical attacks. Daniel was only a little kid, and he was being called names and being beaten up by much older children – it was really horrible. We even called the police."

    "I was really bullied," cuts in Daniel, his face hardening at the memory. "People couldn't believe James and I were brothers, and they didn't like the fact that I looked white, but was – as they saw it – black."

    It is interesting that it was the white twin, Daniel, and not the black twin who was on the receiving end of racism – but, though it's counter-intuitive, Alyson agrees that it betrayed very deep-seated prejudices. "Those kids couldn't stand the fact that, as they saw it, this white kid was actually black. It was as though they wanted to punish him for daring to call himself white," she says.

    While we are chatting, James and Daniel are sitting at opposite ends of the sofa; they give the impression of being polite around one another, but don't seem particularly close. As Alyson says, everything about them is chalk and cheese: even their body language is at odds – James moves lightly and delicately, while Daniel moves in a more muscular, masculine way. But when Alyson reaches this stage of their story, you see a glimmer of that age-old solidarity where siblings who keep one another at arm's length, nonetheless pitch in when one of them is threatened.

    "I started to notice how angry Daniel was getting at school, how people were provoking him and how he was getting hurt," says James. "And when he got pulled in fights, I went in too, to help him. I didn't want to see my brother being treated like that." James does not look like a kid who would end up in any fight: but, when his brother was up against it, he weighed in – and, says Alyson, the bruises and cuts they both came home with told their own tale.

    It is possible Daniel would not have liked school anyway, but being on the receiving end of racist abuse certainly did not help. "I would have left in year 7 if I could," he says. "But instead, I left in year 11 – and it felt so good to get away." He moved to a school that was much more racially mixed, and which his older brothers had attended. "People knew I was Charles and Jordan's brother, but they were fine about it," he says.

    James, meanwhile, stayed on at the old school. "It was fine in the sixth form – things settled down, and I had never been on the receiving end of much racism," he says.

    But at the same time, he was coming to terms with another major difference from his brother – the fact that he is gay. "I knew from about the age of 15, but I kept it to myself for a while," he explains. "And then a few months ago, it just seemed like the right time to tell my family. I was most worried about my dad, about what he'd say ... but in the end he was fine about it."

    Daniel, too, thought it was fine. "It wasn't as though it was a big surprise. I'd thought it for a while," he says. "But I said to him, 'If anyone starts bullying you about it, I'll be there to support you.' After all, James did that for me when I was being bullied. If anyone starts any homophobic stuff against him, I'll be there to fight them off."

    Like all teenage siblings, there is plenty of joshing among the two of them. "I certainly wouldn't wear James's clothes!" says Daniel, laughing. "But if it's the other way round, he'd wear mine!"

    "No I wouldn't," shoots back James. "My taste in clothes is way better than yours."

    Alyson says that, initially, James's coming out was a surprise. "We were like, 'Woa!'" she says. "My big worry was that he'd think he was different, or special, because he was gay – so we said to him: 'That's fine, it's what you are, but it doesn't make you any more special than the other children in this family.'" Errol says he was proud of his boy for being open and honest about his feelings. "It's fine; I'm glad he felt he could tell us," he says.

    But Alyson does admit that, just as she once worried about racist abuse being directed at Daniel, she now worries about homophobic abuse being directed at James. "It's something you think about from time to time, but the main thing I worry about is him staying safe – I want all of my children to be safe, obviously," she says.

    These days the boys frequent very different social scenes. "A lot of my friends are lesbian or gay, and I go to gay clubs, and they aren't places where Daniel hangs out," says James. His big out-of-school interest is cheerleading – while Daniel, whose older half-brothers Shane and Luke are both acrobats, loves tumbling. "It's something I've enjoyed for ages – I love the thrill of it, and I love how it makes me feel," he says. After leaving school he had a spell as an acrobat on a cruise ship, which is where his older brothers also work, but he didn't stay long. "I thought it sounded brilliant, but I missed my family too much so I came home," he says. He has now applied for an apprenticeship, and hopes to make engineering his future.

    Occasionally, the twins go out together for the evening. "It's good fun, because we can be drinking in a bar and someone will come along for a chat who doesn't know we're twins. And of course they never suspect and then someone else will say, 'Hey, do you know James and Daniel are brothers?'" says James. "And people never, ever believe it – they always think it's a wind-up."

    "Sometimes we even get people who say: 'I don't believe you! Prove it!'" says Daniel, laughing. "But we don't care whether they believe it or not anyway – we know it's true."

    Alyson says all she wants, like any mum, is for her boys to be happy, and to live lives free from prejudice, so that each can flourish in his own way. "Mind you," she says with a smile, "I do sometimes find myself wondering, now the children are all getting older, what the future holds. There will be another generation eventually – who will that bring along, I wonder?

    "Twins are almost a must, I'd say. But the other big thing is: how many white grandchildren will I have? And how many black?" She throws back her head and laughs, and Errol laughs with her. They're a straightforward, outspoken family, the Kellys: all they've ever wanted for their children is a fair chance in life. And if their youngest twins have made anyone think twice about their preconceptions about race and colour, they don't mind that in the least. "It's good to challenge people on race and sexuality and other issues where there's prejudice," says Alyson. "If knowing my boys encourages anyone to think a bit more deeply about how we label people, then that's just great as far as I'm concerned."

    The Kellys and their story is told in Twincredibles, part of BBC2's Mixed Race season in October


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    Fewer than a third of England's state schools have signed up to government's 'spirit of 2012' competition

    Fewer than a third of state schools have signed up to the government's plan to use the "spirit of the Olympics" to revive competitive sport in schools – raising further doubts about the long-term legacy of the 2012 London Games.

    Only 6,500 primary and secondary schools out of 23,000 in England have registered for the School Games, or School Olympics, the Observer can reveal, forcing the organisers to extend the registration deadline from September to November.

    The figures are particularly disappointing for the more than 17,000 primary schools, many of which lack the facilities or staff to deliver competitive sport for their pupils, even with some government help.

    When he launched the School Games earlier this year, following an outcry over government cuts to the overall school sport budget, the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said he wanted them to bring "the magic of the Olympics" into every school in the country.

    Ministers said that the games would revive competitive sport between schools, as well as sport in schools, as children and teachers became involved in high-profile new inter-school competitions in 30 different sports, culminating in finals at the Olympic park itself.

    But many schools, particularly primary schools, have found the plans unconvincing. Not only do they lack grounds to stage the competitions but they have no means of transporting children from school to school to take part.

    Sports teachers say the games are no substitute for School Sport Partnerships, a successful network that organised games within and between schools at a cost to government of £168m a year, and whose funding has been withdrawn following a temporary reprieve.

    Baroness Campbell, chief executive of the Youth Sport Trust, the charity commissioned by Sport England to deliver the School Games, said last night that she was confident more schools would sign up in the coming weeks.

    Campbell, who pioneered the School Sport Partnerships, insisted that the total of 6,500 was a "good start" and said that, while there were difficulties, she was confident the games would help salvage something from the cuts to the previous system she had built.

    There is also anger in the sporting world that more than £7,000 a year that the government says is going to every secondary school in the country to release a teacher for one day a week to help co-ordinate the games in their area is not "ringfenced", meaning the schools do not have to use it for sport at all.

    Andy Marchant, one of 450 schools games organisers, who previously ran a successful School Sport Partnership in Brighton and Hove, said: "They say that this will lead to more competitions, but the reverse is the case. You are getting very dedicated people who love their school sport trying to salvage something from the wreckage. But after the Olympics the whole thing will be dead in the water."

    Lottery funding of £35m for the games is being provided until 2014-15, but no money is guaranteed after that. A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said the future for the games remained bright. "This summer's pilot events proved how popular the School Games are with young people and teachers, using the inspiration of 2012 to get more young people playing sport."

    Last week Richard Caborn, the sports minister when the UK launched its bid for the 2012 Olympics, said the UK was "failing completely" to honour its pledge to increase sporting participation among adults and deliver a sports legacy. "There needs to be a major change of direction in the strategy on this," he said.


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    Banks will lose tax cuts to pay for lower student costs, while higher-earning graduates will pay more interest on loans

    The maximum university fee for students will be slashed by a third to £6,000 a year under a Labour government, Ed Miliband has announced.

    The policy, revealed by the Labour leader in an interview with the Observer, would be paid for by reversing planned tax cuts for the banks and by asking the highest-earning graduates to pay more interest on their loans.

    The move – one of the biggest policy decisions by Miliband in his first year as leader – is designed to appeal to millions of student voters who turned to the Lib Dems at the last election, and to parents worried about the financial burdens of sending their children to university.

    Speaking ahead of Labour's annual conference, which opens in Liverpool on Sunday amid rumblings about the party's credibility on the economy, Miliband insisted the plan was "fully costed". He said David Cameron and Nick Clegg would kill off the spirit of ambition and enterprise in the next generation by "loading the costs of paying off the deficit onto our young people".

    The unveiling of the new policy comes as the Labour leader's brother, David, prepares to send a message of support to his brother, whose leadership has been criticised in some circles. The former foreign secretary will use a fringe meeting on Sunday, exactly one year after his traumatic defeat in last year's leadership election, to publicly back his sibling: "We must never lose our sense of outrage at this shocking government. Ed has led the party with strong purpose and conviction, and that is what Labour needs."

    The Labour leader, who had previously favoured a graduate tax over a fees system, said the cut would mean a wider cross-section of young people going to university, and that it would therefore help create a more equal society. "We can't build a successful economy if our young people come out of university burdened down by £50,000 of debt," he said. "We can't build a successful economy if the kids from all backgrounds are put off going to university."

    In contrast to the Tory-Lib Dem coalition, Miliband said he wanted to "invest in our young people by using the talents of everyone, not engaging in tax cuts for financial services."

    Miliband's aides said that, if there were an election now and Labour won, it would implement the policy as soon as possible. But they stopped short of promising that the details would feature in three and a half years' time in a party election manifesto. "This is what we would do now. But in three and a half years' time we might be able to do even more," an official said.

    From September next year, universities will be able to raise their fees from the current maximum of £3,375 to £9,000, following cuts of 80% in their grants from central government. The controversial decision sparked huge student protests when it was announced last November.

    Although ministers predicted that few universities would charge the full £9,000, recent figures show that more than a third – 47 out of 123 universities – will demand the maximum. And whereas the government forecast last year that the average fee would be around £7,500, the actual average will be £8,393.

    The money for Labour's policy will come from reversing a corporation tax cut for banks pre-announced by the chancellor, George Osborne, in March – from 28% in 2010-11 to 23% in 2014-15 – and by asking graduates earning over £65,000 a year to pay higher interest rates on their loans.

    A debate over Labour's wider economic policy is bound to dominate the conference agenda. While some leading figures in the party are calling on Miliband to apologise more clearly for Labour's economic failings in government and to be clearer about what cuts it would make now, Miliband is standing firm. He insisted he would stick to his central message that the coalition is cutting too far and too fast, without providing more detail of where Labour would withhold funding. "We have got to break this government's addiction to austerity because it is not working," he said.

    With competing factions in the party battling to impose their agenda on the leader, former home secretary David Blunkett tells the Observer that Miliband has struggled so far to get his voice heard in the country, urging him to relegate the community politics of "Blue Labour" and focus on defending the previous government's economic record, while providing solutions to the key issues that matter to families.

    He said: "There is no question in my mind that the general election will be about how people feel about the future – that's about insecurity, the austerity programme, what is happening about their jobs, their family. We have got to build our confidence and fight back on the central economic difficulties, so we are not defined as being responsible for the deficit that we are facing at the moment."

    While Miliband said his determination to sting the banks to pay for a drop in tuition fees showed he wanted the wealthiest to be more responsible, he emphasised that the same community obligations should apply to those claiming benefits. He said he backed ideas floated recently by Liam Byrne, the shadow work and pensions secretary, who suggested that people who were "doing the right thing, getting a job, paying taxes, being good tenants and neighbours and so on" could be placed at the head of the queue for social housing.

    After speaking at the Movement For Change fringe meeting, David Miliband will fly to Washington for a conference on China. He will therefore miss his brother's speech on Tuesday.

    Today, in a letter to this newspaper, leading Labour figures, including former home secretary Alan Johnson and ex-deputy leader John Prescott, back the creation of a fund to ensure more people from low-income groups can become parliamentary candidates.

    The letter suggests that money from Labour funds be set aside to ensure that more candidates come from "manual working backgrounds". At the last election more than 80% of Labour candidates came from professional backgrounds and just 9% from manual working backgrounds.

    Yesterday Labour's national executive committee (NEC) agreed that, for the first time ever, a new category of registered party supporters can have a say in electing the leader. Under the plan, registered supporters would get 10% of the vote, so long as at least 50,000 sign up. The NEC also agreed to conclude talks with the unions by the end of March next year on how to reform policymaking to ensure it becomes "more dynamic, open and democratic".


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    Our immigrants are a cultural and economic boon and should be treasured

    Has Glasgow ever been more beautiful than in these last 10 years or so? Even on dreich days when the sun disdains us, the city's splendour can still be seen smiling and strolling down every busy street. It seems that every race and colour and language is gathered here and my home has never seemed so alive or ever so dramatic. It is all the better for it and if you don't agree then you had better grow accustomed to it because the city can never now forsake its coat of many colours.

    In sunny Govan on Tuesday evening, the quality of Scotland was on display and so were some of our brightest hopes for a healthy future. Representatives from around 50 private firms and public sector agencies were receiving certificates in recognition of their work this past year in helping migrants, refugees and asylum seekers train for work, find employment and develop new skills. It is a sovereign work of redemption in which they are involved and the benefits accruing to our nation will continue for generations.

    The event was organised by the Bridges Programmes, a remarkable organisation, now 10 years old, that seeks to ensure that the planet's disenfranchised peoples may reclaim their human dignity by contributing to Scotland's wealth and culture. Witnessing the event on Tuesday (I am a trustee), I have rarely felt more proud to be a Scot. Our nation is never better than when it looks upwards and outwards and shares its riches with those fellow inhabitants of our planet who are weary and overburdened by pestilence, war, famine and death. In this, Scotland has set the gold standard.

    Yet still in our midst are those who would deny these people entry to our country. In this time of recession and economic uncertainty, they will declare that charity must begin at home; that what jobs that remain, after England's cabinet of rich men have finished protecting their City friends by punishing the poor, must go to our own. It is a worthless and spurious argument and one that is not solely the preserve of the shaven-headed gargoyles of the BNP and the English Defence League. The argument simply does not bear even light scrutiny.

    Scotland's population is ageing and declining at a slightly faster rate than the rest of the United Kingdom. The implications of this for the generations that follow us are stark; we are facing a shortfall in the revenues required to maintain adequate state services and benefits. A shrewd and alternative way of maintaining these must include attracting migrants who are fit for work and pay taxes and national insurance. Glasgow has around 100,000 economically inactive citizens; people not merely unemployed but receiving assorted forms of incapacity benefit. Around 60,000 of these will never work again and nor will many of their descendants.

    The migrants, refugees and asylum seekers awaiting UK citizenship with whom the Bridges Programmes engage may commence their new lives in Scotland unemployed but, in many cases, they possess the skills and motivation required for meaningful, long-term work. The number of entrepreneurs from Scotland's ethnic communities is vastly disproportionate to their size; many came here with nothing but took the opportunity that this country offered them to contribute to our nation's economic health.

    Even when they are sending money back to other family members resident in their homelands, the UK's ethnic population is still benefiting us; the total of such remittances eclipses Britain's entire overseas aid bill. Even those whose asylum applications are unsuccessful can benefit our nation by learning new work skills. There are many Zimbabwean citizens in Scotland waiting for the death of the tyrant Robert Mugabe. When that day comes they will return to their country and use skills that Scotland has given them to nurse Zimbabwe back to health – an outcome that will benefit the world.

    Everywhere you look in Glasgow, the benefits of cultural and ethnic diversity and of providing livelihoods for our migrant and refugee brothers and sisters are evident.

    The children of these families have rekindled life in schools which would otherwise have closed long ago. To them, education is a prize, a priceless commodity to be cherished and their enthusiasm for it inspires our own children. In the workplace, those employers who have engaged with the Bridges Programmes have come to appreciate migrant workers' enthusiasm, drive and charisma. They are rarely absent, unlike our own permanently knackered workforce. And for those businesses that encounter their customers face to face what better way is there of attracting ethnic shoppers than having them served by members of their own communities?

    In Springburn in the north of Glasgow, there is a Tesco that boasts one of the most diverse fruit and vegetable halls in the UK. And we're not talking about mere melons and mangetouts, by the way. There are comestibles on those shelves that look like David Attenborough has just brought them back from the Galapagos. Any day now, the inhabitants of the surrounding arrondissements will be talking about getting their 10 a day.

    Many who were part of the mass migration of Polish people to this country have returned to help the economic rebirth of their homeland, but while they were here they bequeathed to us their cuisine in shops all over the city. At this rate, Glasgow will own the most sophisticated gastronomic tastes on the planet and an école will have to be opened here for chefs who want to learn from the masters.

    At the Bridges event on Tuesday night, a lovely and elegant Somali lady stepped forward to receive recognition for triumphing in the face of remorseless adversity. She had come to Scotland after fleeing her country's brutal and endless civil war. Her five children had been scattered among secure dwellings in neighbouring countries. Three years, two jobs and a night-time college course later she had saved enough to return to her homeland and so began the task of gathering her exiled children. They were with her in Govan last week, shiny, shy and proud of their beautiful mum.

    What an inspiration they will have as they grow up in our country. And what a country we live in to have loved and supported them.


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    The sociology professor says we are moving away from seeing ourselves as 'normal' humans as we increasingly embrace technological and medical advances – if we can afford them

    Steve Fuller holds the Auguste Comte chair in social epistemology in Warwick University's Department of Sociology. His new book, Humanity 2.0: What it Means to be Human, Past, Present and Future, is published by Palgrave Macmillan.

    What do you mean by Humanity 2.0?

    Humanity 2.0 is an understanding of the human condition that no longer takes the "normal human body" as given. On the one hand, we're learning more about our continuity with the rest of nature – in terms of the ecology, genetic make-up, evolutionary history. On this basis, it's easy to conclude that being "human" is overrated. But on the other hand, we're also learning more about how to enhance the capacities that have traditionally marked us off from the rest of nature. Computers come to mind most readily in their capacity to amplify and extend ourselves. Humanity 2.0 is about dealing with this tension.

    In what areas have we reached 2.0 already?

    Let's put it this way: we've always been heading towards a pretty strong sense of Humanity 2.0. The history of science and technology, especially in the west, has been about remaking the world in our collective "image and likeness", to recall the biblical phrase. This means making the world more accessible and usable by us. Consider the history of agriculture, especially animal and plant breeding. Then move to prosthetic devices such as eyeglasses and telescopes.

    More recently, and more mundanely, people are voting with their feet to enter Humanity 2.0 with the time they spend in front of computers, as opposed to having direct contact with physical human beings. In all this, it's not so much that we've been losing our humanity but that it's becoming projected or distributed across things that lack a human body. In any case, Humanity 2.0 is less about the power of new technologies than a state of mind in which we see our lives fulfilled in such things.

    Wouldn't someone like Archimedes describe us as Humanity 3.0 compared to his era?

    Yes, Archimedes would probably see us as pretty exotic creatures. He would already be impressed by what we take for granted as Humanity 1.0, since the Greeks generally believed that "humanity" was an elite prospect for ordinary Homo sapiens, requiring the right character and training. Moreover, he would be surprised – if not puzzled – that we appear to think of science and technology as some long-term collective project of self-improvement – "progress" in its strongest sense. While the Greeks gave us many of our fundamental scientific ideas, they did not think of them as a blueprint for upgrading the species. Rather, those ideas were meant either to relieve drudgery or provide high-brow entertainment.

    Is it desirable or possible to put the brakes on the move to 2.0?

    Well here's my proviso: these developments do have the potential to create whole new deep class divisions, maybe not along the lines of the old industrial class divisions, but just as deep. Sometimes, people talk about this as the "knows" versus the "know-nots". Divisions open up along the lines of who has access to all of these potential enhancements. At the moment, the problem is that the state is dwindling away and it is becoming less of regulator of any kind of activity, so market forces are basically determining the development of all these things I'm talking about. And what that means is that the rich get access to them more quickly and the poor get left behind.

    For example, in terms of the NHS, we don't deprive people of prosthetic enhancements such as hearing aids and eyeglasses along the lines of income, so we should be thinking about what other future enhancements we want people to have access to as part of being human 2.0.

    Such as?

    A good example would be cosmetic neurology, which is essentially plastic surgery for the brain. Where you go in every so often and you get a tune-up of your synapses. This is done at the University of Pennsylvania medical school.

    What does this have to do with my daily life?

    I think a lot. You already see the problem of smart drugs – people taking drugs to do well in exams or job interviews. The use of these substances is much more widespread than the official records indicate. People are taking the stuff and pretty soon people are going to feel they can't be left behind.

    People who work within the disability sector talk about "able-ism" – the idea that we're going to be living in a world in the future where everyone will take having a disability as the normal state because you will never be doped up enough, you will always be worried about the next enhancement, about whether you have enough enhancement for your next job interview, or whether someone else has a smarter drug that you don't have access to. So people will feel that they have to somehow keep up. And that's a real issue, especially in an unregulated market environment.

    So our ideas of what is normal change?

    Yes, there does need to be wide-ranging discussion about what is means to be normal. To be in normal health – how does your brain or body have to function in order to be "normal"? We've had a fairly constant view of what normalcy is for quite a long time but I think we need to reopen this debate and then define the minimal requirements for medical care.

    So you foresee an enhanced generation emerging because of their ability to take advantage of various drugs and treatments?

    It's going to happen through individuals taking choices about getting treatments or not and then, within a generation or two, you'll start seeing interesting effects on society at large. What I can imagine is that life expectancy won't uniformly go up, it'll start to be bimodal distribution – some people will live beyond 100 and there'll be a large number of people who die under the age of 70. And that won't be because of some government mandate, that will be because people will definitely take advantage of the enhancements on offer, but others won't have those choices open to them.

    Are you optimistic about Humanity 2.0?

    We need to be always reminding ourselves that we have always been enhancing ourselves, that science has always been enhancing the human condition, that we have been trusting machines over our own bodies for at least 300-400 years now. We've already broken through that barrier – we do live in a very artificial world. Even though the stuff on the horizon may amplify our powers tremendously, it is nevertheless part of the same process. It is a step change but it's the same story, the story of scientific progress.

    Humanity 2.0 is published by Palgrave Macmillan, £19.99. To buy it for £15.99 with free UK p&p, go to guardianbookshop.co.uk or call 0330 333 6847


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    As the new principal of Hertford College, I passionately believe universities must cleave to Enlightment principles

    It's a worm a millimetre long made up of only 1,000 cells and I am watching it curling, uncurling and grazing on its bacterial food with a string of its cells brightly illuminated in green. These are stem cells and what the researchers want to know is just how those cells know what they are doing – whether they should divide more or turn into another cell type. Amazingly, the molecules involved are the same as those involved in human cancer. If we can understand and then control the molecules in this tiny worm, we will breaking through to learning more about the causes – and cures – of cancer.

    Two days touring the laboratories of the science fellows at Oxford's Hertford College (I am three weeks into a new job as the college's principal) is a mind-blowing experience for an enthusiast keen to overcome his scientific illiteracy. No half-questions here. These are men and women seeking to explain the origins of matter and the molecular structure of life. It is what a university should do.

    Just as it should be housing historians who can chronicle the Crusades, linguists unpacking the structure of Japanese grammar or lawyers challenging the philosophical foundations of employment law. It is knowledge for knowledge's sake and more. And whether it is obviously and immediately useful or not, it is informed by the same quest – the Enlightenment need to know and, equally importantly, by the obligation on teachers to disseminate what is known.

    A university reproduces the Olympics but in the realm of the mind; excellence across the entire span of intellectual inquiry just as the Olympics spans all sport. Nobody asks a runner or swimmer why they want to be the fastest; it is what they have to attempt. Time and again, talking to the scientists, I kept thinking it does not matter whether what they are doing is going to have immediate usefulness; what they are researching needs to be done. They are taking steps on a path that humanity is condemned to make, with jumps to other disciplines and areas of inquiry that nobody can predict.

    One company I saw – about to market ultra-fast DNA sequencing to create the most powerful health diagnostic tool ever invented – grew out of one scientist's abstract theorising 30 years ago. He could not have known it would lead to this, but only a university could have permitted the inquiry.

    In fact, Britain has absent-mindedly acquired – relative to its size – more great universities than anywhere else, with 14 of the world's top 100 universities. It is a national asset that we need to protect and cultivate. But to do that we have to understand and celebrate it.

    Instead, the university world feels beleaguered and undervalued, even a university such as Oxford, a global leader. The popular view of our universities is poisonous: peopled by idle, ivory tower academics who are careless of their students and who only with the greatest of prodding can be induced both to teach and furnish the ideas that industry can commercialise and so drive the economy forward.

    The coalition's answer is that universities should compete more with each other. The complex relationship between a teacher showing a student how to think and reason must be recast as one between buyer and seller. Cash for research must be justified by immediate economic utility. Government grants for teaching are to be slashed by 40% not only because of economic exigency but because the best way to dynamise otherwise endemically lazy academics is to create a market between them, their students and their research funders. Students should buy courses as a matter of ideological principle, which as everyone knows will cost almost all of them £9,000 per year each from 2012. That will promote competition and responsiveness.

    In fact, the £9,000 fees, for all the headlines and anger they induce, are only a subplot in a more destructive story. Despite the terrifying headlines about encumbering graduates with mountains of debt, in practice they will work as a rough-and-ready graduate tax, so that expensive university education is paid for afterwards. Every graduate in England and Wales will pay 9% of their income above £21,000, for up to 30 years, just as they would a graduate tax; below that, they will pay nothing. Irrationally from the government's point of view these income-contingent loans are much less efficient than a proper graduate tax; at best, 70% of the money lent will be recouped, at worst, 50%. But 100% of the cash will go straight to the universities, reinforcing their crucial constitutional autonomy, rather than through the conduit of the Treasury, always ready to raid the proceeds of any tax for anything other than education.

    Universities are so precious and today's anti-tax culture is so fierce that I favour fees as a least bad way of getting crucial resources into higher education, although they should never, as proposed, shoulder almost the entire cost of university teaching (Ed Miliband's £6,000 limit seems a good compromise). But no minister chose to present them as a de facto graduate tax that might entrench the Enlightenment conception of the university. Lib Dems and Tories were united, like New Labour before them, in presenting fees as the bridgehead in a wider assault on the way universities function.

    A culture of scholarship, the role of the teacher as teacher and the quest to know for the sake of knowing are to be replaced by a culture of consumer utility in which student choice and business need are kings. This is to be forced on universities by creating a new artificial market for student places and by research funding to be allocated less by what is intellectually compelling than what is commercially, and quickly, exploitable.

    In a knowledge economy, universities will be more important than ever. There is a wave of new scientific opportunity to be explored and disseminated and creating great minds by great teaching is never more important. In other words, we need our universities more than ever to cleave to their Enlightenment vocation. Yes, they can be great centres of wealth creation, but paradoxically if we make that their prime purpose we kill the spirit that creates the wealth. Public policy interventions have to be cleverer and more subtle, by, for example, creating technology and innovation centres and science parks linked to universities to do commercialised science while simultaneously preserving the universities' central purpose. Teaching is a public good – it should be paid for in part by public grants.

    The financial system and world economy have been wrecked by religious obeisance to the doctrine that no check is needed to the operation of choice and markets. Private is best, public a disaster. Now the same principles are being visited on our universities. They are doing their best to hold the line. But if Oxford, with all its assets, is worried, everyone should be concerned. What I saw last week in the science labs – and the wider academic culture in which it is embedded – is infinitely precious. We must defend it to the last.


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  • 09/25/11--10:43: Judy Townsend obituary
  • When she got married and moved to Shrewsbury in 1959, my mother, Judy Townsend, worried that she would never know anybody in her husband's town. But Judy, who has died aged 74, came to touch the lives of many people with her artistic talent, enthusiasm for helping others and championing of community projects.

    She was born in Sheringham, Norfolk, and was the first of her family to attend university. She studied English at University College London, where she met Alan. Her teaching career was interrupted only by the arrival of their daughters, Sally, Jane and me. She was always a wonderful and innovative teacher, particularly during her years as head of the partial hearing unit at Coleham primary school.

    She also found time for other roles: as a thoughtful magistrate for 28 years, eventually becoming chair of the Shrewsbury bench; as treasurer and organiser of painting classes, trips and gallery visits for the now thriving Shropshire Art Society; as founder in 2003 of the successful community-based Belle Vue arts festival, which is now an established part of Shrewsbury's summer season; and, most recently, as the mayoress of Shrewsbury during my father's period as mayor in 2009-10.

    To all her activities, Judy brought a genuine care for and interest in the needs of others, which underpinned her fundraising activities, from collecting thousands of Green Shield stamps to pay for hearing aids for her pupils in the 1970s to raising more than £15,000 for the Severn hospice with friends and family over the last decade.

    As our mother, and in all fields of endeavour, Judy combined creative energy with a quiet and effective determination. Both traits shone through when she was diagnosed with cancer of the tongue and underwent major surgery in July 2010: she recorded her experiences in words and images which were published in her book, Nil By Mouth, sales of which raised more than £2,000 for the Severn hospice and the Lingen Davies Cancer Relief Fund.

    Judy is survived by Alan, Sally, Jane and me, and her grandchildren, Lottie, Justin and Ella.


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    Batsman and captain of India with a special place in cricket history

    Known throughout his cricket career as the Nawab of Pataudi Jr, a title abolished years later during Indira Gandhi's reforms, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi – "Tiger" or "Pat" to his friends – earned a special place in cricket history for his extraordinary success as a batsman after losing most of the sight in his right eye in a car accident in Hove, East Sussex, in July 1961. At that time, Pataudi, who has died aged 70, was a highly promising batsman who had made a name for himself at Winchester College, and for Oxford University and Sussex (his debut for the club came aged 16).

    His father, Iftikhar Ali Khan, the previous Nawab of Pataudi, had played for England in Australia during the 1932-33 Bodyline series, when his relations with the captain, Douglas Jardine, were frosty; he later led India on the 1946 tour of England. Pataudi Sr died while playing polo in Delhi on his son's 11th birthday. The youngster was soon to have the satisfaction of breaking Jardine's batting records at Winchester.

    The accident seemed certain to end the talented Pataudi Jr's career. It was discouraging to find that when he tried to light a cigarette he missed the end of it by a quarter of an inch. And yet before the year was out, after testing himself in net sessions, he was chosen to play for India in the first of what amounted to an extraordinary tally of 46 Test matches between 1961 and 1975. The cricket world was astounded when, in his third Test, later in that 1961-62 series, he scored 103 (in only two-and-a-half hours) at Madras, the victory securing India's first series win against England.

    Five more Test hundreds followed, all steeped in a sense of wonder that a man could overcome such a serious visual impairment to succeed (cap peak pulled down low to the right helped) against the world's most testing bowling. Equally dramatic was his appointment as India's captain during the tour of the West Indies early in 1962. At 21, Pataudi became the youngest Test captain to that time. Placing himself in the middle order, he managed only two 40s in his six remaining innings as India were pounded.

    He was captain in 40 of his 46 Tests, an innovative, dignified and much respected leader with a sharp sense of humour, adored by his players, envied for his calmness and intelligence, never one to reveal his emotions and always ready to turn defence into attack. Recognising the dearth of quality fast bowlers in India, he based his strategy on spinners, showing that in the absence of good fast men, three talented slow bowlers were better than two.

    Understandably, Pataudi's batting was inconsistent. Yet from time to time he played an innings the dash and quality of which – even if India ended up losing – no onlooker would forget. Leading India against the 1963-64 England side, he failed in his first seven innings of the series. Yet in the drawn fourth Test, at Delhi, he unfurled India's first double-century against England.

    Against England in 1967 he stroked a glorious 148 in the Headingley Test which would remain in TV viewers' minds forever. His athletic fielding remained memorable too.

    Pataudi's 75 and 85 against Australia in 1967-68 at Melbourne (made not just with one eye but on one good leg, in dim light and on a green-tinged first-day pitch) had the former Australian batsman Lindsay Hassett comparing him with the peerless Donald Bradman.

    Compensation for losing all four Tests in Australia came in Dunedin, New Zealand, with India's first-ever overseas Test victory. After home series against New Zealand and Australia, it seemed that his Test career was at an end when Ajit Wadekar became captain. Pataudi played on for Sussex (88 matches from 1957 to 1970) and for Hyderabad. But following Wadekar's exit, Pataudi returned for the 1974-75 home series against the West Indies at Calcutta notching another gratifying mark when his side beat them for the first time in India. But his own batting had fallen away and this was to be his last Test series. In all, he had scored 2,793 runs in Test matches at an average of 34.91, with six centuries.

    In later years he did some modelling, cricket commentary and edited Sportsworld magazine. He was also involved with the Indian Premier League until a recent disagreement. A month ago Pataudi was seen at the Oval, presenting the Pataudi trophy to England captain Andrew Strauss. Shortly afterwards he contracted a lung infection, which proved fatal. Pataudi had willed his "good" eye for use in a transplant at the Venu Eye Institute in Delhi, for which he had been an ambassador for 10 years.

    Appointed as captain of a World XI in 1968, he played 499 innings in first-class cricket, scoring 15,425 runs at 33.67, with 33 hundreds. He was revered by all in the cricket world. India's batting star of the recent series, Rahul Dravid, described Pataudi ("Just call me John Smith") as a "romantic figure". The novelist and historian Mukul Kesavan went further: "He remained untouched by the squabbles and sleaze that attended cricket's transformation into big business in India. As a consequence, death finds him happily embalmed in fond radio memories: still tigerish in the covers, still a prince among men."

    He survived by his wife, the former actor Sharmila Tagore; a son, Saif; and daughters, Soha and Saba.

    • Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, cricketer, born 5 January 1941; died 22 September 2011


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    Studying film is still often seen as lightweight. But in 2011 it's arguably as important as literature and science

    Tripping through Covent Garden market in 1968 armed with a clockwork Bolex 16mm film camera, I bumped into an opera buff friend who laughed at me when I told him I had won a scholarship to the London Film School, which was based (still is) in a sprawling warehouse near the market. "Sounds like a scam to dodge university," he scoffed.

    Nearly 50 years on, studying film is still seen by many as a scam. And yet my granddaughter Tilda makes films on my iPhone. Egyptians changed their political regime with short films posted on the internet. Mike Tindall is compromised on CCTV thousands of miles away from his royal wife. My wife uses high-definition recipe films to cook supper. We can watch a documentary film on the bus instead of reading a newspaper. Artists make films and show them in the Tate.

    And, of course, all of us can make and upload a film on to YouTube with our mobile phones. Commercials on TV, movies in cinemas, video lectures in the classroom – all examples about how film has progressed spectacularly from being a remote form of industrialised entertainment to become a medium for self-expression available to all; one perhaps as powerful as the spoken and written word.

    The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has initiated a fresh review of film policy under the chairmanship of Chris Smith. The words "film" and "policy" have rarely been comfortable cultural bedfellows in Britain. Ever since the Cinematograph Films Act of 1927, successive governments have attempted to make laws that help the "film industry" thrive with a variety of measures, which have included establishing trade quotas to restrict US control of the entire production, distribution and exhibition process (a problem that has never been solved). Rarely have these policies considered the wider implications of what film represents. If this timely review is to be worth its salt it must recommend a radical and daring approach for government and the British Film Institute, which has inherited the recently disbanded UK Film Council's mantle.

    Properly empowered, the BFI could start a revolution in the way our society views film. It will have to be ruthless and brave, particularly in its own backyard. It must discourage the cleverly disguised, often abused, privileges and economic advantages for the self-serving structure of Britain's Hollywood-dominated cinema industry. It must also devise a fairer system for the way government subsidies and lottery patronage are provided – whether it be for an archive, a festival, an independent cinema or a film producer.

    Over the past two decades these sweeping powers have been in the gift of a small, undemocratically appointed elite. This has created arbitrary decision-making processes that have fostered unhealthy bitterness, especially among the independent film community, which has been woefully marginalised. In France, public finance for the cinema industry has been available for all who apply correctly. Their fairer system has been successful and film culture is embedded in their national identity. The British public has been deceived into believing that the favoured minority who have received public patronage represent a qualitative consensus. Successes are hyped, failures swept under the carpet. This is political deception and is disastrous for any cultural community.

    But beyond all this, the BFI, Smith and the government have one vital responsibility. As well as continuing to encourage university-level film education, they must fund a comprehensive system to empower schools to teach film to children. And we are not talking about master classes from the makers of the latest popular success here. I mean providing and training qualified teachers and giving them all the resources to teach film to all-comers from the cradle to the grave. Affordable technology exists: cameras, computers, digital editing systems, the internet. The intellectual heritage exists: film is over 100 years old and kids can benefit from its history in the way that they might study the Renaissance in art. Teaching film should be as important as teaching literature, languages, history, economics and science. Our children need to be powerful communicators with film: far from being a scam, it is as important as literature, languages, history and science.


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    Oxford library to ask exhibition visitors which items deserve permanent display - including a First Folio it once threw away

    A spectacular exhibition of the greatest treasures of one of the most famous libraries in the world features a monument to past folly: a large battered leather volume the Bodleian Library in Oxford sold off as surplus to requirements in 1664 and had to raise a fortune to buy back almost 250 years later.

    Now, rather than getting rid of the exhibits, it is holding them in storage. Visitors to the Bodleian's new exhibition, will be invited to suggest which ones deserve to be given permanent display in the new gallery.

    The £78m transformation of the New Bodleian will give the library climate-controlled stores and reading rooms, and a museum-quality gallery for the first time.

    But few outsiders have any idea of how extraordinary its contents are.

    They include Magna Carta; a pristine Gutenberg Bible; a dazzling 14th-century travels of Marco Polo; Philip Pullman; William Blake; Jane Austen's handwritten compendium of her own earliest writings; a 13th-century bestiary showing an elephant being strangled by the only animal it fears, a serpent like dragon; the Codex Mendoza, an account made for the first Spanish viceroy of the Aztec civilisation Spain was destroying; Mary Shelley's draft of Frankenstein with suggestions scribbled in by Shelley; and the earliest almost complete copy of a poem by Sappho, from a cache of extraordinary documents found in a rubbish dump in Egypt in the 19th century.

    Curator Stephen Hebron asked every member of staff in the Bodleian for their favourite, then reduced by half the 150 books, maps, letters and documents they regarded as unmissable, with some dating back more than 2,000 years.

    Some are in for their content, some for their beauty: one is both hideous and illegible, but Hebron has included it because it is so extraordinary: three charred scrolls from a library in Herculaneum buried by the eruption of Vesuvius which also destroyed Pompeii, presented by George IV.

    "It shows that the concept of what we regard as treasure can change dramatically over the years," he said.

    "We have documents that we now regard as priceless which were just scraps of paper when they came in. The Shakespeare was in the category which our founder, Bodley, described as 'idle books and riff-raffs'."

    The library had the first collection of Shakespeare's plays, gathered by his friends from tattered actors' copies and published seven years after his death, as loose-leaf pages straight from the printers. Bound in plain brown leather, it was among the chained books of Duke Humfrey's Library, part of the Bodleian.

    However by 1664 it acquired the Third Folio – much smarter but with six plays now regarded as not Shakespeare – and got rid of the tatty First. It vanished for centuries into private collections, and then in the late 19th century a man brought it in to the Bodleian for identification, when it was recognised by a young librarian.

    The library had to raise £3,000 to buy back the Shakespeare First Folio it had so casually disposed of. Last year another copy made £2.8m at auction.

    "It was a staggering sum of money for the library to have to raise," Hebron said. "The most they'd ever paid for a book until then was a few hundred pounds. It was a very expensive lesson."

    Hebron mourns everything he had to leave out, including the only poem in John Donne's handwriting – "not his best, but still …" – and the Audubon Birds of America, printed on pages so huge the size is known as double elephant. A copy set a new world record for any book last year at £7m.

    "This exhibition is teaching us things," Hebron said. "We now know we need a double elephant-sized display case in the new gallery."

    Treasures of the Bodleian, Oxford, 30 September-23 December

    • This article was amended on 26 September 2011. The original said rebuilding of the New Bodleian would cost £116m. This has been corrected.


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    Labour leader justifies policy as an attack on 'fast-buck' culture but critics say the change would not help poorer students

    A pledge by Ed Miliband, which would see the maximum university tuition fee cut by a third to £6,000, came under fire from across the political spectrum on the first day of the Labour conference.

    Amid confusion over whether the party would still advocate a graduate tax at the next general election, the National Union of Students joined forces with the coalition to warn that the change would do nothing to benefit poorer students.

    Miliband received a rough ride after he moved to reach out to disillusioned Liberal Democrat voters by announcing, at the annual conference, held in Liverpool for the first time, a plan for the cap on student tuition fees to be lowered from £9,000 to £6,000.

    The £800m cost of the fees change, outlined by the Labour leader in an Observer interview, would be paid in two ways.

    A cut in corporation tax for the banks would be reversed. (George Osborne announced in the budget in March that the tax would drop from 28% in 2010-11 to 23% in 2014-15.) And graduates later earning more than £65,000 would have to pay higher interest rates on their loans.

    Miliband told The Andrew Marr Show on BBC1 that the change would help Britain move away from the "fast-buck" economy. "We face big choices and tough choices in this country. Do we cut taxes for financial services, do we carry on with a fast-buck economy, or do we change course? Do we say invest in the future of our young people? I think we've got to put an end to the fast-buck era.

    "I don't think the priority for Britain is to cut taxes for financial services, and it's a big choice … a big difference between ourselves and the government."

    The Labour leader was accused overnight of a U-turn, since he opposed an increase in tuition fees last year and advocated a graduate tax. Coalition ministers pointed out that the new policy was a step back from a graduate tax and would lead to a doubling of fees from the amount bequeathed by Labour when it left office.

    David Willetts, the universities minister, said: "Ed Miliband has now accepted that tuition fees should be doubled to £6,000 a year. He has consistently supported a graduate tax and Labour MPs were whipped to vote against higher fees at the end of last year. This monumental U-turn is evidence of weak leadership."

    Miliband explained that the new policy was designed to form the centrepiece of a manifesto if an early election were held. He indicated that it remained his ambition to move towards endorsing a graduate tax by the time of the next general election if the present parliament lasted until 2015.

    "If we can do more by the time of the election [in 2015], we will," he told the BBC. "But this is an important first step."

    Willetts questioned whether the cut in the cap would benefit poorer students.

    In a letter to John Denham, the shadow business secretary, Willetts said: "Will graduates enjoy lower monthly repayments under your proposals? As you do not appear to be planning any changes to the repayment terms, it seems that monthly repayments will remain the same.

    "Moreover, there will be no benefit to the lowest-earning graduates because their entire outstanding debt is written off after 30 years, irrespective of its size. So your proposal jeopardises the funding of universities without reducing the monthly repayments paid by graduates."

    Liam Burns, president of the National Union of Students, echoed the remarks by the Tory minister when he told Sky News that the changes would do nothing to help poorer students and would end up benefiting more affluent students.

    Burns said: "This was a long-term policy. You have to think who this benefits. Because of the 30-year cut-off – in which your debt would be written off under the system being proposed – actually taking the cap down to £6,000 would benefit the richest the most."

    The NUS judgment was based on figures which showed that the alteration made no difference for students earning under £35,000. Under a £9,000 or £6,000 cap, students earning under £35,000 would be exempted from paying off the full debt.

    One coalition source said: "The winners from this policy, relative to government policy, are the highest-paid graduates because they are the group that pay off the whole debt. If you cut the total debt they enjoy benefit."

    Labour sources insisted there was no confusion about Miliband's commitment to endorsing a graduate tax, regarded by the Labour leader as being more fair. "This is a step towards a graduate tax," one source said. "We would like to go further but we can only do what is affordable."

    Denham said: "What we wanted to do was to show there is an alternative available to this government now that would cap fees – [it] would mean that universities would get all the money they have been expecting to get under the new system. It would also get away from this very pernicious 'core and margins' system where 60,000 places would get auctioned off.

    "It gives a sense of the direction of travel we want to go in for the next election … we are proposing a more progressive payment system because we are saying there should be lower fees and we are turning our back on some of the market the Tories are trying to put into place. But the direction of travel, we have always said, should be towards a graduate tax … [which] could only take place over a period of time."

    Stylewatch: Ed Miliband's conference suit

    The key to wearing a suit well, as a politician, is that you should look serious without looking ominous. A suit gives you gravitas, but it can also give you a faintly menacing air, as if you have come to repossess the telly. (See: Ed Balls.) The whiff of bailiff is to be avoided at all costs, particularly in opposition, when the silver lining is that you get to play the good guy.

    Ed Miliband does rather well with an unshowy but well-tailored suit: I don't know where it's from, but his wedding suit was by Aquascutum, and Sunday's follows a very similar line. In a dark suit, the boyish Ed has a slight tendency to look like one of the Inbetweeners in a school blazer. The silver-gray makes him look rather more grown up, and the shiny shoes add a little glamour. Jess Cartner Morley


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    Edd Bauer, vice-president for education at Birmingham Guild of Students and well-known anti-cuts activist, was arrested on 16 September for suspending a banner protesting against university fees and education cuts above a public highway during the Lib Dem party conference. He was refused bail and has been held in Winson Green prison since last Monday. His detention for a minor act of civil disobedience represents yet another attempt to criminalise peaceful protest and to dissuade other young people from taking part in movements to defend education, services and jobs. At a time when prison governors are complaining that they cannot cope with the huge increase in custodial sentences after the disturbances of the summer, what purpose is served by locking up Edd Bauer?

    If the objective is to frighten others, Edd's detention has enraged and mobilised a new layer of young protesters. If the plan is to "take out" key individuals to disrupt protest movements, the result has been to give a new set of activists a crash-course in campaigning against injustice. Edd Bauer will appear in Birmingham magistrate's court on 26 September at 3pm. We call for his release – and the right to hang our banners in peaceful protest whenever and wherever we choose.

    Prof Gargi Bhattacharyya UCU NEC

    Clare Short

    John Smith General secretary, Musicians Union

    Michael Rosen

    Paul McNab Public Interest Lawyers

    Mark Thomas

    Michael Chessum NUS NEC and NCACF

    Prof Bill Bowring

    Dr Sue Blackwell Birmingham UCU

    Zita Holbourne Co-chair BARAC

    Daniel Guedalla Birnberg Peirce

    Leslie Manasseh Deputy general secretary, Connect

    Prof Alex Miller

    Manuela da Costa-Fernandes NUJ Black Members Council

    Prof Avtar Brah

    Lorna Campbell PCS

    Prof John Gabriel

    Wilf Sullivan TUC

    Bethany Shiner Stop Kettling Our Kids

    Dr David Bailey Birmingham UCU

    Dotun Alade-Odumosu GMB

    Dr Sarah Amsler Campaign to Defend the Public University

    Mohammad Taj Unite

    Prof Les Back

    Freddie Brown Prospect

    Winston Phillips Bectu


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    With just a week to go until the first students arrive at the shiny new University of Salford campus at MediaCity, we catch up with what's happening there in the first of two visits

    As the deadline for the move fast approaches, the university's MediaCity coordinator Ben Shirley has been keeping a track of the logistics involved on his blog.

    "Students are arriving all week for an induction and tour – first they've seen of the place from the inside. They'll be back to start classes on 4th October and that is our deadline for all systems to be ready for teaching. They all seem massively impressed by the place and are fired up and ready to work here, there's lots of tweeting about the building and facilities under the #mediacityuk hashtag."

    He flags up the impressive slideshow of pictures below from the campus by colleague Helen (Heloukee on Flickr)

    I'll be getting to see round the site for myself later this week to bring you a second report on progress ahead of the big move.

    Meanwhile, in a detailed look at the development, Professor Brian Longhurst, who has strategic responsibility across the university of media, digital technologies, practices and futures, describes what's to come as an 'innovation ecosystem'

    In an article for University Alliance called Creating connections in MediaCity, he says a key approach will be linking up with other developments across the north.

    "It is very important to recognise that the confluence of activity from universities and industry will produce new understandings and new practices going forward.

    "The prize here is that Media City in working with other developments across the north of England should be able to generate new activities for the benefit not only of the north but for the UK globally."

    And he sets out the four factors which he believes success will be conditional.

    "For this to happen there are a number of conditional factors. First, universities must adopt an approach that drives open innovation; second, student talent development will be at the core of that innovation; third, the student experience must be of high quality; fourth, research and development projects should be constructed in all ways from day one so that the relationships between academia and external partners are as cohesive as possible."

    Fame school plans

    In another boost for education at the Salford site the BBC reports that a new 'Brit School' could be created by 2013.

    Former education secretary Lord Baker said it would be "very sensible" to have a performing arts centre, established on the same lines as south London's Brit School which has produced alumni, such as Adele, Jessie J and Leona Lewis. Speaking at that school's 20th anniversary celebrations he said:

    "I'm very hopeful that, under this new type of college, we're going to establish a new Brits School... very similar to yours."

    Other MediaCity news

    * If the Boundary Commission gets its way, we won't be able to refer to the MediaCity in Salford for much longer as the proposed re-drawing of the parliamentary map would shift it into Manchester. A move which ManchesterConfidential wryly notes would result in Sir Howard and his town hall pals getting their wish after all. The Salford Advertiser finds it all rather less amusing and has started a petition to keep the city's separate identity and not 'dismantle 179 years of parliamentary history'.

    * First came Barcmap - now there could be another of the great digital mainstays setting in the shape of a TED inspired TEDX event. MediaCityBlog reports on International Relations and Politics student Mishal Saeed's plans for the student-driven event at The Egg. Irene Khan, the first woman and Asian to be President of Amnesty International and a world renowned human rights activist, lawyer and Chancellor of Salford has been confirmed as a guest speaker. Any local students who are interested in getting involved in the project should email info[at]tedxsalford.com by 1st October.
    You can follow TEDx Salford on Twitter @tedxsalford and http://www.facebook.com/TEDxSalford.

    * Wigan-based digital marketing agency, Parker Sandford Digital (PSD), has opened an office at The Greenhouse. CreativeBoom reports the company, established in 1999, offers a range of services including marketing strategy, brand development, website creation, online advertising and search engine optimisation.

    * News that this year's BBC Sports Personality of the Year will be broadcast live from the studios of MediaCityUK, prompted some excitable reaction in some quarters because only a limited number of places will be available for the public for the December 22 bash. A BBC spokeswoman told me that the smaller studio means a smaller audience, however she revealed that details of a small number of free public tickets to the main show will be allotted through a ballot system and that further details will be announced once the set design plans have been
    confirmed.

    * Those relocators looking to furnish their swanky aaprtments will be pleased to note the opening of the Marks & Spencer furniture and home accessories outlet at theLowry Outlet Mall. Place North West says the 5,885 sq ft unit is located near to the Gap outlet store on the ground floor and is an addition to its existing store.

    * The Natter has news of a light show that will illuminate the area in the run-up to Christmas to celebrate 'unsung heroes' of Salford. Eighty artists and artists groups were invited to come up with ideas for a display and the commission has been awarded to KMA, a collaboration between UK media artists Kit Monkman and Tom Wexler.

    They will project images onto the buildings at Salford Quays reflecting its changing history over the years. Not too long to wait for that but in the meantime - there's always some timelapse to light up the area.

    That's all for now but don't forget we'll be bringing you regular updates from MediaCity (Subscribe to RSS here) so if you have any news or views to share please feel free to mention it via the comments below or contact me on Twitter or email


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    43% of sexually active 16-to-19-year-olds admit to unprotected sex with new partner compared with 36% in 2009, finds study

    The proportion of young people admitting to having had unprotected sex with a new partner has risen over the past two years, according to a study.

    A study of British 16-to-19-year-olds has shown 61% have had sex, with 43% of those who were sexually active admitting to having had sex with a new partner without using contraception compared with 36% in 2009.

    Of those who admitted having had unprotected sex with a new partner, 23% said they had done so because their partner did not like using contraception, while 15% said they had been drunk and forgot.

    The proportion of girls and young women who said they had a close friend or family member who had an unplanned pregnancy rose from 36% in 2009 to 55% this year.

    Only 55% said they considered themselves to be very well-informed about all contraceptive options available compared with 62% of boys and young men, according to the study.

    A total of 16% of both sexes said they believed the "withdrawal method" was an effective form of contraception.

    Nearly one in five girls and young women – 19% – and 16% of boys and young men said they did not receive any kind of sex education at school, with 16% of both sexes saying they did not trust their teachers to provide accurate and unbiased information about contraceptive choices.

    Researchers surveyed 200 British young people as part of a study of 6,026 15-to-24-year-olds in 29 countries conducted in April and May.

    The findings have been released to coincide with world contraception day, a campaign to improve awareness of contraception.

    Jennifer Woodside, of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, said: "What the results show is that too many young people either lack good knowledge about sexual health, do not feel empowered enough to ask for contraception or have not learned the skills to negotiate contraceptive use with their partners to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies or sexual transmitted infections (STIs).

    "What young people are telling us is that they are not receiving enough sex education or the wrong type of information about sex and sexuality.

    "It should not come as a surprise then that the result is many young people having unprotected sex and that harmful myths continue to flourish in place of accurate information."


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    It's an excellent essay that has proved to be prescient. I quote from it during my City University lectures (a new series of which start today, incidentally) because it sums up my own fears about the wayward direction journalism has taken and is taking.

    My favourite extract:

    "For more than fifteen years we have been moving away from real journalism toward the creation of a sleazoid info-tainment culture in which the lines between Oprah and Phil and Geraldo and Diane and even Ted, between
    the New York Post and Newsday, are too often indistinguishable.

    In this new culture of journalistic titillation, we teach our readers and our viewers that the trivial is significant, that the lurid and the loopy are more important than real news. We do not serve our readers and viewers, we pander to them."

    Remember, he wrote that in 1992. You'll find Bernstein's piece in pdf form here on his own website. I can't locate it on The New Republic website.


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    Is the accepted wisdom about students being uninterested in cooking still accurate or is it a myth kept alive by those who graduated years or decades ago?

    The opening scene of new student comedy Fresh Meat last week showed a young man surrounded by a string of Peking ducks and armed with the trusty hairdryer in an attempt to speed up the drying out process. Such ambition in the kitchen (with or without pants) isn't what we normally associate with student cooks, but however unlikely the scenario, it seems that things are slowly moving towards a healthier attitude to cooking on campus.

    A friend tells me that when his daughter left for university this week she had, among books, clothes and music, armed herself with fresh ingredients to make a ragu for her new housemates. That may not be at the top of most freshers' agendas but it's an ideal way to make new friends. Another used his phone to send a picture of a healthy stir-fry he'd made to stop his mum worrying about him.

    And there are other signs that students are taking food more seriously than they did when I started writing about it eight years ago. A number have been blogging, including Elly McCausland of Nutmegs, seven and Emma Gardner of Poires au Chocolat who have since graduated, the slightly less intimidatingly professional The Uni Cookbook from Ann-Kathrin Lindemann which focuses on under 30 minute recipes and Sara's Student Savings which offers "cheap (very occasionally free!) recipes for eating well on a student budget."

    There's also a dedicated student food website called Student Cooking TV to which a number of unis have signed up. It includes more student staples such as chilli con carne and tuna-stuffed spuds as well as useful tips on how, for instance, to de-seed a chilli and a guide to British meat cuts (obviously designed for international students who are more interested in cooking from scratch).

    Slow Food also now has a Slow Food on Campus campaign which is currently taking a cooking bus round to various freshers' fairs. While the movement doesn't quite yet have the momentum of Slow Food in the US which has over 40 chapters, the 10 UK groups are already using their Facebook page to discuss getting together for (presumably) lengthy meals.

    All of which is good news, given we're in a hard-to-crack job market, and catering and food retailing are both industries with huge potential for those with a bit of cooking and ingredient know-how.

    However, despite these encouraging signs, the stereotype of the student living on Pot Noodles is the one that's perpetuated by the media and retailers are still targeting on that basis. Where I live in Bristol the two local supermarkets stay open till 11pm - largely for students - and the shelves are crammed with ready meals. Fine for those who want to snatch a snack but not for those who want to keep down the cost of what they're eating or to show off a bit in the kitchen.

    It all makes me wonder if the accepted wisdom about students being uninterested in cooking doesn't come from today's students but from those who were at uni years or decades ago. Are we secretly conniving in the old stereotype in a nostalgic bid to recapture the grubby kitchens and mould-infested fridges of our youth?


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    It was the first ever issue of the Guardian - and our first attempt at data journalism
    Get the 1821 data
    Download the original PDF

    Data journalism is not new: the very first Guardian - or Manchester Guardian as it then was - in May 1821 contained a table of data. For the first time, we've extracted that table so you can see it for yourselves.

    The data would seem uncontroversial today: a list of schools in Manchester and Salford, with how many pupils attended each one and average annual spending. It told us, for the first time, how many pupils received free education - and how many poor children there were in the city.

    In today's world of Ofsted reports and education department school rankings, this list would not seem unusual. In 1821, it caused a sensation. Leaked to the Guardian by a credible source only identified as "NH", it showed how official estimates of only 8,000 children receiving free education were inaccurate - in fact the total was nearer 25,000.

    In 1821 the official statistics for the city were collected by just four clergymen, an impossible task and one which resulted in inaccurate and faulty data.

    The list that the Guardian printed gave a true picture for the first time. Some of the schools still exist today: the Blue Coat school in Oldham is one, which dates back to 1810.

    Much education at the time was provided by Sunday schools, as many children had to work during the week. In fact, education was not compulsory until 1880. St Clements & St Luke's of Bennett street, was "perhaps, the largest school in the kingdom" with 1,906 pupils. This movement was the forerunner of the state education system, teaching 1.25m children in Britain by 1831. It was a huge political and religious movement, far removed from the Sunday schools of today.

    The table is also a product of its time: the "establishment" referred to in the table is the Church of England. All other denominations were "dissenters", including Catholicism (anti-Catholic legislation was not liberalised until 1829). The data also refers to offertory money - church collections, in other words.

    NH's reasons for supplying the data were clear:


    At all times such information it contains is valuable; because without knowing … the best opinions which can be formed of the condition and future progress of society must be necessarily incorrect.

    In other words, without knowing the state of society, how can things ever get any better? This was using data to help fight for a decent education system.

    The tools we have to analyse the data may have changed; that motivation has stayed exactly the same.

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