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The pretend gardener: student discovers hidden life of Renaissance spy

Mon, 26/12/2016 - 22:57

Believed for years to be a landscape designer, a Cambridge historian’s research into Constantino de’ Servi suggests covert activity

Something odd emerged as a Cambridge student began to research the work of a Renaissance garden designer: although the 16th century Italian artist, sculptor and designer Costantino de’ Servi travelled constantly and never seemed to be short of a bob, he seemed to have completed very few gardens - or any other kind of work.

Wherever there was trouble in Europe, however, be it wars rumbling, alliances being forged, or regime change threatened, de’ Servi seemed to pop up. Then the historian discovered that wherever the supposed gardener travelled and whoever he was nominally working for – and he got as far west as the court of James I in London, and as far east as Persia – he remained on the payroll of one of the richest and most powerful families in Europe, the Medici of Florence. Like any good modern spy who keeps a low profile, there is no known portrait of him.

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Engineering's stark racial inequalities revealed by report

Mon, 26/12/2016 - 15:43

Being black or minority ethnic bigger barrier to employment than any other factor finds Royal Academy of Engineering

Black engineering graduates are less likely to find jobs than white students with lower second or third class degrees, according to a report that reveals stark inequalities within the profession.

The review, by the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng), found that being black or minority ethnic was a bigger obstacle to employment than any other factor considered, including degree classification, attending a less prestigious university or gender.

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Rise in primary school pupils suspended for racist abuse

Mon, 26/12/2016 - 14:25

Department for Education figures show number of exclusions for racist behaviour up by a third in five years

The number of primary school pupils suspended for racist abuse has increased by a third in five years, official figures show.

Department for Education statistics reveal that 430 children between the ages of five and 11 were given fixed period or permanent exclusions from their schools in the 2014-15 academic year because of racist behaviour. That is 110 more than in the 2009-10 academic year, when 320 pupils were suspended for the same reason.

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Could online tutors and artificial intelligence be the future of teaching?

Mon, 26/12/2016 - 07:00

Online maths company has partnered with scientists to identify what makes lessons successful - and to see if AI can be used to improve teaching

Ambar presses her hand to her forehead, nose crinkled in concentration as she considers the question on her screen: how many sevens in 91? The ten-year-old has been grappling with it for about a minute when she smiles: “13!”.

Her tutor responds by posting a large smiley cat picture on her screen – the virtual equivalent of a pat on the back. He is sitting on the other side of the world in an online tutoring centre in India.

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Experts call for official guidelines on child screen use

Sun, 25/12/2016 - 16:00

Educationalists, psychologists and authors also call for a minister for children to try to address ‘toxic’ nature of childhood

A group of leading authors, educationalists and child-development experts is calling on the government to introduce national guidelines on the use of screens, amid concern about the impact on children’s physical and mental health.

It is one of a series of measures outlined in a letter to the Guardian, highlighting what it describes as the increasingly “toxic” nature of childhood, and signed by 40 senior figures, including the author Philip Pullman, the former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the psychotherapist Susie Orbach and the childcare expert Penelope Leach.

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Screen-based lifestyle harms children’s health | Letters

Sun, 25/12/2016 - 16:00

A decade ago our first multiple-signatory “toxic childhood” press letter described how children’s health and wellbeing were being undermined by the decline of outdoor play, increasingly screen-based lifestyles, a hyper-competitive schooling system and the unremitting commercialisation of childhood.

Despite widespread public concern, subsequent policymaking has been half-hearted, short-termist and disjointedly ineffective. The above factors continue to affect children adversely, with “school and cool” displacing active, self-directed play at an ever-earlier age. Physical health problems like obesity continue to escalate, and mental health problems among children and young people are approaching crisis levels. As well as the intense distress caused to families, there are obviously longer-term social and economic consequences for society as a whole.

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Literary quiz 2016: Christmas in books and music

Sun, 25/12/2016 - 10:00

From Silas Marner to Shakespeare to Slade – brainteasers for the festive season

Which story begins with a Christmas goose being dropped in the street?

Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Blue Carbuncle”

Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

Charles Dickens’s The Haunted Man

In which literary work does a man dressed as a woman fall in love with a woman dressed as a man at Christmas?

In which literary work does a man dressed as a woman fall in love with a woman dressed as a man at Christmas?

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Twelfth Night

War and Peace

Who regrets the vulgarity of Christmas while Christmas shopping?

Emma Woodhouse in Emma

Mary Smith in Cranford

Margaret Schlegel in Howards End

Which story features a mur-der-ous Christmas Day Punch and Judy show?

Henry James’s “The Pretty Corner”

MR James’s “The Story of an Appearance and a Disappearance”

Charles Dickens’s “The Trial for Murder”

The protagonist of which novel sets out one Christmas on a long sea voyage?

Treasure Island


Robinson Crusoe

A misanthrope’s neighbour tries to tempt him to church at Christmas by having her son sing carols to him and offering him lard cakes, in which novel?

Silas Marner

A Handful of Dust

Wuthering Heights

In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, what presents does Father Christmas give Lucy?

A bow and arrows

A shield and a sword

A healing cordial and a dagger

What is John Masefield, author of 1935 festive classic The Box of Delights, also known for?

He was astronomer royal

He was poet laureate

He was dean of Westminster Abbey

In Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising, set over Christmas, which figure from English mythology makes an appearance?


Herne the Hunter


From which town did Dr Seuss’s Grinch steal Christmas?




In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, what do the Dursleys give Harry for Christmas?

An invisibility cloak

Bertie Botts’ vomit-flavoured jellybeans

A 50-pence piece

Who says “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents”?

Katy in What Katy Did

Jo March in Little Women

Laura in Little House on the Prairie

In which year did “Merry Xmas Every-body” by Slade reach No 1?




In which film did the song “White Christmas” first appear?

White Christmas

Going My Way

Holiday Inn

Which much-loved artist had the UK No 1 Christmas single in 1993?

Cliff Richard

Mr Blobby

Michael Jackson

Which song has twice been Christmas No 1 for the same artist(s)?

"Mary's Boy Child"

"Do They Know It's Christmas"

"Bohemian Rhapsody"

Who released the 2009 album Christmas in the Heart?

Robbie Williams

Paul McCartney

Bob Dylan

Chris Rea’s “Driving Home for Christmas” was inspired by a journey from London to where?




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Our top 10 Secret Teachers of 2016

Sat, 24/12/2016 - 07:00

After another year uncovering the reality of school life, we pick our winning Secret Teachers bloggers

Each week over the past tumultuous year of teaching, one of our Secret Teachers has lifted the lid on issues from the classroom. Here are our 2016 favourites – let us know yours in the comments or via Twitter (@GuardianTeach) and Facebook. And if you’d like to be a Secret Teacher in the new year, get in touch.

Parents, your ‘treats’ ruined our school trip
“I suffered a sense of humour failure at 3.15am on day four of our recent residential trip …” – and so began one of our most popular Secret Teacher pieces this year. Warning: it includes contraband Haribo, wads of missing cash and some seriously sleep-deprived teachers.

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Jewish students' union denies claims of rife antisemitism at UK universities

Fri, 23/12/2016 - 19:09

The Union of Jewish Students challenged the claim, made by Ruth Deech, that certain universities are being avoided

The Union of Jewish Students has dismissed a claim by Britain’s first higher education adjudicator, Ruth Deech, that some are avoiding certain universities due to rife antisemitism.

But, while the group said her claim did not reflect the experiences of many Jewish students, who were perfectly comfortable on campus, it also acknowledged that there had been a recent spate of high-profile antisemitic incidents.

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David Lloyd obituary

Fri, 23/12/2016 - 15:40

My father, David Lloyd, who has died aged 86 after living for 15 years with Parkinson’s, was a musician and peripatetic teacher in North Yorkshire who also ran a Saturday morning music centre in York.

David loved his teaching job with North Yorkshire county council schools, which included running wind bands, orchestras and recorder groups. He was held in great affection by his pupils, but promotion to administration left him utterly miserable. Taking early retirement in the mid-1980s, he applied to Leeds University, where he studied philosophy, and then history of art. “I’m a student, you know,” became his catchphrase.

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School cleaners who went on strike over pay sacked before Christmas

Fri, 23/12/2016 - 10:50

Jeremy Corbyn condemns dismissal of Kinsley school trio who protested against wage cuts after service was outsourced

Three long-serving primary school cleaners, who went on strike over claims their wages and conditions were cut when a private company took over the contract, have been sacked days before Christmas.

The women – Lesley Leake, Marice Hall and Karen McGee – sparked a debate over outsourcing when they went on strike for 14 weeks after their school in West Yorkshire was turned into an academy earlier this year.

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Academics Anonymous: top 10 secret blogs of 2016

Fri, 23/12/2016 - 07:00

These warts-and-all accounts give us an invaluable insight into university life. Here are our favourites from the past 12 months

It’s been another fascinating year for Academics Anonymous, with our writers taking on topics as diverse as social media, strike action and sexual harassment. To all of our contributors: thank you. And if you’d like to shine your own light on some dark corner of university life, do get in touch.

It’s hard to single out favourites, but here are the 10 that struck the loudest chord this year.

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