MANCHESTER SCHOOLS ARE TOP OF THE LEAGUE, well a few of them at least! Last week the government league tables came out, with detailed information about the performance of schools throughout the country. The data consists of an array of grades, percentages, one's, noughts and decimal points, perhaps requiring a GCSE in statistical analysis to make sense of them.

In summary, the results for Manchester area schools are both good and not so good: Jeff Joseph Technology College, Sale Moor is most improved state-funded school in the country, and Whalley Range High School for Girls now has one of the best attendance rates, a magnificent turnaround from 4 years ago, when it had one of the worst. Levenshulme High School, King David School, Crumpsall and Parrs Wood High School are other names that come in for praise. But one of Manchester's biggest problems appears to be truancy. Ducie High School comes out with worst record of unauthorised half day absences in Greater Manchester and St Gregory's RC High School, Openshaw has the next worst truancy level. Teachers at Ducie High School refuted the "worst truancy" label, saying that their figures are a result of the fact that their records system for absences and pastoral care is exceptionally good.

Among independent schools, Christ the King, Sale, Hulme Grammar for girls, Oldham, and Manchester Jewish Grammar appear at the top of the list. Trafford is the only Greater Manchester borough that still has grammar schools: Altrincham Girls, Urmston, Altrincham boys, Loreto and Sale are in the top handful for that borough. I'm tempted to quote the top schools for each area, but that would be misleading - just because a school comes out one point above another one doesn't mean it's better. Teachers unions say the league tables can't be relied upon as being accurate, as they don't take other factors into account, including social deprivation in some areas. I once taught in secondary schools - one in north Manchester - before moving to FE. After that experience, I have the greatest admiration for secondary school teachers! You can see the league tables for the whole country on the BBC website

THE M6 IS FORTY YEARS OLD THIS WEEK. The first section, known then as the Preston By-Pass, was opened in 1958. The M61 was one of the next motorways to be built - the Barton Bridge over the Manchester Ship Canal can be seen in scene from "A Taste of Honey" made in 1961. In those days the average speed of motorway traffic was 54 miles per hour. There was no speed limit and crash barriers were non-existent. Today, the M61 has been renamed the M60 and is one of the busiest motorways in the country. The M6 is the main highway for north-westerners south, but a section in Cheshire between junction 19 at Knutsford and 18 at Holmes Chapel appears to have become a death trap: In the last four months, eight people have been killed in various accidents. The Highways Agency are looking into it. I drove in both directions on Saturday, taking Ann to Heathrow (she's gone to the Philippines for Christmas), but I didn't see any accidents.

TALKING OF NORTH AND SOUTH, 95% OF RESPONDENTS TO AN MEN POLL on the so-called "North-South Divide" this week thought the South of England was getting wealthier at the expense of the North of England. The difference is striking - on the way back from I visited Eton and Windsor and was impressed with the wealth that successive generations of Royalty have brought. If only the Queen lived in Beswick or Openshaw!

MORE AND MORE TOURISTS ARE COMING TO MANCHESTER - the city is number three for provincial tourist destinations, behind Birmingham and Oxford. Over 300,000 foreign visitors stayed in the city of Manchester - the figure for Greater Manchester was 539,000. This is more than York and Bath, and the numbers are growing year by year. . Marketing Manchester is the body set up to do just that - promote Manchester to the world - its new Chief Executive Victoria Gregory said she was thrilled by the report, published by the British Tourist Authority. Just to put our figures into perspective, 12.3m foreign tourists went to London last year.

THE HARDROCK CAFE IS COMING TO MANCHESTER - it will be one of the star attractions of the Printworks development, currently under construction near the Corn Exchange. The walls of the eatery will be adorned with pictures of Manchester's pop stars - 200 diners will be accommodated. Other attractions at the Printworks will be a multi-screen cinema, shops, bars and a huge civic square.

THE LOWRY WAS TOPPED OUT ON WEDNESDAY - Culture Secretary Chris Smith was in attendance. And the new arts complex will include the "Digital World Centre", which will focus on multimedia, virtual reality and internet technologies. And an invention developed at UMIST may help to standardise colour - Imagemaster software, developed seven years ago, is used by clothing and cosmetics manufacturers. The system will be on show in the Millenium Dome. Interesting fact: More people are employed in Salford Quays now than ever worked there when it was the Manchester Docks.

MANCHESTER IS LOSING ITS POPULATION - 10,800 residents moved out of the city between 1991 and 1997 - meanwhile outlying districts have seen a population increase - especially Warrington, which saw a rise of 4,400 people. Councillor Richard Leese says it's a transitionary phase as old housing is being replaced by new. The trend for city living will increase, and by the middle of the next decade, more than 10,000 people will be living in the centre, up from 2000 a few years ago. The movement is being driven by people like Tom Bloxham of Urban Splash, the company that converts old warehouses into plush apartments.

JIM SELIGMAN, RESIGNED ON SATURDAY AS CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF MANCHESTER COMMONWEALTH GAMES. Accountant David Leather is said to have taken over Mr Seligman's job, though according to other reports, the job was to have remained vacant. The resignation was said to be amicable, but there now seems to be something of a black cloud hanging over the whole Commonwealth Games issue. Some people are expressing doubts about the financial aspects of the Games, in particular about sponsorship and the cost to the City Council of staging the event. This evening Graham Stringer, former City Council leader, now MP, spoke on TV from Westminster and said preparations for the Games were fully on track. It will cost 60m to stage the Games, but only a small proportion of that has been secured so far.

A MONORAIL MAY TAKE SHOPPERS TO THE TRAFFORD CENTRE - It's one of the proposals currently under scrutiny - the other two possibilities are a Metrolink line and a railway link. It would be great to see a monorail in Manchester - I thought the one in Seattle was great. And MEN journalist Fiona Murray, with her two year old daughter Daisy, did a comparison between the Trafford Centre and Manchester City Centre. The result: Trafford Centre 17, Manchester City Centre: 18.

CHRIS OFILI, THE LONGSIGHT BORN ARTIST FAMOUS IN THE MEDIA FOR USING CAMEL DUNG in his pictures, has won the Turner Prize. Though some regard the use of animal excreta as a gimmick, others praise the paintings using words such as "gritty", "exhilarating" and "amazing". I'll be visiting his exhibition at the Whitworth Art Gallery this week - Don't expect to see any dung attached to pictures in Eyewitness in Manchester yet - it's not compatible even with version 4 browsers!

SALFORD'S HOPE HOSPITAL HAS HAD SOME SUCCESS STORIES recently - last week premature baby Courtney Brook was able to go home - she was born last September at 24 weeks weighing 1lb 11oz, but thanks to staff at Hope, she has pulled through and looks to have a bright future. And on Friday came the remarkable story of baby Tiffany Taylor, who didn't breathe for forty minutes after her birth. She was thought to be still-born until her father Tommy O'Connor held her and felt her breathing. Miraculously she came back to life though doctors say she has cerebral palsy - how serious it will be will only be known later. The couple are going to complain to the hospital about the handling of the case. And there were more babies in the spotlight today - when Manchester Fertility Services celebrated 11 years, during which it has helped to bring 1,177 babies into the world.


THE BEARDED FACE OF DR HAROLD SHIPMAN appeared on national tv screens for the umpteenth time again this evening. Each time the story is reported on TV, they play the same piece of video footage of the doctor from Hyde walking up to the camera, speaking to the interviewer and getting into his car - I presume it was taken outside his surgery in Hyde before his arrest. - Yet another body was exhumed during the early hours by the police - this one from Dukinfield Cemetery. The deceased is Sarah Ashworth, who died several years ago. The death certificate, showing Dr Shipman's name, was flashed across TV screens. He has already been accused of 8 murders, and will tomorrow appear in court in Liverpool. He's been committed for trial at Preston Crown Court. Meanwhile, a doctor in Bury has been accused of incompetence, in Manchester, the cervical cancer screening programme has been criticised for not screening the minimum 80% of women, and Hale-based Transform Medical Group has been accused for making false claims about its cosmetic surgery services, and giving treatment to people who don't need it.

TWO MEN FROM CHEADLE ARE IN HOSPITAL IN SPAIN after a horrific gas explosion. Mel Thomas, 51 and Eric Stevens, 41 had returned to their apartment in Tenerife when the explosion occurred. They suffered extensive burns and were flown to Seville on the Spanish mainland. They are described as being gravely ill.

PERFORMANCES THIS WEEK INCLUDE Puss in Boots at the Library Theatre, the LSO and the Manchester Camerata at the Bridgewater Hall, Dick Whittington at the Oldham Coliseum, and the Smash Hits tour at the Apollo, Ardwick. Hindle Wakes continues at the Royal Exchange Theatre. And Carl Palmer reports in the MEN "Diary" that Moss Side threesome Cleopatra will be singing at the Pope's Christmas concert. And as reported last week, the Capitol Theatre, Parrs Wood Road is under demolition - I just caught as the contractors were preparing to start work.

"THE DAY THE SKY FELL DOWN" is the name of a new book about the Stockport Air Disaster, written by Woodley resident Steve Morin. The accident happened in 1967 - I remember the crash quite clearly, I was a pupil at Our Lady's Primary School, Shaw Heath, only a short distance from the crash site at Hopes Carr, near Hillgate - but Steve says it's Stockport's "forgotten disaster" - many local residents were unaware of it, despite a memorial finally put up this year. He's spent five years writing the book and has published it himself. It's available in bookshops at 9.99, or you can phone Steve on (0161) 406 8399.


AFTER REQUESTS FROM READERS YOU CAN NOW READ ALL ABOUT THE PHOTOS IN EYEWITNESS IN MANCHESTER - On an experimental basis, I've added a text description page which you can look at by clicking on "text" - in some browsers this loads a pop-up window - close the window by clicking in the corner. In others browsers, a new page is loaded - to go back, use the "back" button. But most importantly of all you will be able to add your comments to each photo! Soon I'll use a Perl script so these "guestbooks for every photo" will be updated automatically - in the meantime I'll do it manually. Browse photos 650 through 663.

THANKS TO A FANTASTIC PIECE OF FTP software from down under (Anarchie Pro, by Stairways Software), my file transfer problem has been solved. Please report any blank areas on photos, so I can replace the files using the new program, which I downloaded this evening. Well done Aussies!

AND FINALLY, PLEASE DON'T FORGET TO SEND YOUR CHRISTMAS GREETINGS to your loved ones across the world via cyberspace - Just go to the front page of Mancheser Online, and you'll find a link to a special Christmas Greetings page.

THE WEATHER THIS WEEK HAS BEEN A MIXTURE OF GLORIOUS SUNSHINE, MIST AND ICY COLD. Last Wednesday was a cold crisp winter's day full of sunshine and blue skies, but Thursday was misty, and still cold. Friday was sunny again, and Saturday was partly cloudy. Sunday was also sunny and cold - the ponds around the Irwell Valley at Clifton were frozen over - Clouds came later in the afternoon, which spoiled my photographic pleasure! Yesterday we had a brief flurry of snow. Today was mostly cloudy - it's getting milder, cloudier and rainer - bah! Current EWM temperature is 44/7. I'm currently redoing the reader messages section - recent messages will appear soon. In the meantime, do please browse photos 650 through 663 - I have one reader message there, describing a picture.


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