2nd May 1997, 1:00am



The fun and games at the Department for Education and Employment today as they await the arrival of the new team should supersede the hunt for the instigator of a most peculiar submission to the sainted Sir Ron Dearing.

Sir Ron is currently engaging his crystal ball - and various committees - to establish some picture of how higher education might work in the next century. To that end, organisations in the know are being asked to give Sir Ron the benefit of their expertise.

So when the submission from Sanctuary Buildings turned up, no one really questioned its provenance. Even when it caused uproar among the academic community for its contention that the expansion of student numbers should be capped because the country was heading for an oversupply of graduates.

That wasn't the problem. The problem was that none of the senior bods at the DFEE - not even its Board - had authorised the thing. Its status was roughly that of the rogue briefings which ex-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher used to fish out of her handbag during Cabinet meetings, causing fear and consternation among ministers and civil servants alike.

Nobody noticed anything odd about the submission until it was quoted by ex-MP George Walden in the House, attracted a bit of publicity - and then all hell broke loose. The hunt has been on to find who sent the thing to Sir Ron. And why.

One man happy to be out of the melee at Sanctuary Buildings today is Jim Coe, ex-director of (mis)information. Months ago, the veteran stalwart on early mad cow disease, salmonella in eggs, and miscellaneous Margaret Thatcher campaigns decided that getting to know one more Secretary of State was a prospect not to be faced. So he announced his early retirement, to take effect on polling day.

But don't feel sorry for him. Come early summer, Mr Coe will be firmly ensconced in his new job: director of public relations at London University's School of Oriental and African Studies. "One of my duties will be fund-raising, so I'm hoping to be doing a lot of travelling," Mr Coe says happily.

The proprietor of SOAS is one Sir Tim Lankester. Name seem a trifle familiar? It should. He was the permanent secretary at the Department for Education, before it was merged with Employment and he lost out to Michael Bichard, his opposite number. Jobs for the boys? Carborundum asks Mr Coe. He grins. "You could say that."

As the nation heaves a collective sigh of relief that six weeks of electoral torment are finally over and the politicians are going to ignore us for another five years, a polite little note may be wending its way over to the battle-shocked Tory HQ in Smith Square.

It concerns a subject close to the heart of every teacher nervous about inserting yet another textbook into the photocopier: copyright.

A high point of the Conservative campaign was when party chairman Brian Mawhinney went on the offensive with Labour's War Book, handing out photocopies of the Opposition's purloined battle plan to journalists willy-nilly. With a fine - if unintentional - sense of the moment, the Conservatives chose William Shakespeare's birthday for this revelation, which also happens to be World Book and Copyright Day.

"The trouble is that those photocopies were illegal, because the Conservative party doesn't have a copyright licence," confides Ben Rich, an expert on such things. He adds, chirpily: "But I don't suppose they were aware of the significance of the day when they did it."

Being made aware of a high-profile breach of copyright is probably the least of Dr Mawhinney's problems this morning, but he may be reassured to learn that of the three major parties only the Lib Dems is actually in possession of a Licence to Photocopy. But still, teachers who find themselves running off an extra sheaf of copies of that particularly useful worksheet may think they are now in good - if naughty - company.

Mr Rich, who works for a self-styled "issues management consultant" (public relations company to you and me) is in possession of more fascinating facts. He adds: "It is a Catalan tradition that on World Books Day a husband gives his wife a red rose and she gives him a book." Who knows - or cares - what all this means for New (purple) Labour?

A delightful fax arrives. "The headteacher of a large Surrey GM school received a letter of complaint from a parent about the treatment of their son by 'the funny little man in charge of the dinner queue'. The pupil said that the man definitely wasn't a teacher and didn't know his name. The funny little man turned out to be the headteacher.

"This raises some interesting questions: Will the new headteacher qualification include training on dinner queue discipline? Are our headteachers now so far removed from the classroom that the pupils do not even know who they are? Should our headteachers spend more time at the sharp end of the classroom rather than the sharp end of the dinner queue?

"I'm afraid that the headteacher's reply to the parent is not available. "

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