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Grand Metropolitan plc, the conglomerate whose innovative staffing techniques included paying young employees at Burger King only for busy times of day - Pounds 1 for a five-hour shift in one case -has a wider interest in youth training.

In the guise of the Grand Metropolitan Trust, it is the "preferred bidder" for - which is to say, near certain to get - a contract to run the careers service for much of south London. Its work will include advising and counselling many deprived and poorly educated school leavers who may well have considered work in fast food outlets, for example.

Gillian Shephard was forced to abandon her South American jaunt, a 17-expert trip to promote "British educational and training excellence" in Brazil and Argentina.

But politics got in the way again and the pocket supremo was instead obliged to spend a country weekend taking down instructions from Britain's foremost educationist, John Major. The Latins were fobbed off with Lord Henley.

It may be that Mrs Shephard had no great wish to preach to the assorted ranchers about the merits of the GNVQ. After all she had an important financial case to make at Chequers: her department needs more money, not more wheezes. A point made most conveniently on her behalf by some judicious leaker of memos.

Her presence may have averted a stab in the back - along with a number of more tangible jabs. In his new role as salesman, poor old Henley had to queue up for two last-minute needles in the arm and one in the posterior, as a relieved member of the ministerial team was rather too keen to explain.

A mystery when Carborundum last tried to contact Jim Pawsey, MP for Rugby and Kenilworth and chair of the Conservative backbench education committee. "He's away on official business," said a non-communicative secretary. "I'm afraid I can't tell you where." Yes, she did know where he was; no, she wouldn't let on.

Now the truth is out: Mr Pawsey was on a fact-finding mission to Turkish-controlled and definitely non-PC northern Cyprus along with Christian luminary Lady Olga Maitland and five other MPs.

Where, to make matters worse, he was accused of behaving like a lager lout. "Many in the party seemed embarrassed by Jim Pawsey's behaviour," said a witness to the revelry, Lyn Fowler, in The Times. "He kept shouting, 'the wine is on the house'."

Ms Fowler, a housing officer with Coventry Council and one of Mr Pawsey's constituents, found herself in the vicinity of the ambassadorial gathering. She has written a letter of complaint to John Major.

Mr Pawsey denied there had been any misbehaviour: "I cannot recall any banging on tables, " he said. "The atmosphere was very light-hearted and cheerful. "

Fellow Conservative Anthony Steen backed him up by explaining that, "I don't think this was anything other than Jim's bonhomie."

To Bath University and the European Conference on Educational Research, a meeting which supposedly brings together some of the finest minds in the field. The earnest discussion is rudely interrupted by the shrilling of a mobile phone which, as the cloistered academics are astonished to learn, has been activated by the Prime Minister's office.

Further proof of the grey man's interest in the timeless truths of education? Not quite. It appears that No 10 was after one Ruth Deakin, foundation governor and leading light of Oak Hill, the Christian school near Bristol. Oak Hill is hoping to boost the numbers of grant-maintained schools by "opting in" from the private sector.

The Gilberd grant-maintained school in Colchester, Essex, makes a notable appearance in John Major's latest panacea for Britain's sporting ills, his Sport: Raising the Game policy document.

The Gilberd is shown offering wall-to-wall volleyball, trampolining, badminton, football, dance, and so on. A performance calculated to stiffen moral sinews.

Equally unusual is the Gilberd's financial record. Three months ago the head, Len Brazier, was told to repay Pounds 1,340 of entertaining and clothing expenses - the result, he said, of a misunderstanding about the deal he was given when he moved to the school from the West Country. Parents at the Gilberd got a further surprise when a newly appointed chair of governors resigned after it emerged that he had a conviction for financial deception.

Meanwhile, the Funding Agency for Schools has asked external auditors to look at the school's finances; the report is now written and in the hands of the Secretary of State. Which, as the FAS privately concedes, is likely to mean that the recommendations will be worth watching.

Whatever they feel about their mums and dads, both Gillian Shephard and her opposite number, David Blunkett, have a penchant for the poems of Philip Larkin.

In an interview for Radio 4's Poetry Please, to be broadcast next month, both politicians pick the work of the gloomy northern cyclist. "Life is first boredom, then fear. Whether or not we use it, it goes," as Mr Larkin once put it.

David Blunkett, whose own poetic works are published this week in his autobiography, On a Clear Day, chooses "No Road" while Mrs Shephard goes for "Cut Grass". The bedside reading of the Education Secretary also includes the Welsh poet R S Thomas and a song from Shakespeare's Euro-sceptic play, Cymbeline, which outrageously suggests that Romans, and Italians generally, are sneaky and conniving.

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