Graham Fowler eavesdrops on a discussion between the Education Minister and his personal secretary

Secretary: Have you heard the news about Paul Mackney?

Minister: Of course, for personal reasons he did not feel able to seek to head the combined NATFHE and Association of University Teachers union.

Secretary: Not that, the new news.

Minister: Has he moved to the countryside to cultivate his garden?

Secretary: Well, he may move to the countryside. He is to join the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education, which I believe is in Lancashire.

Minister: Leicestershire.

Secretary: I knew it was one of those northern counties. I am always impressed by the Minister's grasp of geography. It must result from visiting marginal seats. Anyway, any roses he produces may well be thorny, at least for you: he will lead Niace's argument for adult education.

Minister: But that's good news, we're in favour of adult education.

Secretary: In principle, perhaps, Minister. But Niace's own research shows its previous estimation of policy affecting a million learners has been reached a year ahead of schedule.

Minister: Another target met. Excellent.

Secretary: Not on this occasion, Minister. Niace's figure was the number of adult education places it anticipated would be lost through government policy.

Minister: But colleges are still free to offer adult options.

Secretary: Yes and no, Minister. Since government policy stressed the need to create, and then satisfy, demand for places for those under 25, colleges have had to move funds away from older students.

Minister: And you think that Paul Mackney might have something to say about this?

Secretary: Given his campaigning experience, I'm sure he will, Minister. He may become one of those union leaders, like Jack Jones, who find another campaigning career.

Minister: I see why this is not good news.

Secretary: Unless, of course, you are an adult learner, Minister.

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