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

Secretary: The idea of compelling students to stay in education or training until the age of 18 is attracting considerable attention, Minister.

Minister: Great isn't it? They can't say this policy is being ignored.

Secretary: That is not an undiluted blessing. There is a degree of dissent.

Minister: Well, a little healthy debate is a good thing.

Secretary: That is not usual government policy, Minister. The standard approach is to announce policy on a busy news day, hoping no one notices before the consultation period ends and policy is implemented.

Minister: Never fear. I won't be listening to what people say.

Secretary: Usually that would be a relief. However, in this case opponents do have some valid points. The CfBT Education Trust says that colleges with a choice will opt out of handling students who are scarcely in the system at 16, let alone 18.

Minister: Should I be bothered about that? We don't need a bog-standard sector. There's much to be said for sink colleges.

Secretary: Why would you want that?

Minister: So they can be deemed unacceptable and brought under central control.

Secretary: Central control!

Minister: Perhaps not, not directly anyway. But these underperforming colleges will need to be taken over by another college. A good one, mind. One well aware of government plans.

Secretary: Yet the colleges aren't really underperforming, are they? They may actually be doing rather well. They only become "underperforming" once you implement a policy that directs students to them who may be better off outside the education system.

Minister: That's about right. A rather neat way of ensuring all colleges are following the government line, don't you think?

Secretary: It hardly seems fair, Minister.

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