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Happy Valley's in the public sector

For centuries rumours of its existence have circulated. Men have been driven mad by talk of this fabled land, an educational El Dorado where people enjoyed their work, loved their bosses and worshipped a bearded old man in white socks and sandals.

Actually, the Diary gave these tales little credence until we were tipped off about an entry in this week's Sunday Times "100 Best Companies to Work For" survey. At number 68, the lone representative of the education sector in a host of Britain's leading outfits, proudly stands the National Foundation for Educational Research.

"Director, Seamus Hegarty, looks like the epitome of an antiquated academic: he wears sandals with socks all year round and sports a reassuring fluffy white beard," the paper says. Just like the legends!

That's not all: "Staff believe in the principles of the organisation: 71 per cent think it makes a positive difference in the world, and only four other companies scored higher for lacking hypocrisy - just 31 per cent think its support of worthy causes is driven by the desire for good publicity."

That put it in the top 5 per cent of the best employers in the UK. The paper praises the NFER's bonus scheme - worth about pound;1,000 to most staff last year - and its generous holiday scheme (30 days basic plus a discretionary four days tagged on to bank holidays).

"Line managers monitor how much leave people have taken, and if they think anyone is overdue for a break, they encourage them to take one. As a result, just 10 per cent say they are forced to invent illness to get time off, and the company was in the top 20 for having staff who don't feel exhausted when they get home."

Behold, El Dorado. By chance, the Department for Education and Skills has just completed its own staff survey. We phoned them to see whether they wanted to share their good news.

"The survey is not currently available to the public because many staff have not seen it," we were told. Were any past surveys available? No.

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