Scene 1: Mid-afternoon Christmas Eve, aboard an aircraft, 30,000ft in the air, en route to an austerity away day at a private island.
Rishi Sunak: “What’s wrong, PM?”
Boris Johnson: “I just have the funniest feeling, something is wrong...”
Sunak: “You mean Covid? Brexit? Rising public debt? Populist insurrection? Your plummeting approval ratings? The fact that no one knows what levelling up means?”
Johnson: “No….something else. Something I’ve forgotten…” *gasp* “Oh my God. We FORGOT GAVIN!”
Scene 2: Early-evening dusk. Inside a deserted No 10, a bouncing Gavin Williamson is jumping up and down the main stairs.
Gavin Williamson: “It’s so funny. They said to meet them here.”
*wanders around the building*
“Rishi? Dominic? Priti? PM? Where are you guys….?”
“They’re not here. They’ve disappeared. I made the Cabinet disappear!
“Just like Rishi, Phil and George, who made skills funding disappear!
“This is my chance. I’m going to turn No 10 into a college. I’m going to go and take all the money. And finally, I’m going to build that German-style system, before anyone comes back and stops me!”
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Scene 3: Outside No 10, later that evening. All is not well. Casing the joint are two unlikely-looking criminals keen to steal some of that increased skills funding for themselves. Yes, it’s the Russell Group bandits**
A Russel Group vice-chancellor: “Hey, Gavin. Merry Christmas, little fella. We know that you’re in there, and that you’re all alone.”
Williamson: “Oh no! What to do? I’m not used to any opposition to my plans!”
“Right, I know. This is my house now, and I have to defend it.”
Scene 4: Back inside No 10, 11.30pm. Gavin is running around the house furiously, laying traps. Fortunately, due to the deeply practical and work-ready skills deployed in FE, he is able to use world-class carpentry, plumbing, engineering, digital and other skills, along with some conveniently placed items in the basement, to rapidly turn the place into a fort.
RG vice-chancellor 2: *shouting at the sky* “Actually, do you know that a lot of practical skills and vocational qualifications are delivered through universities, too? Can we stop with this arbitrary divide please?”
RG vice-chancellor 1: “Right, let’s go in!”
Scene 5: And then suddenly, in the street outside the famous black door, four ghostly figures appear.
David Willetts: “We’re the ghosts of all skills and universities ministers past. And we have come to tell you not to destroy this Grade I-listed building. There are better ways to protect FE from universities than this.”
Gavin: “The ghosts of Christmas past?”
Willetts: “No, all the skills and universities ministers past. Ghosts of Christmas past are an entirely different film.”
Williamson: “You’re all the skills and universities ministers past? Shouldn’t there be more of you than this?”
Anne Milton: “Yes, I said this! But then we looked at each other, and we couldn’t remember who any of the others were.”
Robert Halfon: “Hear our warning, Gavin. End this conflict.”
And with that, Gavin opens the door. The Russell Group bandits walk in. And as the clock strikes midnight, they link hands in front of the No 10 fire, and agree that the vocational-academic divide really is a false dichotomy, and that what the country needs is a fully funded lifelong learning system to transform lives at all ages and stages.
Williamson: "And if that’s too expensive, we can probably just take the money from transport or something."
* Other models of FE provision and independent training providers are available, and loved by Gavin just as much.
* Other university mission groups are also available, and equally desperate for more money.
Jonathan Simons is a director and head of education practice at Public First, and has seen Home Alone too many times for a grown man