John Dunford

If Jilly Cooper's next bonkbuster features a dashing, bearded headteachers' union leader there will be one obvious suspect. The novelist almost swooned at the Association of School and College Leaders' conference when she described its general secretary, John Dunford. "He's one of the nicest, sanest men in education," she told the association's annual dinner, to a collective "Oooh".

Tales of her children's adventures at posh public schools did not exactly strike a chord with state school heads, particularly an anecdote in which her son said, "Mummy, I'm doing worse in scripture than the Arabs." A blue joke about budgies also left some heads spluttering into their coffee.

But Ms Cooper won Brownie points with her flattering definition of the ASCL, "an Absolutely Super Collection of Leaders".

Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, was also in a flattering mood at the conference. Alluding to his looming battle for the job held by John Prescott, he confessed he would feel a special affinity with those teachers working as number twos. "If you see me gravitating towards the deputy leaders amongst you, perhaps you will understand," he said.

Referring to the in-fighting over Tony Blair's successor, he said he was delighted to address a conference of people interested in leadership - "in sharp contrast to Downing Street".

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