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Question Time's up

It was surely a significant first, but hardly anyone noticed. They were all too busy engaging in a nun-sensical shouting match about the virtues of female members of religious communities serving as teachers.

I refer of course to the recent edition of Question Time in which our esteemed education secretary Nicky Morgan was pitted against her wily shadow counterpart, Tristram Hunt. They were asked a question about teacher training - or rather about people being allowed in the classroom without teacher training, as is the case in free schools and academies.

Not surprisingly, Ms Morgan and Mr Hunt differed in their views. In the midst of the exchange, the latter made a vague reference to nuns who were teachers, after which it was a case of light the blue touch paper and retire.

The Daily Mail (who else?) picked up the ball and ran with it, printing a series of articles badmouthing Mr Hunt and glorifying nuns from Mother Teresa through to the singing sisters in The Sound of Music. Mr Hunt took to Twitter, declaring that he "meant no offence to nuns" but stopping short of declaring that some of his best friends were Catholics and that if he'd been born a woman he'd probably have joined the religious life himself.

So what was this "first" so egregiously passed over? It was he first recorded mention of further education on prime-time British television. In a supplementary question, a mild-mannered member of the workforce put his hand up and asked, in effect, "Please sir, can we have some more?" FE had been short-changed in this period of austerity, he said, and was in urgent need of improved funding.

How did the pundits react to the appearance of the cloth-capped division of the educational sector? Not particularly well, it has to be said. Chair David Dimbleby (Charterhouse and Oxford) looked as if he might refer the questioner to the tradesman's entrance, but in the end passed the query to the panel.

Ms Morgan (Surbiton High and Oxford) said that yes, well, the Conservatives were funding further education and that yes, well, they would continue to fund it in the future. However you might spin it, as a political speech that doesn't exactly rank alongside "I have a dream" and "Ich bin ein Berliner".

Her Labour colleague (University College School and Cambridge) wasn't much better, mumbling about "world-class" apprenticeships and how many his party would establish if given the nod in May.

None of the other panellists were given a shot, which is a shame because George Galloway (Harris Academy and the University of Life) would almost certainly have had something of interest to say - if only to declare that everything could be fixed by designating Bradford College an Israeli-free zone.

And that was it. Not quite blink and you missed it, but not far short. Nuns, it seems, are a sexier subject than FE. Which is a shame, given that in contrast to the few thousand remaining sisters in the UK, every year more than 3 million of us sign up for a course at an FE college.

Stephen Jones is a lecturer at a further education college in London

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