First things first. Quango is not an Australian airline. The initials stand for quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation. Unpick that and you find that a quango is a body, appointed by the Government, that can spend your money but isn't accountable to you through the ballot box.
There are more than 1,000 of them in the UK. Sometimes it seems they are all in education. Not so. According to one quango-quantifier, just 33 are education related - 17 specifically to FE.
What they all are and what they all do is another matter. They come and go so rapidly that you've just about learnt their name (and the six-figure salary of their chief executive) and they're gone. They blend into one another, close down and re-open in their wife's name, or produce offspring - legitimate or otherwise - to carry on the good work. Perhaps it's a deliberate policy: if the Government doesn't know your name, it can't axe you.
I determined the other day to find out all about the work of the Further Education Unit (FEU). I was too late - by 15 years. In 1995, the FEU became the Further Education Development Agency (FEDA). Don't bother looking for that either: it was humanely put down in 2000 when the Learning and Skills Development Agency (LSDA) was founded.
So does this body exist any more? Sadly, no. I blinked and missed it. Its Wikipedia entry says: The . LSDA was a publicly funded body . that supported FE in England. At the end of March 2006, its functions were divided into the Quality Improvement Agency (QIA) and the Learning and Skills Network (LSN) and its trading subsidiary, Inspire Learning, better known by its brand name the Centre for Excellence in Leadership (CEL), was spun out. Inspire Leadership and QIA were re-absorbed into the same corporate entity, the Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS) on October 1, 2008.
Got that? Come on, you're not paying attention. Before the trail went cold, I did a search for LSN, and Bingo! - it exists. It has a pretty website with a red watering can on it. (LSIS exists, too. Its pretty website has lots of lovely pictures of people's hands.) At the end of a gruelling shift in the classroom, I often wonder what the folks at the LSN and LSIS do all day - and how much of it actually helps my students.
I also wonder about FENTO, the Further Education National Training Organisation. I suspect that, too, has passed on or morphed into something else, but it's surely worthy of our attention because, in an Ian Fleming sort of way, it has such a wonderful name.
Can't you just picture the sinister head of FENTO with James Bond at his mercy? Bond is strapped to a table with henchmen about to laser off his goolies. "No, Mr Bond," the nefarious boss says, "I don't expect you to achieve FENTO standards in teaching and learning, I expect you to die."
Of course, a third education quango has been given notice of incineration in recent weeks: the General Teaching Council (GTC). Education Secretary Michael Gove said it was not well regarded by teachers and didn't do anything that couldn't be done better by others.
Surprisingly, our own version of the GTC, the Institute for Learning (IfL), has so far been left unscorched. Perhaps this is because Mr Gove hasn't noticed it yet - in which case, those of us who know and love the IfL will just have to hope that no one brings it to his attention.