17th January 1997 at 00:00
Education, education and education are, we're earnestly assured, the priorities of this year's incoming Government whether it happens to be Conservative or Labour.

A laudable ambition, you'll agree. But it may be a tad difficult for mere mortals to learn of these successful new initiatives thanks to a little local difficulty in the Department for Education and Employment.

Picture the scene in the vast office of the Secretary of State (Gillian Shephard, David Blunkett - who knows?) on day one of the new administration.

Education Secretary to civil servant: "First of all I want to meet the director of publicity to discuss our news strategy."

Flunkey: "I'm terribly sorry, Minister, he left yesterday."

Education Secretary frowns. "In that case, bring me the deputy director of publicity."

Flunkey: "I'm sorry Minister, but that post has also been vacant since January."

Inconvenient, what? But a perfectly valid scenario, thanks to an odd mixture of circumstances. Jim Coe, the man at the top, announced last summer that after a publicity career spanning such luminaries as Margaret Thatcher and such PR nightmares as salmonella, BSE and the teachers' boycott, he intended to retire gracefully to novel-writing and a spot of consultancy work once the election was announced. Since no one knows quite when that will be, appointing a successor may not be so straightforward.

Compounding the problem is the departure last week of the man who might have been expected to step - if only temporarily - into his shoes, deputy Martin Patterson.

The moustachioed Mr Patterson is making good use of all the skills he has honed at the DFEE and has gone off to the Food and Drink Federation to talk up the public image of beef, baby milk and anything else with a health scare attached to it.

No doubt he'll do very well there, but that won't help the new Education Secretary, whose words of wisdom will be echoing in empty rooms at this rate. "The job hasn't even been advertised yet," wails our Sanctuary Buildings mole.

Youth may be cool, but youth organisations are not. Until now. All this might be about to change, thanks to an emerging youth mafia whose graduates are lodging themselves in very high places.

The fiftieth birthday of the British Youth Council this year hardly sounds like a showstopper. Look beyond its worthy image, however, and a phalanx of influential, media-friendly personalities begins to emerge - particularly if a situation should ever arise where we have a Prime Minister Blair serving under King Charles III.

Spin doctor extraordinaire Peter Mandelson MP - who allegedly carries more weight with Blair than the whole of the shadow cabinet - developed his power-lobbying and arm-twisting skills as the BYC's chairman 20 years ago. Only the Council's compulsory retirement age of 25 forced him to move on to a career in television, but not before he had persuaded a sceptical Prime Minister Jim Callaghan to fund the council to provide political education packs for young people.

Now his former stablemate and ally, Tom Shebbeare - then the council's general secretary - has emerged at the top of the greasy pole as one of the handful of courtiers chosen to guide the heir to the throne back into the hearts of the people in the wake of Camillagate and all the rest of the publicity horrors.

Shebbeare, who runs Charles' personal charity, the Prince's Trust, is thought to have become the most trusted of his advisers. He left his job as director of the European Youth Federation because he could no longer stand the boredom of his "wonderfully overpaid, underemployed, tax-free existence". He thinks he landed the Trust directorship because they were bowled over by his readiness to take a two-thirds cut in pay.

Despite the self-deprecation, Shebbeare has taken the Trust's annual income, mainly from outside donations, from Pounds 7,000 a year to Pounds 27m. He says that last week's headlines about he and his colleagues relaunching the Prince are rather over the top. "We're just helping to rethink strategies," he explains.

Teachers are more miserable now than they've ever been, so it seems. And the speech given by David Cracknell on becoming president of the Society of Education Officers contains a few clues as to why their lot is not a happy one.

There is the entertaining tale of the Cheshire six-year-old, whose father was told at a parents' evening that he was doing well but there were concerns that he was not mixing properly with the other children. He seemed, said the head, reluctant to share things and work together with others in small groups.

Father was unconcerned. "There's no point in him sharing what he knows with others - that gives him a competitive edge," he reasoned.

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