More than a product of new boys' network

23rd May 1997 at 01:00
Bob Fryer, newly-appointed chair of the Government's advisory group on adult and continuing education, has impeccable credentials for the job.

He is principal of Northern College, Barnsley, one of the leading residential adult education colleges in the country, professor of continuing education at Sheffield Hallam University and he was one of the founders of Warwick University's department of adult education in the early 1980s.

Moreover, he is well-connected with the Labour party's hierarchy. He has known David Blunkett since the new Education and Employment Secretary's days as leader of Shefield City Council, which has close ties with the college; he appointed Mo Mowlam, the Northern Ireland Secretary, as his administrative officer in 1984 ("She was outstandingly good"); he knew Kim Howells, the minister for lifelong learning, when he was studying at Warwick; and he was an adviser to John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister, when he was shadow employment minister. "I've kept in contact with John. Oh dear - it does sound like the old boys' network," he confessed.

Professor Fryer, a product of the 1944 Education Act, was the first in the family to go to university. Born in Birmingham to Black Country parents, he grew up in Oxford where his father and brothers worked in the car industry. He won a scholarship for Christ's College, Cambridge, where he read modern and medieval languages in the 1960s before taking a diploma in social studies at Oxford.

He began his teaching career as a Workers' Educational Asociation tutor when his first student was twice his age: 23 to 46. "He was a railway worker from York: I still remember him."

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