14th November 2008 at 00:00

For a Noel Coward-esque comedy of manners, it is worth witnessing the Commons education select committee in action.

Barry Sheerman (below), committee chairman and Labour MP for Huddersfield, deserves a mention for his observance of formalities - apparent when he recently led the polite interrogation of Derek Bell, chief executive of the Association for Science Education, and Clive Bush, director of the secondary National Strategy.

The meeting in a Westminster committee room began as follows.

Mr Sheerman: "First, I hope that it is all right that we use first names, rather than calling you 'Dr' or 'Professor'. Is that all right?"

Professor Bell: "Absolutely."

Mr Sheerman: "It is a bit difficult when someone has only just received their knighthood or damehood. Let's get started. First, where are we with the secondary national curriculum? Is it really the case, post-September 2008, that everything in the garden is rosy and there is nothing more to be done, Clive?"

Clive Bush: "Is it all right to call you Barry?"

Mr Sheerman: "No, you call me 'chairman'. (Interruption.) Absolutely not - even ministers do not get away with that."

Indeed, educationists who do not treat Mr Sheerman seriously enough should beware. In January, he threatened to have the union leaders of NASUWT and the NUT arrested for failing to appear in front of his committee, shouting down the phone: "If you do this again, I will send the Serjeant at Arms to haul you before us."

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