IMAGINE, the directors' director Keir Bloomer, asked heidies at their recent spring conference, how Education plc might fare if it was in the food retail industry.
"Here we stand in the fruit and veg aisle of Sesco (Scottish Education Supermarket Company). We stop at a display labelled 5-14 tomatoes. The usual sell-by date is absent - so we ask a passing assistant. He replies: 'Some of these tomatoes will be squishy by Friday and most will certainly be past it by a week on Thursday.'
"A little puzzled, we ask which ones to choose. 'Take the ones labelled E,' he suggests. 'They're the best unless, of course, you can find an F - but they are very rare.'
"Moving on to the next display, he comes to our rescue again. Just as we are rummaging through the apples looking or some Es, he says: 'No, no, take the As this time: these are Higher grade apples.'
"When he starts to explain to us that the standard pears next door don't have As or Es, only Fs, Gs and Cs and that the foreign ones have an added written test which you needn't bother with, we turn on our heels and flee the store."
Visitors to the next aisle at Sesco's might have found very little stock on the shelves, Bloomer suggested, with two or three assistants wandering around looking bemused and overworked.
"I can't think why they want us to work all hours throwing out the old Higher biscuits and putting in the new ones," says one. "Anyway, they were really popular. Why don't they want us to work on the Intermediate biscuits? There's customers waiting for them."