A gaggle of ministers was asked to give evidence last week to the Commons select committee that tracks the department for curtains and soft furnishings (dcfs). The reason that Barry Sheerman, the chairman, wanted them all together is that they all have responsibility for child poverty – so up rocked Stephen Timms, Beverley Hughes, Andy Purnell, Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper. The latter two are partners in real life, the first husband and wife team to appear before Sheerman. Being more important than anyone else, the Schools Secretary, Ed Balls, was asked to open the batting and captain the team. No one demurred. When Yvette wanted to say something, Sheerman declared: "I think Yvette just winked at me that she wanted to come in. Is that all right?" So Ed gave way, and Yvette put her oar in. Maybe she would like a Sheerman figure at home in the kitchen, saying: "I think Yvette just winked at me that she would like you to do the washing up/children's baths/make the pasta/put the light out now."
Fun and games at the University and College Union this week. Our education editor rang the UCU's main number asking for Dan Ashley, the press officer, to be told that he was on holiday for three weeks and that he should call Trevor Philips, the other press officer at the other bit of the UCU. For those who have not kept track of the lecturers' unions, they have merged into one, but still keep their old offices and old jobs at the AUT and Natfhe. Our editor rang Trevor Philips. His voicemail said that he was on holiday, and that callers should ring Dan Ashley. What was this? A Whitehall farce? A third call was made to Dan Ashley's direct number, on which was a message instructing callers to ring Paula Lanning, the head of communications and public affairs at the UCU. Our editor rang and left a message, and has yet to receive a reply.
Professor Alan Smithers wrote a report earlier this month that took a very dim view of the new diplomas being promoted by the Government. The dcfs hit back with arguments of their own, not forgetting to do a bit of smearing in the process. According to a helpful member of the dcfs press office, Smithers' report was a sloppy and partial piece of work – and, moreover, it was badly spelt. Asked about this slur, Smithers ran his report through the spellcheck and found it to be clean. Ditto the press release. Could the dcfs have been thinking of an early – and not proof-read – draft that had done the rounds? The dcfs may not like Smithers' message, but they should remember that he is a respected figure and an adviser to the Commons select committee, and has been commissioned by the Government to write several reports, which he does without fear or favour.
Why is David Eastwood leaving the top job at the Higher Education Funding Council after having been in post for less than two years? The answer is perplexing observers of the higher education scene, who see him as a superlative operator, clever, diplomatic and steely. Eastwood is not yet 50, but he is off to do the vice-chancellor's job at Birmingham University in April next year. They assume that if he were happy and had freedom to manoeuvre, he would have stayed at Hefce until it made sense to jump ship to a more highly paid job as vice-chancellor.