The National Education Service

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"The National Education Service"
Yes, Prime Minister episode
Episode no. Series 2
Episode 7
Written by Antony Jay
Jonathan Lynn
Produced by Sydney Lotterby
Original air date 21 January 1988
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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"The Patron of the Arts"
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List of Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister episodes

"The National Education Service" is the fifteenth episode of the BBC comedy series Yes, Prime Minister and was first broadcast 21 January 1988.


Jim Hacker meets with the government Chief Whip and Party Chairman. They are both concerned at the lack of progress made with education policy. They warn that if nothing is done, Hacker may be heading for Opposition.

The Prime Minister has sent for Sir Humphrey Appleby. When the Cabinet Secretary enquires of Bernard the reason, his subordinate explains that the Party Chairman has presented a paper to Hacker that details the current disintegration of comprehensive education. Sir Humphrey vehemently disagrees, as in his view the system does all that is asked of it: i.e., it keeps the children out of mischief while their parents are at work. He further explains that educational standards have nothing to do with it because the sole reason for the policy was to remove class distinction within the teaching profession, and make all salaries comparable. The civil service has apparently maintained the status quo by telling Labour and Conservative governments that selective education is either divisive or expensive respectively. The mandarin adds that this keeps the common people content while the ruling class educate their own children privately.

Hacker calls in Sir Humphrey and asks for his advice. The PM ridicules the current state of affairs by referring to bizarre questions on modern exam papers. He points out that some subjects, such as Latin, are hardly taught at all nowadays. Sir Humphrey agrees with him, at the same time demonstrating his fluency in the language — much to Hacker's bemusement — and pointedly remarks that his own academic upbringing is of little use if he can't call upon it in conversation with the country's Prime Minister. Hacker argues that the school leaving age was raised to 16 so that children could learn more when in fact they are learning less. However, Sir Humphrey enlightens him that the real reason was to keep jobless teenagers off the streets and therefore out of the unemployment figures. The Cabinet Secretary wholeheartedly concurs that education policy is a "joke" and will remain so as long as it is in the hands of local government. He counsels centralisation — thus increasing the power of the civil service.

At the suggestion of Dorothy Wainwright, his political advisor, the PM visits St Margaret's School, where the students have introduced their own commercial enterprise and give all the profits to charity. The trip goes well, and the pupils present their guest with one of their products as a gift: a wooden stool. The visit is covered by the media, and Hacker, his wife, Annie, and Dorothy watch the report in the flat above 10 Downing Street. They all agree that the school is a fine example, and Annie and Dorothy wonder why there can't be more like it. Then Dorothy has an idea: if parents were allowed to choose their school and it got paid per pupil, the quality of education would increase dramatically. When Hacker argues that the Department of Education and Science wouldn't wear it, Dorothy advises that it should simply be abolished and that all administration is transferred to the town halls. They decide to put it to Sir Humphrey.

The Cabinet Secretary is predictably horrified at the proposal, and insists that parents are the worst sort of people to make such choices (even though his own school, Winchester, was selected by his parents). The PM suspects that the DES will block the plan, and, rather verbosely, Sir Humphrey confirms this. Hacker and Dorothy then deliver their coup de grâce and inform him that the department is to be abolished. The mandarin is incredulous, but even so, is unable to produce a convincing case for its retention, save for financial and legal considerations. The PM ends the discussion with a Latin expression of his own: "Q.E.D."

Sir Humphrey has a chat with his predecessor, Sir Arnold Robinson, who is similarly alarmed at the scheme. They discuss usual civil service delaying tactics, but it seems that in this case none are applicable. Sir Arnold admits that that proposal is actually a "very good idea", but he is adamant that it mustn't be allowed to happen since it will undermine the civil service. He notes that the only people in the country in favour of it are the parents and children, and that "everyone who counts" is against it. They decide to let events take their course, with a little helping hand from the DES itself. In the meantime, Sir Humphrey must come up with a "political weapon" of his own.

Bernard unwittingly provides Sir Humphrey's ammunition when he mentions to his superior that the stool presented to the PM during his visit to St Margaret's School was made of wood that was stolen from a government YTS workshop. Sir Humphrey smugly presents this new information to the PM, which stops him in his tracks. Hacker was seen on television praising St Margaret's as an "example to Britain", and now Sir Humphrey pictures the likely news reports: "The Prime Minister has sat on the fence for so long that now he's become one." The only way that the prosecution can be stopped is via the DES—and Hacker decides that the threat of abolition is just that: an idle thought that won't be pursued.

In novelisation[edit]

In The Complete Yes, Prime Minister book version, this episode was rearranged to be the last chapter. In the book, the final exchange scene between Humphrey and Hacker was depicted as Hacker's final acknowledgement of defeat and admission that he ultimately could never prevail against the Civil Service despite scoring some victories here and there.

Episode cast[edit]

Actor Role
Paul Eddington Jim Hacker
Nigel Hawthorne Sir Humphrey Appleby
Derek Fowlds Bernard Woolley
Deborah Norton Dorothy Wainwright
John Nettleton Sir Arnold Robinson
Diana Hoddinott Annie Hacker
Peter Cartwright Jeffrey Pearson, Chief Whip
Jerome Willis Party Chairman

External links[edit]

"The National Education Service" on IMDb