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All I want for Xmas, from a principal

Dear Santa, I was in two minds about writing to you this year, as last Christmas you didn't send me anything I asked for.

All I wanted was student record software that didn't change every fortnight, classrooms that would take 28 students, franchise arrangements which weren't backdated, and a credit note to cover the cost of last year's inspection.

Anyway, thank-you for what you did send me: "Strategic Planning for College Entrepreneurs - a board game". It proved very useful. I looked up entrepreneur, it said "a middle-managed commercial intermediary".

It is a good game, however. I don't know if you have played it but it has all the ingredients: circular board which you go round and round trying to keep ahead of your opponents, dice for an air of uncertainty and chance cards for the unexpected.

The aim is to deploy tactics so that your competitor loses market share and is supposed to downsize - the best way of doing this is to downsize your own college first, to wrong-foot the opposition.

This means telling staff who've given 20 years service they are no longer needed to deliver a quality service because private trainers, unchecked, do it cheaper.

I like the chance cards. The first I drew said: "Work out how the opposition has been manipulating the system, go forward 10 places." The next: "Share experiences with Coventry, go back 6 places." Another said: "Downsize immediately, get access to the pension scheme, go forward 10 places," only to be followed by "missed March 31st deadline, all staff must work until 60".

I have seen some pantomimes, and felt I was acting in one for the past 12 months. I saw Robin Hood, based on life in a low-funded college. Didn't like it much, although the bit where the Sheriff of Coventry got his comeuppance was good. I went to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs - there were only 4 actually the other 3 came from an agency and were double-booked. Then there was the Pied Piper of Hamelin where I saw that nice Roger Ward marvelling at what one man can do with a whistle.

Anyway, must go. I must work Christmas Day to justify my performance-related bonus.

Have a nice Christmas.

KEN RUDDIMAN Sheffield College principal.

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