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Bored out of my skin

Malcolm Burgess explains why training courses drive him bananas

Need to "learn how to say no"? Keen to improve your leadership skills with Year 10? If so, you're almost certain to find yourself in a room with someone called Geoff or Pam, several hundred felt-tipped pens and an overhead projector. Love 'em or leave 'em (and many of us would), you can't ignore school training courses.

Most take place in micro-sized rooms in "executive" hotels or Portakabins. And there's no point hanging around the hotel foyer examining the displays of tartan gonks, or dragging out that cup of coffee. Geoff and Pam are waiting.

The first rule is that no one is called by their full name. When the dreaded name badges appear, we are encouraged to write our names as monosyllables. Total strangers become chummy-sounding Mels, Sues, Mikes and Daves.

And there's more - what do the rest of the group really know about Mel's psyche? A warm-up exercise is therefore de rigueur. One favourite is to ask members which vegetable or fruit they would most like to be identified with - and why.

Perturbed probationers are soon nervously introducing themselves as Cox's orange pippins and beetroots. Years of British rectitude are blown away in seconds as Val from Welwyn Garden City reveals her banana tendencies.

Old-timers know the "framesetting" that follows is their last chance to have a sleep as the day has been carefully arranged so no one can remain inactive.

Next comes the brainstorming session. Imagine your most illogical and embarrassing ideas exposed to a roomful of strangers and you've got the idea. Time stands still as you move into stream of consciousness about "developing throughput in a team situation". The uninitiated soon realise the truth of the term "a pool of ignorance".

The unlucky are then dragged into role-play games that involve lying on the floor or revealing their dreams. If everyone but you is wearing shoes, accept that you will soon have to stand on a chair and pretend you're a tree.

Several years ago I took part in a drama course in which groups spent a morning "creating their own environments" using sugar paper and cardboard, and acting out "silent tableaux" inside them.

We split down the middle - those who didn't mind pretending to be four years old as long as we could sit in our Wendy houses and read the Guardian, and those who refused to participate under any circumstances. Quite what the point of the exercise was nobody knew, but then, as somebody in my group said, at least it kept the course leader out of the community.

Course members rarely admit they're dissatisfied. After all, who wants to be seen as incapable of working in groups that can spend six hours on "making the most of meeting situations" - and then decide the most important thing is to communicate?

Malcolm Burgess is a part-time FE lecturer

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