I’ve talked about variety in FE before. I love the fact that there are so many different departments and areas working to help our students achieve success. There are different levels of attainment, different levels of qualification, and many, many, different types of people – both and students and staff – even within a single institution. It’s messy in a good way.
Which is why it narks me off when I encounter inflexible admin systems.
Colleges aren’t as homogenous or – forgive the pun – as uniform as schools are. So when it comes to data collection, I despair when there is an attempt to squeeze everyone into the same little boxes because, for some reason, it is decreed that it must be so.
Let me give you an example: last year I had a couple of two-and-a-half hour sessions on my timetable. It was a stretch and it wasn’t ideal, but it’s the way it worked out. To be fair, who wouldn’t want to spend 150 minutes in my sweaty company as I manically try to cover the new spec GCSE content? Well...as it turns out at the start, quite a few folk. No, I don’t understand it either. I guess sometimes the students are put off by my all-round genius.
Computer says 'no'
Sporadic lateness and absenteeism was abound. This kind of casual attitude and lack of abject terror as to what I’d do to them eventually grinds my gears no end, so I went out of my way to make sure my registers were gleaming on the digital system, so that when I hammered them for their scandalous lack of commitment, I’d have the correct facts and figures there on screen. Bang to rights. Wallop.
But because my lessons were longer than the parameters set by the system – they were unusual, but not really out of the realms of possibility – the system wasn’t having it. After listening to the computer saying “no” just long enough to consider rebooting it out of the window, I called IT for help.
“Yeah, we’re sorry, we can’t change that. Lots of people have been having the same issue. The workaround – and you’re going to hate me for this – is to input the data as separate lessons.”
“You mean I have to duplicate the data for that lesson every single time?”
“Er no. You’ll have to triplicate it, as if it’s three lessons. Every single time. Told you you were going to hate me.”
But I didn’t hate him. Much. I hated the system that assumed that everything across the board would always be the same and didn’t allow for exceptions. I was also not fond of the person that bought in this system without thinking about the ramifications on my students and colleagues when I’m peeved at having to do the same thing three times.
It might seem like a small, personal, petty grievance of mine and you’d be bang on the money. But it’s not an isolated incident. How much time and effort is wasted shoving our info into systems that just don’t fit, because in FE there’s diversity in teaching and learning? A little too much, I’d wager. But just to be sure, I’ll bring up the data on my computer here.
Right. Time for a right rebooting.
Tom Starkey teaches English at a college in the North of England