I popped into a conference earlier this week – it was being held at my new place of work and I needed to talk to some technology types who were attending. I had visions of maybe raiding the buffet and trying to charm juicy discounts out of the reps for some shiny new gear. But then, as I stuffed my face full of illicit croissant, I got a nice added bonus of stumbling across some of my colleagues from my last FE job.
I struggled during the last part of my FE career. The process of redundancy coupled with fluctuating mental health meant that I hadn’t really had a chance to bid them a proper adieu and it was fantastic to catch up. I asked them about the move of the unit to a new building, how things were going with the students, what scandalous gossip there was to be had and all of the general minutiae.
Tes magazine: How alternative provision in FE is changing lives
These folk have one of the most difficult jobs in FE. They run and manage an alternative provision unit within a larger college system that works with students who are in their GCSE years in an attempt to help them access their learning, progress on to further education (if that’s what they want) and offer students a way to integrate themselves back into education. The student behaviour is often extreme, the pressures are huge and a lot of the time the rewards are minimal.
But there wasn’t a word of complaint. Not a sausage. (Unlike the small mound of them I had on my paper plate.) They talked about trying to do the best with what they had, the students, what was difficult, what was getting better.
Marginalisation is an issue that FE has. From the sector itself in reference to others and also (unfortunately) certain areas and departments within institutions. There are people working hard, day in and day out, to try to give students the best experience possible, with nary a scrap of recognition. These people aren’t usually at the forefront of flashy campaigns or promotions; it’s often the case that the jobs they do are hugely challenging and the opposite of glamorous. They don’t fit the profile so therefore they can often be invisible.
So, considering someone, somewhere, made the awful mistake of allowing me to blog once a week about FE, let me use it to praise the grafters. Those doing jobs in FE (often more difficult than the norm) who always seem to be overlooked. The quiet, consistent and professional staff who go out of their way and endure a lot to ensure the learning of their students. Those who work with the marginalised within the marginalised. Soldiering on without so much as a 10-quid book token at the end of the year.
I’ve also been lucky enough to call them my friends.
Here’s to them all.
Tom Starkey is an education writer, consultant and former further education lecturer