'Here's to those working with the most marginalised'

Tom Starkey pays tribute to those staff in FE who work with the most marginalised students without any recognition for it

Tom Starkey

Those working with the most marginalised college students deserve more recognition

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

Opinion: Edu-events are great, until you have to give a talk...

Background: FE teachers' biggest challenges? Long hours and heavy workload

Difficult job

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.

Working hard

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

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Latest stories

Geoff Barton

Omicron, nativities and the DfE: Another fine mess

Schools are being told what to do by those with no concept of the reality of running a school - and it's only making an already tough situation a lot harder, explains Geoff Barton
Geoff Barton 3 Dec 2021
New headteachers - here are 9 things you need to know

Headteacher wellbeing and sources of 'streth'

Former headteacher Chris McDermott set out to find out the true causes of leader stress and support – and in doing so coined a whole new term, as he explains here
Chris McDermott 2 Dec 2021
Transdisciplinary learning: how to embed it in your school

Why you need a transdisciplinary curriculum

At the Aspirations Academies, six hours a week are dedicated to applied transdisciplinary learning - but how does it work? And should you apply something similar at your school?
Steve Kenning 2 Dec 2021