back In 1991, when I started working in further education, it was fun. The students were nice, attendance was high, punctuality was the norm, late assignments were a rarity and lecturers were respected. Students weren't under pressure to achieve target grades because there were no target grades. We were allowed to "counsel" students away from courses if they weren't doing well. College was seen as a positive change from school. Students achieved and went on to jobs or university.
How times have changed. Recently, FE has become more like the neglected middle child of education - and it is no longer a fun place to be for students or staff. Funding is being cut to such an extent that hardly a college in the country hasn't had to do some serious belt-tightening. Staff redundancies loom large in many institutions.
This is happening at a time when the compulsory age to remain in education or training has increased, yet colleges are not being given the means to sustain the growth in student numbers. Achievement and retention targets mean that students are encouraged to stay on courses despite poor attendance, appalling attitudes and inability to complete work. Qualifications are being devalued because "distinction" grades are being given out undeservedly to improve statistics.
It used to keep me awake at night that FE was becoming such an awful place to work. So I left to work for my own training company and I now sleep soundly, knowing that my days of working with 16-19s are behind me.
I don't have to give grades to students who don't deserve them, just to make a college look good. I don't have to deal with apathetic students and get them through courses when they don't even bother to turn up to the lessons.
I worry for those who are left behind. Can the sector flourish when it is being attacked from all sides, diminished beyond recognition and losing good staff?
Karen Ramsay works in education in the Midlands
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