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As I walk in the valley of the shadow of TEC...

THE Feast of the Tecover (from the Gospel of St OFSTED, chapter 6 verses (i) to (v) i) In the beginning were the TECs. New Labour looked upon the face of the TECs and saw that they were not of their flesh. And New Labour begat the TEC review.

And there was a wailing and gnashing of teeth among the host of the TECs, for they were in the shadow of the Angel of Death. But the FE hosts were joyous, for had not the prophet Stubbs freed them from their bondage in the land of the local education authority and led them to the promised land of the Further Education Funding Council? And surely goodness, mercy and growth funding shall follow them all their days? ii) And the Secretary of State looked upon the TEC review and found it wanting. And it came to pass that the TEC review begat the post-16 review, which begat Learning to Succeed, which begat the local learning and skills councils.

But the Archangel Transfer of Undertakings (Protection and Employment) Regulations smiled upon the face of the TECs and it came to pass that the multitude of chairs and executive directors of the LLSCs were of the host of TECs. And there was then a wailing and gnashing of teeth among the host of FE, for the shadow of the Angel of Death had passed over unto them. And the FE host cried out: "How did this come to pass? For did not New Labour confirm to us a place in the land of milk, honey and growth funding?"

iii) And a Government scribe spake thus: "Verily thou hast sinned in the eyes of New Labour. Did not thy principals hoick up their salaries and spend too much time in airport lounges, yea, even though their colleges were strapped for cash? Did not thy principals smite their staff with unacceptable management practices and covet their neighbours' units?

"Did thou not fail to pay adequate tribute to New Labour for the extra loaves and fishes given unto thee? Did thou not whinge exceedingly, yea, also about things dear to New Labour such as University for Industry and New Deal? Thou lot makest even the host of Sodom and Gomorrah look good."

iv) And there was a great murmuring and shuffling of feet amongthe FE multitude. And one of the host less sensible than the rest stood up and spake thus: "Verily we are right hacked off at thy words. Barbs such as thine are oft made by they who art not of the FE host, but who swoon with the desire to control it. To mine eye, they would void their bowels if they had to manage the sharp end of a college.

"Did thou not observe more than a few problems with the TECs also, yea, even unto the collapse of CENTEC?" And the scribe spake thus: "Thou art as naught when it comes to devising schemes. Where was thy YOP and TOP? Where was thy TVEI and TVE? Where was thy YTS and ET?

"All these great schemes and more had to be done unto thee. Who among thee would have thought to get thee to bid competitively for collaborative funds?

Who among thee would have thought to top-slice funds and get thee to bid against each other for even more schemes to get thy money back?

"Who among thee hast dared to widen participation by opening learning centres in the community? Which of thy colleges useth new technology to deliver education and training? Who among thee hath delivered cost-effective growth?

Only UFI, and possibly the TECs, can do these things properly.

v) "Thou hast offended us with thy cosy jobs and long holidays. Nor art thou beloved of business as are we.

"May thy LLSC impose excessive bureaucracy. May thy funding allocations be based on inaccurate local labour market intelligence and spurious assessments of quality. May it top-slice thy budget and spend it on projects which will compete with thee. May it use thy inspection as an excuse for intervention.

"Let thou who art without centres of excellence, and based in cities with several other FE colleges, tremble and, for verily thou art facing seven lean years."

Thus spake the scribe and once more a silence fell upon the FE host. And one sayeth: "Well, that's us stuffed."

And the multitude rose and went down the pub. For the shadow of the Angel of Death had passed over them, and the feast of the Tecover was nigh.

Alan Birks is principal of South Birmingham College

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