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If only Tim Henman had an FE consultant

POOR old Tim Henman. The most gifted English tennis player since Fred Perry, and what does he get? Stick - that's what he gets.

He makes the semis at Wimbledon and everyone says: "Why weren't you in the final?" Bombing out of the Australian Open was no different. No one remembers the few games he won: only the one he so sadly lost.

Now, you may be thinking, what has all this to do with further education? The answer isInothing. And that's the problem. Tim's problem. Because Tim knows nothing at all about FE colleges and the things that make them work. If he did, maybe he could apply them to his game, and win a few more matches.

So Tim, my advice would be this: sack your army of coaches, gurus and assorted hangers-on, and in their place hire yourself an FE consultant. In fact, I have the very man in mind. Let us call him Barry. Barry's a man for deeds, not words. So it's with deeds he'll start. "Now, Tim," he'll say, "let's look at your results."

"But I look at them all the time, Barry."

"Yes, but there's looking and looking. A quick glance tells you nothing, Tim. No, what you need to do is pore over them. Presenting and re-presenting them. Has anyone ever shown you how to make a spread sheet?"

"A spread what Barry?"

"Exactly. Now listen up, Tim. It's for your own good. First you've got to dig out those results for the past five years. Once you've got them in your database, you can spend some happy hours making tables and graphs out of them. When you've done that, you can turn them into a pie-chart."

"But I'm not allowed pies, Barry."

"Don't be facetious, Tim. You want to improve your performance don't you?"

"YesIbut I'm not sure I've got accurate records going back five years."

"That doesn't matter, Tim. Most of the time colleges' records aren't accurate either. But that doesn't prevent us from making the lecturers spend their weekends analysing them. Now, what are you doing about quality?"

"I work on it every day, Barry. Trying my darnedest to improve it."

"That's good, Tim. So let's look at your quality file, shall we?"

"I beg your pardon, Barry."

"I thought so. You haven't got one, have you? No wonder you missed that key lob in Melbourne last week. It's not good enough to say you work on quality, Tim. You've got to be able to prove it. I suggest we start by going through this 12-page check list. Then tomorrow you can get to work on all the other documents you're going to need."

"But, Barry, won't this take up the time I should be out on the court practising?"

"Tim, this is serious. Tennis is serious. It's not as if it's a game now, is it?"

"I'm beginning to see that, Barry."

"Good, good. Now, just imagine that you're being followed around by some keen-eyed observer. You've got to show this person - let us call him an inspector - tangible evidence for everything you do. We call it the paper trail in FE. The key thing is, Tim, everything's got to be written down."

"But, Barry, we don't have inspectors in tennis."

"Most of the time we don't have them in FE either, Tim; but it's important to pretend we do."

"Doesn't that keep your lecturers awake at night, worrying about it all?"

"That's what stops them getting complacent, Tim. And once you get into the swing of it, you'll never sleep properly again either. Let's move on to planning, shall we?"

"No problem there, Barry. I always make a plan for every match."

"In writing is that, Tim? I thought not. Ideally, it needs to be at least half a dozen sides of A4 with every minute of the game accounted for. Let's start by drawing up your aims and objectives, shall we?"

"Barry, Barry, I think I've spotted what you're up to. Any fool can see that if I really did all this stuff I'd be an emotional and physical wreck within a week. I'd be constantly harassed, continually stressed and permanently tired out. I'd never have a minute to myself and pretty soon I'd be completely demoralised.

"Then, Barry, you're going say, stop, drop all of this and go back to what you're supposed to be doing - playing tennis. Then I'll feel wonderful and win everything. That's the real plan, isn't it, Barry?"

If only, Tim. If only.

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