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Let the Orient Express take the strain

Gradgrind introduces a new series of true stories of the triumphs and travesties of college life.

Stott is one of your old-style senior lecturers. Eschewing arduous duties like timetabling, he's quick enough off the mark if there's anything that will earn him a bit of kudos - like ECAS, for example.

One day Minder, our head of department, casts around for people to co-opt on to a working party. He approaches Stott who shakes his head sadly. "I'd love to but . . . ECAS you know" "Ah, ECAS, yes, of course" The acronym works like a talisman. In an instant the working party is forgotten. "After all," beams Minder, "ECAS might reflect well on the department."

When he has gone I ask what is this "ECAS bullshit"?

Stott shoots me a look of disdain. "ECAS stands for Extended Classroom Avoidance Syndrome. It is a market-led pedagogic framework which reduces staff contact at the point of delivery."

Stott sometimes gives the impression he has swallowed a BTEC handbook but he can use plain words when the occasion demands. He teaches journalism - straight up and down stuff like court reports, heartless thieves, weddings and funerals. He was news editor on a local paper before being elevated to the national press - and does the odd shift or two - strictly outside college hours.

One day I notice an invite on his desk. "Journey back to the days of Edwardian splendour with a luxury land cruise on the world famous Orient Express. A champagne breakfast is followed by a presentation by our European sales director after which representatives of the press will be free to relax and enjoy the three-day journey."

"Oh, what a pity - the trip is during term time. You must be really miffed. "

"Just another freebie. We get them all the time," Stott says airily.

As a humble lecturer grade 1, the nearest I ever get to a "freebie" is the principal's end-of-year cheese and wine reception so I don't dwell on Stott's missed date with the Orient Express.

Around the third week of term I notice Stott's students hard at it in the library. He has set them a distance-learning exercise and armed them with worksheets as thick as phone directories.

I cast around for Stott to congratulate him. But finding his jacket on the chair and his PC switched on, I assume he has just popped out for some coffee.

Next morning the PC is off but a pile of papers has appeared. Minder pokes his nose around the door. "Hardworking fellow that Stott." The next day no jacket, but the marking has disappeared. Is there no end to this man's industry? He must have stayed at his desk all night - what professionalism!

But where is he? I am starting to get edgy when next day I catch sight of him in the corridor being mobbed by students behaving like a press pack outside No 10.

"Tell me the secret of your popularity." I demand.

Stott waves his nicotine-stained hand. "ECAS, old boy. I give them what they need - a little bit of attention - but not too much. It creates dependency. "

He pulls out a cigarette and a book of matches. Even upside down and from a distance I make out the distinctive art deco logo and the legend "Venice-Simplon Orient Express".


Contributions are welcomed (and paid for). Please contact the TES FE Focus, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Names and locations are changed but evidence supporting the story should be provided.

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