Say cheers for a flexible friend

Stephen Jones

Let us all give thanks for Geraldine. She's a girl in a million is Geraldine. Yet there are thousands just like her. Geraldines and Geralds too. I know, the FEFC tells me so.

Geraldine is a proud daughter of the Further Education Funding Council. She is what they call a "student". The FEFC designed, crafted and honed her, then sent her out, like Frankenstein's monster, into the unsuspecting world of further education.

Yet Geraldine is no monster. Quite the reverse. She's an angel. A real sweetie pie. She knows exactly where she's going. And what she's got to do to get there.

She is going straight to the promised land of the PLG, the primary learning goal, what we used to call passing her exams in the days when there were such things. And even though she always makes the journey by the quickest possible route (sorry, pathway) you can be sure that lots of lovely value will have been added to her along the way. Because Geraldine is the sort of girl to whom value sticks like cash to a bookmaker's fingers.

Geraldine is so smart. She always knows exactly what she's supposed to know about what it means to be a student, about charters and contracts and statements of mission. And about the importance of quality and the active part she must play in it.

And then of course she knows everything there is to know about the institution in which she studies. Geraldine can sing for you, in harmony with all the other Geraldines, her college's policies on race and gender, discipline and order, sex and drugs. After all they have been lovingly delivered to her in long and meaningful sessions with her college's customer care manager.

Our Geraldine is such a visible person too. No need to spend any time or money tracking her. Geraldine is a girl who stands out in a crowd. That's what makes her so easy to account for when she passes a census point or spends a penny (now cut to .37 of a "p" for efficiency's sake).

But the most amazing thing of all about her is that although she is always busy getting counselled and guided, inducted and consulted, her needs are so little. Certainly she needs very little money spending on her (in that she really is her father's daughter!) That's why she doesn't need teaching. Geraldine is much too flexible for that. That's where she prefers to spend her time - in her college's flexible learning centre. Geraldine knows that learning through off-the-shelf packages will allow her to walk at her own pace. And anyway teachers are so old-fashioned. They have beards and warts and halitosis. And the men are just as bad. And despite all these imperfections they still insist on being paid such exorbitant salaries.

On the odd occasion she does attend a class, Geraldine is happy it's such a large one. She knows there's no evidence to show that students learn better in smaller classes. And anyway you meet more people that way. And when the class is merged with another one because it doesn't have 35 students in it, she gets to meet even more of them (and to sit on some of their laps).

Naturlich, Geraldine knows all about Europe. But still she's a patriotic girl because if she was some poor Johnny foreigner she knows she'd have to labour through 20 or 25 or even 30 hours a week of tuition.

But being British, she knows she can learn all she needs to learn quite comfortably in 12.5 hours. More than enough to keep up with dullard Svens and Chantelles as long as she's flexible!

So let's have cheers for Geraldine and for the FEFC who made her. Because if our classes were filled with kids who suffer from acne and who can't always manage to add up or write a proper English sentence - the sort who sometimes get depressed or suicidal or whose parents split up - I don't know how we'd cope with them.

Stephen Jones is a London college lecturer.

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