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Shankly speaking must be our goal;FE Focus;Viewpoint;Opinion

One DAY recently I was dozing, but thinking. In such circumstances the mind wanders and thinking is often disjointed. My first thought was one of sadness. My sadness was associated with the way in which the further education sector, following the heady early days of incorporation, managed to slump into an era of depression from which it is only now beginning to recover. What went wrong?

Was it all the fault of a funding council that encouraged calculated risk-taking in which the council did the calculations and senior college managers took the risks?

Or was it all the fault of the new brigade of besuited senior managers with their mobile telephones and their BMWs who, in confusing the words business-like and businesses, appeared to know the cost of everything and the value of nothing?

In their confusion, such managers adopted all the worst elements of business practice: they neglected the principal deliverers of their core business, the teachers, and casualised their labour in a sector where continuity is essential; they managed through threats rather than encouragement; they made changes not aimed at improving the provision, but rather making it cheap and sometimes tatty; and, in some of the worst cases, snouts were put in the trough and the sector's reputation for sleaze was born.

My mind switched to a Sunday in June 1970, when I was driving from Manchester to Scunthorpe. I had recently been appointed principal of Scunthorpe Technical College, now North Lindsey College of Technology. I was listening to the England-West Germany game on the radio.

As I cleared the Pennines and approached Barnsley, England were leading 2-0. Then that great motivating manager, Alf Ramsey, substituted Bobby Charlton.

As I left what in future years would become David Eade's Barnsley, West Germany scored their third goal and England were out of the 1970 World Cup. The next day Scunthorpe Technical College, along with much of England, was in a state of depression.

My secretary Sue Barker, whose father was the assistant manager at Scunthorpe United and whose brother was their left-back, said: "Bill Shankly wouldn't have made that mistake."

Of course, Scunthorpe knew and loved Shankly. He had done that proud borough the honour of buying two of their outstanding players, Ray Clemence for pound;18,000, and Kevin Keegan for a then huge pound;33,000.

As I drifted into the deeper realms of fantasy I wondered what sort of college principal Bill Shankly would have been. He would certainly have been a manager with a mission and a motto.

His mission might not have suited the computer-toting, calculator-driven bureaucrats from the Further Education Funding Council, with their circular-a-week intrusion into the life of his college, which, thankfully, David Melville is beginning to change.

Shankly's mission would have been "excellence, excellence excellence through positive, positive, positive thinking". His aim would be to make his college not the best in Merseyside, nor in the North-west, not even the best in the UK. No, he would have striven to make it the best in the world.

He would not do this by travelling the world. He would do it by talking his teachers, his students, his governors and the public at large into believing this. He would then set about achieving his goal.

He would be a teachers' and students' manager, not a governors'. He would change the language of FE. He would not talk the language of funding units, tariff values, cost weighting and audit. He would have despised those who did.

He would be concerned with people and their needs. He would quickly introduce the elusive "feel-good factor": his college would never be half-empty, it would always be half-full; his students would never fail examinations, the examiners would have got it wrong; his students and teachers would be inspired by his visits to both the classrooms and the staffroom as he walked the college corridors and left the form-filling to others.

He would work a 90-hour week, but never complain; he would ensure that education and training were things of the heart; all who came into contact with him would be inspired by his wit, his wiles, his wry sense of humour; and, last but not least, his belief in the need to enable those placed in his charge to develop their talents and abilities to the full. And, at the end of all this, his college would be the best in the world.

I know that the two Davids, Eade and Melville, and Chris Hughes, the new chief executive of the Further Education Development Agency, have some of the Bill Shankly in them. I hope and pray that Glenn Hoddle, even without Gazza's fiery flair, has.

Then my nightmarish drive through Barnsley of 28 years ago can be laid to rest as, with the rest of you, I celebrate England's second World Cup triumph, or indeed Scotland's first, and also the beginning of a new era in FE in which factionalism is laid to rest: the Association of Colleges and FEDA work together amicably; the Further Education National Training Organisation arrives as a force for good; David Blunkett at last gets his hands into Gordon Brown's treasure- chest; and FE once again debates and implements measures aimed at improving education, not just college balance sheets.

Terry Melia is chairman of the Further Education and Development Agency

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