Smoothie lays his cards on the table

It had been a hell of a day and it was not even lunchtime. Returning from a meeting I was confronted by my "superior" in the car park. I must admit, he looked rather stressed, perhaps due to the students' union facing him with their demands and the realisation that he had been appointed at 4pm the day before by the principal as the most appropriate "scone-burner" to deal with the contracted out catering arrangements, and hadn't even seen the contract prior to them challenging him with well-researched demands at 9am.

"Why weren't you at the collaboration forum meeting?" he fumed.

"You are aware of the situation at the project," I returned. "I had to deal with an unrealistic decision- making situation, and, as I knew YOU were attending the meeting, I assumed that you would brief me at our weekly meeting which we haven't had for six weeks."

"But I did not go, due to other personal priorities and because I knew YOU were attending," he fumed.

"Tough, communication works in two directions."

In an attempt to defuse the obvious stress he was under, I said "No doubt we will receive the minutes of the meeting prior to the next one?" "We should have been represented at that one. Important issues for the college were being discussed!" "Anyway, can we go into your office. There's something I want to discuss with you, and it's nothing to do with our present conversation, " he puffed.

We battled our way over the childproof hurdles which, it has been suggested, were placed there by the health and safety adviser to improve the health of staff carrying heavy briefcases with their homework, and not to stop the recalcitrant nursery brats from running riot along the corridor or disappearing into the sunset.

We settled down in my second-hand-patched comfy chairs, with my acquired coffee table containing all the latest reports - yet to be read.

"Do you want a coffee," I asked, hoping he wouldn't as I hadn't any and would have to half-inch that of the nursery staff, who were starting to compare my caffeine-induced state with the siphoning off of their instant.

"What I have to say is simply based on some ideas I have been thinking about. I have not discussed them with anyone else and they are simply some thoughts I have had recently in view of the principal's need to develop a more flexible and lean machine for the millennium."

"Oh! Oh!" I thought, "Thoughts from this man are dangerous. Are they original ones?" Cringe.

Still, I would assist him to come to the point as he obviously found this unique approach uncomfortable. "What do you mean?" I asked. "How do you see your post developing over the next three years?" he asked.

"You approved my development plan," I suggested helpfully.

After a certain degree of shuffling, he asked, "But do you think you have the skills to move your section forward? How do you see your remit developing over this period, and do you think you can achieve the targets set by the college?" "I would have thought," I suggested politely, "that you would be in a position to determine that."

He then tried another tack. "In view of the one-line budget approach which the heads are having to develop - and I can appreciate that you have been in the forefront by operating this sort of system through your projects for the past three years - there may be some questions asked by the heads and the college management regarding what you actually have achieved."

I suggested that, as my line manager, he would be in a uniquely-informed position to put these ill-informed groups to rights.

In a state of agitation, thinly-veiled by his "front-of-house" smoothie approach, he then blurted out the heart of the matter. "Have you ever considered early retirement?" Shock, horror! Were my skills so redundant, or was it, as my cynical mind whispered to me, an opportunity for him to shine with college management by proposing a financial saving of my Pounds 30, 000?

He added: "You have to realise that the college is faced with cuts each year over the next four years. The heads, with the constant stress being placed on them to become more efficient, may ask why we employ you. In view of the fact that your salary had been funded by an external source, they may question the need for your post when that funding runs out in June."

"Do I not have a permanent post with the college, along with my essential user's car allowance?" I asked.

"That is not what I want you to consider," he mused, with his hands placed together in an attitude of prayer. I couldn't help but notice the movement of a forefinger gently massaging his left nostril.

"The Scottish Office are offering a final round of early retirements, which could give a very generous 10-year enhancement on your pension and provide you with a lump sum equivalent to three years' pension - not something to be sniffed at, after all. Just think of all the outside interests and responsibilities you have. You would have more time to spend on - ailing parents, renovating your old cottage, doing the garden and no more 40-mile return trips to college. You could have all the time in the world."

"What are the alternatives?" I asked tentatively.

"Well, I suppose that in no more than a couple of years, your post could be at risk. The terms of redundancy may not be so generous as early retirement. "

"What if I thought that I was achieving?" I pondered.

"If you really THINK that you can adapt and have the skills to take your section forward to the millennium, then I suppose I would support you to the fullest and give you all the help I could," he said again. "I repeat that these thoughts are mine alone, and I haven't discussed them with anyone," he earnestly suggested.

"I want you to think about the possibilities. Don't think you have to respond immediately, but the principal has to send a final list of those interested to the Scottish Office Education and Industry Department. If you feel you would like to discuss the matter with me further. I would be happy to provide the time to do that," he blurted.

He got up to leave, then turned to me, saying: "I don't want you to think that this had anything to do with our first conversation."

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