A summer of dissed content

Quiet isn't it? I have been sitting here all day and you are only the third person to turn to this page. Everyone else is on holiday, I suppose. Have you noticed how thin the paper gets at around this time of year? It is a shame really; the paper shrinks so my column is a much bigger proportion of the whole than usual; it is my 15 minutes of fame. Normally, people are so exhausted by all the schools news that they get to my bit too tired to read it. This week, I could have you all thinking: thank heavens for this column; the only thing worth reading in the whole TES.

Except it isn't. The chance to be egregious coincides with having nothing to write about. The other two readers had given up by this time; I'm glad to see you are sticking with it. I agree it can only get better from here. It is nice to get the chance for a confidential one-to-one chat like this, though, isn't it?

I am a touch worried about my readers, however. I mean, reading FE Focus in the middle of August is probably only slightly better than writing for it, isn't it? Why aren't you on holiday like the rest? Some of our lot were off like a shot in early July and won't be back for weeks yet.

Oh, I see, you were left on duty to respond to any department consultation documents and you're in the middle of replying to Success for All. No, I don't think it is sad at all; someone has to take an interest in these matters. What do you think of it, by the way? Yes, me too; I am just relieved they haven't decided to break us up into little chunks and throw us to the local learning and skills council. Oh, you are in favour of that. Sorry, I didn't realise you were a sixth-form college reader.

How were your exam results, by the way? I haven't worked ours out yet, though I've issued the local press release. I issued last year's again. The one that says how delighted we are at our students' huge success which is due to their talent and the staff's hard work. Nothing too specific, such as actual percentage pass rates or any contentious stuff. Nobody ever checks and a bit of good news cheers everybody up, doesn't it? Especially our governors.

Ah well, just over half way to the end of the article. You are doing well. What, you have never got this far before? It is the new content-free style that is working for you? Good; there is much more.

It is a trying time, though isn't it? Exam results day, I mean. Oh yes, of course it is trying for the students, too, I suppose, but I was thinking more of me, really. It is all that raising standards business; all those targets and league tables; all that scrutiny and the mockery of colleague principals who've had a lucky break and upped their score to 0.3 total average points per candidate higher than yours. All those initiatives you put in place over the past two years, all that staff time spent managing quality, all those course team meetings, self-assessment days, development plans, one-to-one tutorials, absence monitoring, online mentoring schemes, teaching pay initiative appraisal interviews, internal classroom observation audits, certificate of education staff development programmes, 27 action plans and a full Office for Standards in Education inspection. Suppose none of it has worked; what if we forgot to give the script to our students and the little blighters have done no better this year than last? Where will that leave us all?

Anyway, enough gloom. Enrolment day is just around the corner; I've got my recruitment targets on a piece of paper here somewhere, Ah yes, here it is. I need 7,967 part-time students and 3,546 full-time students to walk through the doors and sign on the dotted line. And 863 learndirect students, 86 modern apprentices, 504 level 2 employment pilot punters, 1,763 skills for life learners, 65 foundation degree speculators and 500 degree course hopefuls. And just over 100 disinfected 14 to 16-year-old vocational GCSE students from the local comps. All that will convert exactly to next year's budget of pound;19,247,345 through the miracle of the new funding methodology and a score or so of other funding streams. A doddle.

Well, it has been nice talking to you. We must do it again, sometime. It is pleasant to have this brief midsummer interlude. As they said in the trenches: sit back, relax and empty your mind of all your worries. We don't go over the top till tomorrow.

Graham Jones is principal of Sutton Coldfield College

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