Another view - Minister, join us for a pow-wow around the lecturers' campfire

4th June 2010 at 01:00
Comment: Stephen Jones

May 2010 - John Hayes appointed as minister of state for further education, skills and lifelong learning.

Dear John, You have been in post for three weeks now, So, as the pictures in the office have been changed and a cheaper brand of coffee selected, you should be ready to get out and about in your new fiefdom.

Now may be a good time to suggest that the first people to visit are not the Association of Colleges or the 157 Group leaders or any other gathering of the great and the good in further education circles. Instead, you should come and sit down with those of us who actually do the job of educating the next generation, just as Jesus sat with the tax collectors and prostitutes - no bad metaphors, you might think, for FE lecturers.

Or perhaps you'd rather do the job incognito, like Shakespeare's Henry V on the night before Agincourt, when, disguised as a humble archer, he mingled with the troops as they sat at their campfires, fearful of the dawn - though in an FE college you may be a tad conspicuous with Lincoln green hose and a longbow, so just leaving the suit and tie at home should suffice. Remember that humble lecturers also sometimes find themselves fearful of the new day, and thus would welcome whatever comfort "a touch of John in the night" might bring.

The key point, though, is that you actually come and listen to what the average Jo(e) has to tell you, rather than the version you might hear from their bosses. We won't expect you to arrive laden with cash, however much we might deserve and need it. Given that your new government has already prised pound;250 per head out of the hands of little children, we know you are more likely to be in "take" mode than "give" when dealing with lecturers.

What we are more hopeful about is that you will be true to your word on ending government micro-managing of our working lives. We take it as a good sign that you have described this phenomenon as "preposterous" and "unacceptable". But - and this is crucial - you must be aware that micro- management doesn't only happen in the governance and management of colleges. Where it hits, where it hurts, where it stultifies for all those Jo(e)s I mention is down at the level of the teacher in the classroom.

Micro-management is as much an issue for us as it is for our principals. While our leaders may feel restricted by controls from above, we feel de- skilled and infantilised as more and more day-to-day decisions are taken from us and given to remote bodies, or to those appointed in-house to manage this or that aspect of our teaching lives.

Can we expect, too, that you mean what you say on your key theme of reducing bureaucracy? This has been promised before. And what have we been given? Yet another body set up with the remit of "abolishing red tape". Funny how they never think to abolish themselves.

Surely now is the time to do something about it at the grass roots. In the name of "quality", we are deluged with paper that simply undermines quality, destroys quality, by eating up the time available to do what really matters. Paper isn't action: paper is pretend action, the covering of asses, as the Americans would have it - pretending to do things that look good rather than are good.

So, whether as Jesus, King Henry or just Minister of State, visit us, talk to us and find out what we have to say. If that is not possible - if ministerial limousines aren't programmed to drive to the other side of the tracks - at least do the thing you say you want to do: trust us. Just as you say you want to give policing back to police officers and nursing back to nurses, why not reverse the trend of the past 20 years and actually try giving teaching back to the teachers?

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