Another view - Respect is normally found at the top end of the greasy pole

8th January 2010 at 00:00
Comment: Stephen Jones

Teachers in schools don't want to be heads. A recent survey found that fewer than half aspire to headship at any time in their career, and only 9 per cent say they will be actively chasing it within the next three years.

Given the size of colleges compared with schools, far fewer lecturers can expect to make it all the way to the top; so the comparable statistic might be for those who want to reach at least head of school, department or faculty. In other words, people who ultimately want to manage rather than teach.

I don't know of any comparable study held in further education colleges, but I'd be surprised if the results were the same as those for schools. Because what you get if you climb the greasy pole of promotion in FE is status, kudos or, to use the street term, respect.

If the reason you came into college teaching was to do just that - to teach and nothing else - then you're in the territory of what the US military once called a GI, but now refer to simply as a "grunt".

There's no getting away from it. Apart from cleaning the loos and carrying out the rubbish, teaching is pretty much the lowest status occupation in any college these days. Administrators may be paid less, but that doesn't stop them getting priority in most other things over the poor old grunts.

The occasional attempts to change this lamentable state of affairs always come to nothing. Some years back, the idea of introducing a super-teacher scheme into FE, like that of the advanced skills teacher in schools, was floated. This was intended to reward good lecturers for their skills and experience by enhancing their salaries, thus ensuring that they stayed in the classroom. As ever with such schemes in colleges, it soon fizzled out. When it came down to it, no one was prepared to pay the money required to make it work.

The Institute for Learning (IfL) was another idea to help advance the interests of college teachers. This time it was aimed at their status, rather than their pay. The idea was that lecturers should be able to sit as equals alongside other professionals.

In the few short years of the IfL's operation, however, it is hard to find any evidence that this has happened. Yes, it has given lecturers something else to moan about, and soon its double jeopardy courts will be feeding the tabloid press with salacious titbits regarding their alleged misdemeanours. But as for raising status - forget it.

Interestingly, when you look at some of those other professions that lecturers were to be raised up to sit alongside, you can't help but wonder whether part of the reason they get the respect (and money) they do is because for them it is the practice of the essential skills of the job that is the thing - not the managing of it. A top lawyer is just that - not a top manager. He or she might become a judge, but a judge still practises law. The same applies to doctors. Those at the top of the profession are the consultants; they are experts in their field - which is medicine, not the administration of it.

And the same surely applies to many other "professional" jobs. If you book to see King Lear, for example, you don't care who is planning the programme and crunching the seat price numbers: you go to see Sir Ian McKellen strut his stuff as the troubled king.

Perhaps the only occupation really comparable to ours is the police. Here, the ambitious young constable can't wait to get out of uniform and into plain clothes. If he goes back to wearing it later on in his career, then it is likely to be as a high echelon pen-pusher whose days of nicking criminals are long behind him.

So, there you have it: as an FE lecturer, if you're not a grunt you're PC Plod.

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