Away in an FE college, no crib...

25th December 1998 at 00:00
Plonkett's Pot - (or, "How to get your Grubby Hands on FE's Windfall Dosh")

Setting - Opportunity College, (somewhere in the suburbs).

Cast - Twelve cross-college co-ordinators: (in order of salary size) Publicity and Marketing; Business Projects; Industry Links; Information Technology; Self Assessment; Value Added; Modularisation; New Deal; Curriculum; Quality; Lifelong Learning; Student Care.

Chief: Opportunity College's chief executive and co-ordinator of co-ordinators.

Three Wise Women: otherwise known as deputy chief executives.

'Tis the day before Christmas

And all through the College,

Not a creature is stirring

For skills or for knowledge...

Certainly not a student is stirring, anyway. They have better ways of spending Christmas. But in the thrusting new world that is further education, holidays, like sanity, have long been abolished.

In spite of the thick snow that blankets the ground outside, in the college's number one committee room the last executive group meeting of the year is about to get under way.

The room is warm and cosy and decorated in an appropriately festive style.Through the tightly-shut windows the sound of shovels scraping on asphalt can occasionally be heard.

Wise Woman 1: That was a good scheme chief, to get the lecturers shovelling up the snow Chief: Yes, and not a word of protest from NATFHE you note.

Wise Woman 2: Not since you sacked the branch secretary at least.

Chief: Was it my fault no students enrolled on his courses?

Wise Woman 3: No. But then you had taken the precaution of cutting them all a week earlier. (General laughter) Chief: Anyway, let's get on to more important matters. I've got something to show you. (He pulls a cord. Two curtains fly back to reveal a large flower pot filled to overflowing with bank notes. ) That's our Christmas present to ourselves. Plonkett's pot of gold.

Quality co-ordinator: Really?

Chief: Not really you dunderhead. It's a symbol. (Several co-ordinators form the word on their lips, and Industrial Links solemnly enters it in his notebook.) Wise Woman 1: But aren't we supposed to be doing something for the disadvantaged in order to get that money?

Wise Woman 2: And I'm sure I read something about improving our efficiency.

Chief: Well, as we all know, the new money is supposed to go to widen participation. That is it's intended for colleges in grotty areas. And because Plonkett's side-kicks can't think of a sensible way to determine what's grotty and what isn't, they've decided to do it on the basis of postcodes. So, the grottier the postcode, the bigger the payout. Now, while we obviously won't qualify for much on that reckoning, I'm sure you can all think of one of our neighbours that will.

Wise Women 1, 2 and 3 (as one): Scrapeby College.

Chief: And have I or have I not just concluded a deal (he waves a piece of paper in the air) with the poor harassed principal of Scrapeby that buys us into their postcode?

Business projects co-ordinator: A franchise!

Chief: No, no, no you blithering idiot. How many times have I got to tell you: franchises are yesterday's scam - sorry, scheme. This isn't a franchise. This is a partnership.

Student care co-ordinator: That sounds a lot more caring.

Chief: That's because we're a caring college. Doesn't it say so in our mission statement?

Student care co-ordinator: (proudly) Three times.

Chief: There you are then. Now pay attention. Under our partnership agreement they send us all their bright A-level students ...

Wise Woman 1: So they get the prestige of the Opportunity College name ...

Chief: And in exchange we send them all our New Dealers.

Wise Woman 2: Both of them.

Chief: Well, naturally I led them to believe we've got a few more than that. But then we can easily buy them in from Shoestring College if we have to. They're always short of money.

Wise Woman 3: And we'll have lots of it from Plonkett's Pot.

Chief: Clever, eh?

Wise Woman 2: But what about the efficiency test, I thought we couldn't have the money until we'd passed that.

Chief: Oh ye of little faith. I've thought of that too. (He picks up the phone). Send in Ms Keen will you. (A timid-looking woman with a silly grin on her face comes in.) Team, meet our new Superteacher.

All: Wow!

Chief: This will really put us on the map.

Quality co-ordinator: Just think, now we'll be exactly like the schools.

Chief: No. You lot are slow today. Not like schools. Haven't you noticed,the schools are proposing to give their superteachers more money.

Wise woman 1: And giving our lecturers more money isn't the way we do things in FE.

Wise woman 2: No, we just give them more work.

Chief: Exactly. Ms Keen has agreed to take on a 35-hour contact timetable in exchange for the title of classroom manager. We're even creating a new low point on the management spine especially for her.

Ms Keen: You're very generous chief executive. Thank you. Thank you I Chief: Of course she'll lose half her remaining holidays ...

Ms Keen: Thank you, thank you.

Chief: But think of the prestige she'll gain from the new title. Think how the other lecturers will look up to her. That will be all Ms Keen. Oh, and don't forget your shovel on the way out will you. (There is general merriment as she makes her exit complete with a final farrago of "thank you's").

Wise Woman 3: But Chief. Just a thought. If we get Plonkett's Pot...

Chief: When we get it...

Wise Woman 3: When we get it ... if all the deprived students are still going to be up at Scrapeby ... and if we're not going to give any of it away to the lecturers ...

Chief: ...what are we going to do with it? Is that what you're wondering?

Wise Woman 3: It had crossed my mind.

Chief: Easy. It so happens that only yesterday the governors agreed to an upgrading of all the senior staff in the college.

Wise Woman 1: Otherwise known as the executive group.

Chief: Just so. It seems we've performed exceptionally well this last year. So Plonkett's Pot is coming to us! Happy Christmas everybody, you've earned it.

(In small excited groups the newly enriched executives go into the College Hospitality Suite where a large seasonal spread awaits. Quiet returns to the committee room, broken only by the occasional scrape of a distant shovel I)

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