New lobbying groups in FE are sprouting faster than rhubarb this spring. A few weeks ago, it was the 157 Group. This week, following an idea picked up from a can of Foster's lager, several big FE college principals are forming another pressure group. Based on the premise that only big college principals can pull their weight in policy making - or stare Charles Clarke in the eye if he's ever moved back to Education - the group is open to anyone over 6ft 5in and 16 stone. To avoid accusations of "sizeism", principals with large egos andor bonuses will also be admitted. Twenty members have signed up so far.
It is hoped that this new group, to be called Building Up Greater Geo-political Aspirations (BUGGA), will force ministers to take notice of FE. They should be highly visible.
Was the name a unanimous choice? "Well," admitted a spokesman, "we thought of the Russell Group. But, although several of our members call themselves 'Master and Commander' and a few like to dress up as gladiators, in the end we felt that Russell Crowe wasn't, er, big enough, if you know what I mean.
He's no Johnny Vegas, is he, although Vegas is the venue for our inaugural convention."
But is there really a need for such a group? No question. "With all the conference dinners for new quality agencies and quangos, many principals are getting bigger and bigger. This is a new way of enabling them to exercise that muscle. Politically, at least."
What about the rest of the sector? Does this mean there's no place for them? "Of course not," was the retort. "Look, Tesco and Sainsbury's have their Locals and Metros, don't they? Or you can just coast along to Kwik Save. There's a place for everyone. Even Thorntons chocolate shops - not that we've anything against sixth form colleges." And the Learning and Skills Council? "I don't think car boot sales will go out of existence just because of us." Or the Association of Colleges? "We support the corner shop 110 per cent."
What policies will they be pressing on the Government? "Naturally, we believe in the big college principal, give or take a few pounds, though size of salary is not our only concern. Where that's not practicable, federations of smaller colleges with a big BUGGA principal overseeing them might be a possibility. But there will always be room for the small institution - look at Ronnie Corbett, he's a national institution."
As for marketing, the group expects us to make a big impact. "Look at TV advertising - full of flash cars and monster 4x4s. They're what people notice. FE is nowhere. But just think of the effect of seeing 'The big BUGGAs are coming' on your screen."
Finally, in the realm of quality, BUGGA aims to end the confusion caused in FE by the proliferation of so many new bodies. Their merger of all groups into one umbrella organisation will resolve the issue. And the proposed name for this quality-increasing agency? You'll have to work that out for yourself.
John Bishop is a former smallish college principal