Anna Hughes writes the unofficial minutes of her college's governing body
The academic report is a regular item. It is bumph, but also an agenda to accept. Worthies from the senior management team and various heads of department, elected teachers and so on deliberate on academic courses, training, attendance, retention and other matters.
It is interesting to note that teaching and administration staff had recently attended courses on such issues as equal opportunities, discrimination and disability.
"I see you have a grand training programme for the staff," says Fergus, our local university governor. "Very timely, given the exhortations in the Learning and Skills Act."
Rex, the principal, beams with pride. "Indeed Fergus, we pride ourselves in the training we give the staff. It's all part of our Investors in People philosophy."
"So what training programmes have the management team been on?" Fergus gazes steadfastly at Rex, who takes a few milliseconds to switch from pride to panic.
"We - er - feel that the team is well trained and performs with great professionalism."
"Nonsense!" says Fergus. "The world moves at an ever-increasing pace. When did you last update yourself on staff interviewing and selection technique, employee motivation or marketing strategy and leadership?" Before Rex can reply, Mary, the teacher governor, tentatively adds: "And perhaps equating the requirements of the job with the resources and time needed to do it."
Not wishing to be left out, Charles, our industrial governor, joins the fray.
"We must add to the list the vital area of customer service at every interface with our customers - students of all ages and needs. What evidence do you have that students are 'satisfied'? No, we should go further - 'delighted' - with the total experience of ollege?" Rex replies: "We conduct a student survey in October to check how well the induction programme went. We analyse student destinations at the end of the year - a useful guide to the effectiveness of their studies - along with achievement and retention rates."
He sits back, hoping the challenge will pass. But Charles does not let him off the hook.
"Come now, Rex, that does not give a view on how satisfied students are with their lecturers' performance or with timetabling, computer facilities and so on."
Fergus interrupts: "Important as that is, Charles, you're drifting off the point. My concern, indeed the board's concern, must be training the management team so they can do their duties to the highest standards. That requires ongoing training. The Learning and Skills Development Agency-" "They used to be called FEDA," says our chairman, at last able to contribute to the discussion.
"Aye," Fergus sweeps on. "They run a principals' programme and a college senior management programme. I propose that we book Rex and his team on both courses."
"But what about the cost?" asks Silas, a worried financial director.
"No problem," counters Fergus. "It's paid out of the Government Standards Fund."
"After that lot, we can slot in some training on customer service," I add with a grin.
Rex makes a tentative recovery. "That, Anna, is for those in direct contact with the public - like our receptionists and course-enquiry staff."
"Wrong!" contradicts Charles. "It's a philosophy that must start at the top and inspire all staff down the chain of command."
The rest of the meeting is dull as we rubber-stamp the usual batch of reports, sub-committee minutes and authorisations. At the buffet later, Rex seems to be taking an unusually enthusiastic interest in the wine.