3rd March 2000 at 00:00
Mike Austin , agony uncle, answers your queries.

Smelling of Coventry ?

Q. At my last governing body, two strangers turned up and said they were from the Further Education Funding Council, though they looked normal enough. They didn't say anything but took copious notes and walked off with copies of all the papers. Is this usual or should I be worried about them?

A. I don't think these would have been from the FEFC. There are not enough people left in the organisation to mount a raiding party. I bet they were from New College, Nottingham, on a spying mission and lining up a take-over bid. Stand by your phone.

Go Norse, young man.

Q. I have tried to start all sorts of initiatives since coming into FE in this college several months ago but am blocked at every turn by senior managers who keep mumbling about a "funding mythology", though they never tell me what it is. Can you explain, or send me any reading matter which might help me understand what they are talking about?

A. This is easy. The Funding Mythology, like a Norse Saga, refers to a time long ago when brave men (mostly) and women (sometimes) went on journeys to find students, strong in the belief that the great God of Funding would support them with his invincible Mythology. They found that, far from support, what they got was a series of challenges designed to reveal their foolishness. You could seek students in France or the Low Countries, for example, but not in Scotland. However proud you were of your students you could only count them once. And, although the Mythology did not forbid it, you were not permitted to franchise. Probably the best account of the highs and lows, the ups and downs of this unpredictable time is the introduction to the visitors' guide to Halton Towers.

Interfering governors.

Q. My governors are getting an insatiable appetite for management information. The more I tell them the more they want to know. Pretty soon I am going to have to tell them where the college is. Have you any advice on how to keep them in their place?

A. This is a serious threat to the essential mystique of further education. If your governors ever find out where the college is, they will want to know what goes on there. You owe it to the rest of the sector to avoid this happening. My advice would be to kill them with kindness. Send them copies of absolutely everything: self-assessment reports, minute of the academic board, Health and Safety memos, the organisational structure chart, the lot. Tough on the rainforest, I know, but they will be so busy reading they will have no time to ask any questions, or they will get totally confused and confine their efforts to looking intelligent. Good luck.

Help me, I'm a counsellor.

Q. I am a college counsellor. Recently, things have gone badly for me at home and work and I am now desperate. Who can I turn to for help?

A. Apart from me, you mean. This is an old problem, in the same bracket as: 'Who trains the trainers?' The Romans expressed it nattily: Quis custodiet ipsos custodies? (Roughly: Who guards the guards?) But they didn't answer their own question. Have you thought about a counsellor in a different college? You could share problems and nobody need know. Mutual revelations, or "I'll show you mine if you show me yours" is established counselling practice.

That's my job, partner.

Q. Following a recent senior management reshuffle, my responsibility for curriculum and quality has been changed to oversight of Lifelong Learning Partnerships. No one knows what these are and many think they are on their way out. Can youoffer any help?

A. I think you are wrong about LLPs. I am sure that at least two people know what they are, namely David B and Lady Tessa. The trouble is that they don't agree, and that's why they are not telling us. If you carry on thinking about curriculum and quality, if necessary by using code words, I expect that it will turn out to be relevant in the end.

Pity the poor principal.

Q. I noticed from the league table of principals' salaries published in 'The TES' that ours is No114 . Is there anything we can do as Natfhe branch members to ensure that his efforts are more appropriately rewarded?

A. You could pass a vote of confidence in him, and send an urgent branch resolution to the governors, demanding that he receive a hike in pay to reflect adequately the managerial skills he has displayed in employee relations. Or perhaps your question means that you are trying to find more appropriate ways of rewarding principals than a salary? Putting a price on things does tend to cheapen them, doesn't it? How about regular loads of bovine manure (for his roses), delivered on to his drive? Would your gratitude run as far as a whip-round to buy him a week's timeshare in Batley in November?

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