8th September 2000 at 01:00
Mike Austin, agony uncle, answers your queries.

The name game

Q As director of marketing, I have been asked by my principal to consider a new name for the college. She feels our poor image may have led to low enrolments and an outflow of good staff. Any ideas?

A The trend among large companies is to go for initials, not whole names: BT, BA etc. While not advisable for, say, Wakefield College or for the place that was within a hair's breadth of calling itself South Hertfordshire Institute of Technology (until saved from ignominy by an alert governor), a catchy set of initials might persuade people that a new college is being created. Otherwise, avoid New College, of which we already have plenty. If you want to appeal to younger clients you could take a chance on Pokemon College, but you might have to change names regularly to keep up. Yo Yo college, for example, would date you a bit, even if it was an accurate description of your fortunes.

Behold the enemy

Q In this rural area we have been stuck with a training and enterprise council that has been hostile to the college. According to the usually accurate local grapevine, the chief executive of the TEC is a red hot favourite to become boss of the local learning and skills council. As the principal, I will have to work closely with him, but I can't stand the man. Can you advise me?

A Do you see yourself as the Queen, or as Camilla? The offender, or the wronged party? Whichever your role, if they can press each other's flesh, so can you. If you have a birthday coming up, have a party and ask him along.

Bagged by Oxford

Q I was phoned by a lady representing a consortium of Oxford colleges trying to make better links with FE. This scheme had been dreamed up, she said, before Gordon Brown "threw his wobbly one (sic)". She wanted an invitation to visit us and talk to staff and students about applying to Oxford. She was very familiar with A-levels, had definitely heard of AS (but didn't know what it was), and went eerily silent when I mentioned GNVQs. Was this all a practical joke, or should I take her up on the offer?

A She may not have recognised GNVQs, but there again neither does my spellchecker. So she was at least up with the latest technology. My inclination would be to take her up on the offer. What have you got to lose? If nothing else, you could tell her a lot: a chance to shine a little light into a dark place. At the end of it all, one or two of your students may decide that Oxford could after all be a better bet than Harvard or the nearest converted poly. They might even be right.

Anything but mum

Q I am being plagud by a disgruntled parent. One of our full-time students has poor attendance, has consistently failed to produce assignments on time and has been lippy with her tutor. Her mother, a single parent, insists the daughter is a model of good, conscientious behaviour and that the college has let her down. She has written to her MP, to the regional office of the FEFC, and now, I understand, to the local paper. How can I shut her up?

A You don't need a degree in psychology to know what is in the anxious mother's mind. You shouldn't want to "shut her up". You should assuage her feelings of guilt. Evidence, evidence, evidence. Where are the registers showing the student's absences? Where is the learner file showing the gaps in assignments? Where is the record of tutorial activity showing instances of lip? If you've got them, you are in the clear, if not, brace yourself for some unpleasant slanging. The real question is: why is such an unsatisfactory student still with you? Given what you say, surely she should have been escorted off the premises long ago, if only to encourage the others. Good student support does not consist of propping them up at all costs.

Dental panic

Q I am clerk in a very large college. After reading a circular that I picked up at the dentist's, I have a sinking feeling that I have not been fulfilling one of my duties: notifying contracts to a Brussels bureaucrat. Am I right?

A Why can't you stick to back numbers of 'Country Life' like everyone else? But you could be right, depending on the size of the potential contract. At current prices, if you go out to tender for a project or contract with a value above pound;160,000, you have to let the nice people in Brussels know. The Official Journal of the European Communities - very popular reading in the waiting rooms of Europe - is the organ in which all this stuff appears. It is supposed to ensure that would-be contractors anywhere in the EU can put in a bid.

Early retirement

Q In the June edition of 'College Manager' you said that the FEFC was going to part-fund early retirements. Have they changed their mind?

A Yes, they have. They explained that the proposal raised some doubts in colleges, so they dropped it. They didn't explain why the proposal to reward colleges that raised achievement, a move which was opposed by rather more colleges, is going ahead regardless. The FEFC is never going to face accusations of boring predictability.

Mike Austin is principal of Accrington and Rossendale College

Problems to Dilemmas, College Manager, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX e-mail: furtheredu@tes.co.uk

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