16th March 2001 at 00:00
In the free transfer of the season Mike Austin, Agony Uncle of The TES College Manager, has brought his monthly column to FE Focus

Parental concerns

Q My 16-year-old daughter wants to enrol at this small college next September. I lecture in English and she is bound to hear things about me, some of them probably not very kind. Should I insist that she goes somewhere else? There is a very good sixth-form college not far from here.

A We've all got our dark secrets. Whether it's smelly feet, a collection of pilfered traffic cones, or a family member who supports Leeds United, we all live in fear of exposure. Let her come: there's no reason to let the sixth-form college get the units that she brings with her.

Tips for the top?

Q I am ambitious and I have recently been to a number of interviews for senior manager posts. I was turned down on the last occasion in favour of an internal candidate. Do you have any tips about how to succeed in an interview for a post of this kind?

A Well, if the selection process for a senior post consists of an interview and nothing else, you don't want to have anything to do with the place. You learn less about what a candidate is really like from an interview than from almost any other activity. In-tray exercises, discussions, and just chatting over a sandwich and a coffee are much more revealing. Be yourself, follow your instincts.

A buffet too far

Q Our college, which has under-recruited for some time and is not in good financial health, is to launch a range of courses at a local press conference. The event is going to cost a lot of money, what with the fancy finger-buffet and better-than-average wine. Should I complain about the expense?

A Could it be that you have not been invited? In any case, received wisdom is it that the best way to get interest in new offerings is through a spectacular event with plenty of drink for the hacks, and not another leaflet drop, poster campaign or, worst of all, a series of expensive ads in the local paper. As for the cost, remember that there is no such thing as a free launch.

Beware the demos

Q My board of governors has become much less inclined to take my advice. In the past few months they have over-ruled me on a number of key policy issues. They have not strayed outside the bounds of responsibilities, but whereas they used to defer to me, they have taken to ignoring me. I am afraid to stand up to them in case they decide to get rid of me. What can I do?

A You can be thankful that hey are taking their role seriously; reflect on whether perhaps they were right in their decisions (even if you didn't like the way they took them); and comfort yourself with the thought that governors are not so trigger-happy as they used to be. Beware, however, of repeated mass demonstrations outside your office: that's what did for tyrants in Serbia and the Philippines.

Catch the buzz

Q Why are people who work in FE apparently so depressed at the moment? What with the exciting Learning and Skills Council, fresh arrangements for inspection, colleges as designated centres of excellence, and a series of impressive ministerial announcements there seems to be a real buzz about the Department for Education and Employment these days.

A That sound is certainly a buzz, but it is the noise of the bees in the DFEE's bonnet. As for the general mood, it's all this change. Colleges are to change what kids are to ice cream. We love it but can sometimes have too much. At the moment we have overdosed on pistachio.

Brickie's lament

Q I have taught brickwork and associated trowel trades in this college for more than 15 years. Nobody has complained about the quality of my work, nor about my professionalism. I feel that it is time for a change, and I would like to be retrained in one of the newer subjects, like community education or hairdressing. When I suggest this to my line manager he just laughs, and the staff development officer keeps spending money on fringe interest programmes such as inclusive learning or equal opportunities. I have a right to self-improvement, and the college's mission statement talks about developing its greatest resource: its staff.

A Demand to be appraised and make sure that you discuss your ambitions with the appraiser. It may be helpful to have your ideas more clearly worked out. What makes you think that your new career will be as good as you hope? FE colleges are full of hairdressers, martyrs to varicose veins, wanting to lay bricks, and community educators, fed up with networking in draughty church halls, who would kill for the chance to plaster for a living. See if you can negotiate a job-swap for a week, and you may feel better.

And finally: If you are the person who has sent me three anonymous letters in the past month, the answers are a) an ALF of more than pound;20, and b) blancmange. But it would be better to give me your name so that I can respond more fully.

Problems to: Dilemmas, FE Focus, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, E1W 1BX

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