I would sooner play dead than pay my IfL fee
My letter finally came the other day. It was dated 9 February, but I think the postman must have been holding it back on the grounds that he hates to see a grown man cry.
It was signed by that nice smiley Toni Fazaeli, who once had a proper job teaching people things, but now sits in the chief executive's chair at the Institute for Learning's London office. When I looked at it more closely, however, I could see it was going to be no smiling matter at all.
"Dear Mr Jones," it ominously began. "I am writing personally to you to outline the changes to IfL membership from 1 April 2011." It didn't waste much time getting to the heart of the matter. Paragraph three: "Standard membership will be pound;68 per year" - to be paid by you, sucker! Except it wasn't put like that. "Like many other professionals . members will now be required to pay their own subscription fees" is what it actually said.
"We recognise," Toni continued, with blazing sincerity, "that this is a change for you." Well, you can say that again. Up until now me and all the other members of this "leave and you lose your job" club have had our subscriptions paid by the Government.
Of course, making its members stump up the cash themselves is how the IfL has managed to escape the flames of that quango bonfire that we heard so much about last year. If it is funded by members' subscriptions, then it won't get torched in the way the schoolteachers' equivalent in England, the General Teaching Council, is about to be.
We have until All Fools' Day - no irony intended - to pay that pound;68. In case we are thinking of not bothering, Toni reminds us yet again that "membership of IfL is mandatory for teachers and trainers in further education and skills."
When I had finished reading the letter I asked the question that so many others have been asking for the past month: "What can I do about it?"
The first alternative - pay up and shut up - I wasn't keen on. I am not alone in this. A Facebook page has been set up in protest, and the adjectives are flying as the posts multiply.
Interestingly, the IfL continues to maintain that it finds a high level of satisfaction among its members. I'm not sure exactly what the question is they ask, but given the vociferous anti-IfL sentiments I hear from everyone in FE I speak to, I suggest it must be something like: "Would you rather have your ears sliced off by a rusty cutlass or remain a member of the IfL?"
So if paying up isn't an option, is not paying a viable one either? True, it would make you an instant FE martyr. But while being one of the Fazaeli Fourteen would undoubtedly give you street cred at your next union branch meeting, you would still be first in line down the dole office come Monday morning.
And what of the unions themselves? The biggest FE union - and the one I have been a 30-year member of - is the University and College Union (UCU). It welcomed the IfL when it was first set up, but has been gradually rowing back from that position ever since. The UCU is on the case it seems, but as yet has not come up with a definitive line. One possibility would be a mass boycott. If I don't pay, they can sack me. If 10,000 of us don't pay, then that would leave a hell of a lot of empty classrooms.
Will that happen? Possibly. Or there again, possibly not. In the meantime I'm planning for the really fun alternative to paying: faking my own death. I would leave behind a little pile of clothes on Brighton beach, before slipping back into the workforce with a fake new identity. Some improbable name - like Tony Fazaeli, for instance - would surely mean I would never be noticed.
Stephen Jones is a lecturer at a college in London.