Finding a college job these days is all a question of jumping through hoops, writes Don Short
MY FIRST call-up of the summer was a local sixth-form college advertising for an art and design lecturer. First decision - do I wear a suit and tie? Incorporation has, among other things, introduced dress codes into FE but these are not always upheld and the effect is often a hotchpotch dividing management from staff.
First obstacle - two internal candidates revealed themselves by staying behind while the others took the tour! Jobs used to be filled easily, locally. Now everything has to be "transparent", even if the outcome is still the same. I over-dressed (only the principal was suited). I made it to the interview stage. The phone call came within an hour of my return home.
Next stop, South-East Essex. This time I chose the smart, unfettered look (chinos, open-neck shirt) demonstrated at the sixth-form college.
A former tech, this college displayed all the hallmarks of incorporation: designer logo, receptionist, carpets, no smoking. Everyone took the tour this time, the internal candidate pretending to be as unfamiliar with the place as the rest. Personnel had a firm grip on proceedings and tests had been devised to ascertain our suitability for teaching.
First, a team exercise. Split into two groups, we massed into separate corners. The premise: 10 pot-holers are trapped - waters are rising, time running out. Each was a type (crusading Aids lawyer, racist businessman, a girl with cancer etc) cast in such a way as to make our choices harder or easier, depending on our perspective. We had to choose seven and leav three to die. Rivals, we worked together to save them while being observed throughout. Then came the verbal reasoning test: 40 multiple-choice questions based on individual passages (nuclear fuel, immigration, traffic congestion).
Finally, we were presented with a simulated timetable of our first day at work and an in-tray of e-mails and memos suggesting or requiring meetings to which we had to prioritise into our day.
Exhausted, I made it to the interview stage. At the sixth-form college, the interview was of the urbane, round-tabled variety. In South-East Essex, it was conducted with all the rectangular vigour and symmetry of a show trial. The crunch question came early. "What did I think of the locality?" I was brusquely informed that I would be expected to live locally, if successful - a stance that clearly discriminates against home-owning, married-with-children types like me. Commuting was scoffed at, although it was only an hour's journey. Oh, and did I mind wearing a suit? The letter arrived two weeks later.
Finally, I ventured into west Kent (suited again). With the college a windowed slab in the middle of a playing field, it was clear why the last inspection raised concerns about its "ambience".
Devoid of students, it had an air of abandonment. The head of art and design post had yet to be filled and, although two art and design lecturers greeted us, neither of them was highly placed enough to interview candidates.
Instead, the principal and his deputy, both from science backgrounds, conducted a friendly interview, they tentatively viewed my portfolio. The phone call came the next day.