Let's keep it chilled in the silly season

8th August 2003 at 01:00
Oh, hello, nice to see you again. You turned up here this time last year, if I remember? Ever considered taking a holiday?

Anyway, thanks for showing up. No one else has bothered with this page today and I do get a bit bored if there's no one to chat to.

Mind you, it will be pretty inconsequential stuff. August is my silly season whatever role I'm in. Standards slip. I didn't get into my office till five past nine this morning, tieless and without a single Reggie Perrin excuse to offer: sorry I'm late; completely trouble-free journey; no hold-ups at all; just did a bit of bacon with my egg and had a second cup of coffee. Oh, and did the crossword instead of listening to John Humphrys in the car. As a result, I feel almost human - which is very dangerous in my job.

So even the column gets more laid back in August. By this stage in the proceedings we are usually well into a penetrating analysis of the major educa-political issues of the month, as you know. But that's a bit beyond me while I'm in August mode. I still have 800 words to write, of course, but that's easy so long as you aren't expecting too much.

Have you had a good year? Ours was sort of average. We hammered our recruitment targets, merged with a neighbouring college, survived six visits by the Office for Standards in Education (honest), finished off a major building project, started another, had no complaints reported to the Learning and Skills Council, got thousands of students into the right examination on the right day, didn't lose money, or sack any staff, put on a thousand courses and - the major triumph of the year - recruited a qualified maths teacher last November. No wonder we're all shattered.

What's that you say? That's all very well but did we meet our targets? How did we do in the provider performance review? Are we above national benchmarks? Have we set challenging headline targets? Did our individual learner record get an unqualified audit statement?

Now steady on - don't send the blood pressure up; this is August. This is a time for strolling empty corridors and smelling the fresh lick of paint covering up the scuff marks and graffiti on the walls; a time to stroll down to the refectory for lunch and, in blinding peace and quiet, eat the last sandwich left over from the three they made yesterday; time to gather up all those circulars, digests, magazines and sundry bumph you didn't find time to read during the year and tip it all into the bin with a sense of having won a small victory over bureaucracy. If you got through last year without knowing what was in them, they can't have been that important.

There's surely a lesson there for next year.

This is also a time for bunking off early now and then; for going whole days without switching on your computer; for ignoring e-mails; and for rediscovering that thing that you used to have before you got all grown up and started having to work for a living - you know, oh dear what is it? I begins with L, just a short word, on the tip of my tongue. Anyway, it'll come back to me eventually, I expect.

Sorry, I seem to be doing all the talking. Your year was about the same as mine, was it? Oh I see! What, completely destroyed? Just your management and student records left standing? So you still got an excellent score on your performance review? Congratulations, that's all that matters really.

Just keep on making your returns, hold meetings with the LSC at their place and you'll have your new college up and running before anyone notices it went missing - and just in time for the next visit from Ofsted inspectors.

Oh look, it's four-o-clock already. The sun is shining on the empty car park. In the distance is the chug-chug of a lawnmower as the security staff cut the campus grass. It looks like a perfect evening for sitting in the garden with a glass or two of chilled white wine. It all seems a distant memory, the mission review, doesn't it?

Seems like a lot of fuss about nothing now. In fact, it seemed like that at the time. I wonder if they have an August, too? You know, the planners, funders and inspectors. Do they have a month when it all seems very remote and slightly silly, or do they plan August out of their diaries, I wonder? Not that they aren't helpful, inspectors and the like. In fact, they are so helpful there's a danger they'll scupper the whole shooting match.

We could end up chasing so many hares that we forget why we're really here.

But those clouds are all on September's horizon. Meanwhile, where's that corkscrew?

Graham Jones is principal of Sutton Coldfield College

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