Magnificent seven do the spade work;FE Focus;Comment;Opinion

16th October 1998 at 01:00
Hello, good morning and welcome to induction studies.

I want you to imagine you are a student. Go on. It's not that difficult. Weren't we all students once? It is your first day at college and (probably because it is your first day) you are on time and raring to go.

Nervously you wait in a room full of your fellow initiates. Suddenly a woman with a big smile and an even bigger badge with "Course Manager" printed on it jumps up and welcomes you with the news that she cares for you all very much. Not only her, it seems, but the whole college (notwithstanding that they haven't met you yet) cares for you too.

And because they care so much they couldn't possibly let you get started on your course without first undergoing a proper programme of induction.

That's all right, you think. You weren't expecting to do much on the first day anyway. And it's really quite entertaining to meet the college's seven vice-principals and watch as they all come on in a line singing "hey ho, hey ho, it's off to draw our performance-related pay we go".

Each of the seven you are told looks after a different aspect of the college's work; and each in turn will be inducting you into their own particular area.

At this point you do a quick calculation and realise that your one-day estimate is likely to be a bit on the short side.

Then the first dwarf (sorry, VP) steps forward and smiles and welcomes you to the college. He cares for you, he says, even more than all the other dwarves because "student care" is what he is responsible for. And could you please form yourselves up into small groups to discuss what you know (or don't know) about the college's student care programme.

After lunch the caring dwarf says you are going to spend the afternoon in "a role-play situation".

This involves you all pretending to be new students on your first day at college. The session ends with a quiz on all you've learnt so far. Fortunately this doesn't take very long.

Day two dawns and you're really getting into this induction business. Today's dwarf is called Policy Dwarf. She smiles and says welcome and tells you that she cares about you (although possibly not as much as she cares about her performance-related pay cheque).

Beside her on the table is a towering pile of printed documents (those trees were only cluttering up the countryside anyway), all ready to be "presented" to you. After that it might be fun to have a quiz - in small groups of course - to see how much of it you've remembered.

The college, it seems, has a policy on just about everything: equal opportunities, single parenting, sexual orientation, open learning, student support, sponsorship, partnership, hardship, dyslexia and disability, to name but a few. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be one on information overload.

Day five is people day. This is run by a dwarf with a long and mysterious title in which the words "human resources" figure prominently. One by one the resources are paraded in front of you. Their names and roles are instantly forgotten, except you can just dimly remember - as you complete your end-of-session quiz and evaluation sheet - that there was someone called the assistant site manager's assistant who had something to do with the toilets.

By Friday of the second week you are beginning to suffer from dwarf fatigue. Thankfully, after a mega quiz and a two-hour team-building session, you are allowed to wander the building on an individual orientation discovery-learning expedition, otherwise known as going home early.

Towards the end of week four you finally get to the last dwarf. By now you don't care about how much she cares, but she tells you anyway, though thankfully omits to give you a fun quiz on it. This dwarf has good news. You are about to start your classes.

Except, of course, she tells you as she smiles and bid you welcome, what is the use of setting out on a journey if you don't know anything about your destination? That's where action planning and target setting comes in.

These essential activities will only take another two weeks and will be carried out by a highly-trained team of professionals, otherwise known as your lecturers. She points to a group of down-at-heel middle-aged people huddled together in a corner. Feebly they all try and smile, only they're not very good at it as they haven't had much to smile about recently.

Finally you come back after half-term and, hallelujah, your subject classes really do start. And the first item on each teacher's agenda? Subject induction of course!

Stephen Jones is a lecturer at a London FE college

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