Mission impossible - to have a successful 1998

2nd January 1998 at 00:00
Well, you made it through 97. The year when the Labour party came to power and solved further education's problems at a stroke with a huge cash injection and a new caring culture to replace managerialism and the business ethic.

Sorry, I seem to have missed something out in that last sentence. Ah yes: I forgot the "didn't"!

Never mind though. You still made it. Congratulations. But now comes the real challenge: how to survive 98. As the coming year shows every sign of being no better than the one just gone, this is going to take some ingenuity.

So might I suggest the following strategy for the new FE year: 1 Professionally: Your main goal here is definitely survival, keeping your name off that redundancy list. As you found out in 97 it's no longer any good just doing your job and keeping your head down. Someone cheaper and less troublesome can always be found.

No, you must make sure that you are visible, that you are seen only in a positive manner. Learn the college's mission statement by heart and quote it in meetings. Or shout "here, here" whenever anyone at head of faculty level or above makes a point. Others may shout it more loudly but it can't do you any harm to join the chorus.

Look out for the next educational bandwagon and be the first to jump onto it. Better still, find some worthy but meaningless cause to champion. Have badges made up proclaiming: "I'm an Investor in People" or "Positive about Disability". Now that the latter has been officially re-defined as "positively no benefits" you'll win extra brownie points for saving money too!

And don't despise current orthodoxies just because they've been around for a while. Lifelong learning has still got a lot of mileage in it. This is a good one because while no one has any idea about what it really means, they still have to proclaim that they are "for" it.

Why not suggest that your college takes a lead here and becomes the first to appoint a cross-college co-ordinator (sorry, manager for lifelong learning). And then if they need a candidate for the post (a snip at Pounds 35,000 a year) surely they need look no further . . .

2 Sartorially: Now here you really don't want to stand out. Quite the reverse, indeed, the idea is to look exactly like everyone else. That used to involve check shirts and faded Levi's, but times change. No one can afford to remind their bosses of "the bad old days" any more. So throw out all those boiler suits and greasy grey pony tails. Leave the face fungus to NATFHE general secretaries and presidents.

Your look for 98 should be modelled on the service professions. Try looking (and acting) like a bank clerk. Do as you're told and smile while you're doing it. Ideally you should also try to think like a bank clerk too. But don't expect to be paid like one. Working all day with money, bank staff still expect to be paid in coins of the realm not shirt buttons. Here a dog would be a more appropriate role model. Which brings us neatly on to...

3 Financially: assume you don't get that cross-college sinecure. Probably you're not sufficiently incompetent for it anyway. Reconcile yourself to another year of dwindling salary and economy in all things. But remember you still have your vocation.

Look round for a second income. Think big. Forget about the normal things that underpaid teachers do like cleaning toilets, stacking supermarket shelves or marking 500 GCSE scripts. 97 showed that "educational consulting" is a nice little earner and not too demanding.

4 Personally. Where to draw the line between the professional and the personal will continue to be a challenge in 98. This is not only because you're likely to spend most evenings and weekends wrestling with pointless paperwork.

Think hard about your relationships with people outside further education. Probably they don't really want to know about value-added graphs, funding mechanisms and "what you have to do to be awarded a D32 certificate". Just because someone asks, "How are you?" at a party it doesn't mean that you have to tell them.

Remember that most of those outside the profession still think that your job involves doing something interesting with people. Try to limit references to "the good old days of FE" to no more than two an hour. They weren't really so good anyway, just that today is so bad by comparison.

And finally, to put it in a nutshell, to survive 98 you must be: positive, plain, poor and perky. When times are bad, remember: you have your vocation (even if you can't actually use it to pay your gas bill).

Happy new year!

Stephen Jones is a lecturer at a London FE college

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