Never mind: the quality is painful

5th January 2001 at 00:00
Anna Hughes writes the unofficial minutes of her governing body

A pleasant and most useful innovation for our board meeting is a presentation on the subject of quality by Roberta, the director of quality assurance, a member of the senior management team no less.

She ranges widely over equality of opportunity, provision for the disabled, student satisfaction of their induction programmes, on-course reviews, end-of-course reviews, where students went to next, cross-college verification of student assignments, how we ensure accuracy in the registers, provision of student handbooks for every conceivable situation, documentation on this, that and the other, and so on. Everything has its survey, its mountain of paper-work.

Charles, our business governor, begins the discussion in unusually blunt form.

"What is your salary?" We are taken aback by both question and answer.

"So you are paid the equivalent of two lecturers. How much student learning and achievement do you generate compared to twolecturers?" The startled pause is broken by our chairman, Alan.

"It's for Rex and the vice- principal to assure themselves that the college maintains the highest standards. Roberta's role is to make sure it happens.

Charles is not going to be put off. "I see industry swamped with more and more of this sort of stuff resulting in less time to get the job done."

Turning to our teacher governor, Mary, he asks "As a teache, Mary, how do you feel?" "The administrative burden has got steadily greater, and a lot of it falls in the quality area," she says. "This leaves less time to prepare lectures and mark work, so quality is likely to fall rather than rise.

"The sheer professionalism of teachers makes them try to compensate by working longer and harder but, alas, for no extra reward. It's little wonder that my profession is so demoralised!" Silas, our financial director, enters the fray. "It's so important that we can prove to the inspectors that our operations conform with the quality standards they expect. Our gradings will reflect this."

"Haven't we forgotten something?" I interrupt. "The purpose of the college is to help people get qualifications. The most important people for that are the teachers. To me, quality means giving the teachers the best possible facilities, encouragement and time to give quality lectures and attention to their students. Burying them in surveys and paperwork is contrary to that."

"Not only that," says Charles, "ensuring quality is part of the role of the teachers' line managers. Roberta's role should not be necessary if we have good managers."

"There's one area where quality never improves."

We all look at Fergus.

"The college must have the smelliest lavatories in the country. Surely we can improve the hygiene standards?" On that pungent note, we move on to the item on the next agenda.

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