EACH year a number of questions face us all as term begins: have we enough students for a class? Are they all enrolled and on management information systems? Are students all attending their new broad-based AS-classes, their key skills sessions, the work-shops and their tutorials?
Many of our FE students, as we know, carry increasingly heavy financial and health burdens, and many work long exhausting hours to fund their studies. We all hope for good grades from these students at "year" and module end, when we are naturally encouraged to make comparisons, and if necessary, soul-search if our individual results are lower than the national average, or our retention figures are poor. Where did we go wrong?
As we know many factors affect results and retention figures: the chemistry of a group, and how they work together; their housing conditions and health; their family and work commitments and our teaching skills.
The latter is searchingly tested by internal and external assessors, by exam results and by retention figures. Added to these "natural" stresses at the academic year's end, comes rooming facilities as the year begins, stressful every year to both the roomers and the roomed. We all take our share of working in "temporary" classrooms, where the walls have huge holes punched in them, where torrential water pours onto heads and books from broken guttering, and shoes slip in standingwater, paper, cans, cores and discarded crisp packets.
Inside, teachers work at screaming pitch to blot out shouting, sounds of footballs pounding against walls and doors kicked open by passing youths. Outside the nursery children play and cry, cars, buses, fire engines and ambulances hurtle by. Sometimes our ancient fires blaze and sometimes they breathe a venomous iron-cold air around them.
Why am I stating the obvious? Because this year I have lost a second-year student, who has written, saying: "I very much regret having to do this but I have decided to leave the course. If I had known we would be in the huts I would not have enrolled.
"I was so very cold on the first day... and I came down with a heavy cold ... I cannot face a winter in those conditions. I am so sorry to have to do this, I have enjoyed the classes so much..."
Perhaps when we look at new syllabuses, general results, retention figures and all the other figures that dog teachers' lives, this voice might be heard. For one student who takes the trouble to write, logically there are numerous others who simply disappear. Hidden among the many statistics that proclaim the success or failure of a teacher's year, those of comfort, hygiene and convenience must surely be taken into account in a world where central heating, mobile phones and personal computers are everyday items.
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