lecturers in FE have a fall-back position: if inspiration fails, get the students to make a poster. When I arrive at the church hall to begin a short course for SureStart on parenting skills, I notice that the hall already has some on the walls - cheesy motivational stuff like "You haven't failed until you've given up". They should have one that says, "If you've found somewhere to park, count your blessings".
When the students arrive, they have to sign in with their names, addresses, and other details. I copy the names onto a second register for SureStart and a third for college. I enrol them twice, once for SureStart and once again for college. The college form is four sides of A4, and includes questions about nationality, domicile, employment and financial support.
We've been targeting students with low basic skills and Esol, so this takes some time and much muttering. I get through quite a lot of Tippex.
I've filled in a risk assessment for the church hall and an induction checklist which says I've told the students where the toilets are and what to do in case of fire. I hand out a letter of welcome from someone they've never heard of at the LEA, saying what to expect and where to complain if they are not satisfied. I run a mandatory skills test on all parti-cipants and Shannon is ready to give up at the first sight of the maths questions.
The poster on the wall didn't help her at all. I enter the results onto an initial assessment form. There is an optimistic space for a mid-course review and an end-of-course review, even though there are only six sessions. I give each student an individual learning log to be completed every week. At this rate, there won't be time to learn anything.
At last, the initial paperwork is done and we take a tea break. The SureStart team leader arrives. We offer her a chocolate biscuit and her eyes light up, but as she is about to raise her hand to the plate, she remembers that SureStart has a healthy eating policy and stops herself.
Shannon defiantly helps herself to four biscuits, which go some way to restoring her spirits.
After the break we get down to business and discuss parenting. Despite the sugar intake, Shannon is yawning again. She explains: "the best thing about coming here is the chance to sit down and do nothing. I never get that at home." This course is supposed to help participants be more effective parents. What could help an exhausted mother more than having a rest? So perhaps I won't try too hard to re-engage her.
After the class, I go over to the SureStart office to drop off their paperwork and then drive to college to file ours. I see a young student with Down's Syndrome coming down the corridor. She is alone and totally absorbed in her own thoughts but, instead of walking, she is stepping her way through an elaborate minuet and waving her hands in time to music which no one else can hear. Perhaps those posters in the church hall had it right, after all. One of them read, "Anyone can dance - they just need to find the right tune".
Gill Moore is a basic skills lecturer