Unforgettable interviewees

22nd October 2004 at 01:00
Nothing, they say, lasts forever. Except, that is, in the weird world of further education. Curiously, in FE everything goes on forever. Or at least it seems as if it does.

It's like the man who goes to a performance of a Wagner opera. He sits through the first hour, sits through the second hour, then looks at his watch and sees that precisely 15 minutes has passed.

In FE we actually plan it that way. Take that so aptly named phenomenon, the quality cycle. The quality cycle, or the mad merry-go-round to those in the know, is specifically designed never to end - much like the eternal torments of Beelzebub which it so faithfully emulates.

Then there's induction. The Shorter OED defines the word as "introduction" or "initiation", but the much longer dictionary of FE practice sees it differently. Induction these days is to be drawn out as long as is (in)humanly possible. The real trick is to string it out until exam revision begins. That way you never have to teach the little blighters anything, though that's not really a problem anymore now that exam boards have started giving away GCSEs with packets of cornflakes.

Apparently we do induction that way because the inspectors like it. That has to be true, because nobody else does. Certainly not the lecturers, who find that the endless quizzes on where the toilets are located pall after a while. And certainly not the students, who tend to slump into terminal boredom, wondering why they ever left school for this old bollocks.

So, in FE, we can never have too much of a good thing. That's why it's only now, with half-term almost upon us, that interviewing for the new term - yes, that one that started all those weeks ago - is finally tailing off.

As with induction, the fun side of interviewing wears a little thin when in your sixth week. After a while it all becomes a blur, with students losing their individuality and becoming categories rather than separate personalities. The nice, clean, well-behaved ones you quickly forget. It's the nightmare types you remember.

Category 1: The Gang

Although they arrive mob-handed, only one of the gang is looking for a course of study. The rest are there in "support" - which means that they shout across the room to one another, take mobile phone calls and set light to the posters on the wall. Occasionally they will contribute to the interview, shoving their faces up close to yours and demanding to know how much longer it will take. The gang walks out in collective disgust when the candidate discovers that his national vocational qualification 1 in dance therapy doesn't qualify him to do A-level physics.

Category 2: The Animal

Most usually this is a dog, on a string, with a potential student on the other end. Although the college has a strict "no animals" policy, it got past security because of the mad, unpredictable, "don't mess with me" look in its eye. The dog is not exactly Lassie either; more like a pit bull with a bit of rottweiller thrown in, with slather dripping tastefully from its chops.

Summoning up a bravado you don't really feel, you point out that: "Er, actually we don't allow dogs on the premises."

"Ee's a guide dog," is the quickfire response, "and I know my rights."

Tentatively you ask, "What course would you like to do?"

"What 'ave you got?" Eventually he settles on something in performing arts, "I likes to put on a bit of a performance." At this point you notice that Fido has wandered off and is happily humping the leg of the head of nursing and midwifery, who's choosing to pretend that it's not really happening by continuing to explain the intricacies of the Ucas points system.

"You see," guffaws the actor-in-waiting, "'Ee's a bit of a performer too!"

Category 3: The Woman with the Screaming Child (WWSC)

Everyone in the interviewing room is aware that the child is screaming its head off - everyone that is except for the WWSC herself.

She seems completely oblivious, and is happy to continue the interview with just the occasional "Shut up!" hurled back over her shoulder.

The child has just learned to walk, and thus staggers gleefully about the place, ripping up prospectuses and pulling cups of hot coffee down on to its head.

Invariably the WWSC has no idea what she wants to study, so her interview takes twice as long as everyone else's.

The child's cries are getting shriller and shriller. "Shut it!" yells the WWSC.

"How about a national vocational qualification in childcare?" you suggest.

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