What Roger really means by world-beating lecturers

13th December 1996 at 00:00
I am world class, and it's not just me. We all are. All of us who still cling determinedly to that quaint old-fashioned handle of lecturer, rather than manager (or job-seeker).

We are world class. And how do we know that we are world class? Because Roger Ward tells us so. For those of you who might have fallen asleep in January and only just woken up, Roger Ward is now numero uno at the newly-created further education superbody, the Association of Colleges (AOC). Yes, that very same Roger who, as chief executive of the old Colleges' Employers' Forum, used to beat ploughshares into swords and bite lecturers' heads off.

But wait, is it really the same Roger? Because now that he's seen off the competition and become FE's undisputed boss of bosses, there's this persistent whisper going around that Roger has seen the light; travelled his own road to Damascus; turned from game keeper to poacher. The piranha has become a vegetarian!

Old Roger was gung-ho. "Let's get 'em boys", was his watchword. With new Roger it's more "why can't we all be nice to one another?" And surely it has to be a new Roger who writes, albeit in the first flush of post-coronation enthusiasm, the above-quoted remark that "our lecturers are world class".

Just picture if you will, Roger tapping that one out on his state-of-the-art AOC issue word processor. You cannot be serious the machine protests. You can almost see the error box popping onto the screen. "You have used a sentence containing the words lecturers and class". And, knowing its owner, it's not too hard to imagine the alternatives it might offer: "Error in sentence. For 'class' substitute: arse (as in kick); farce (as in lecturers' union NATFHE) or sparse (as in pay offer)."

But no, he's having none of it. Gone are the days of Roger the Slogger. He clicks on the ignore box. He's said it and he means "our lecturers are world class".

Well, praise be. The last time I came across such an unlikely conversion I was living in Alabama in the early 1980s, and George Wallace was standing for re-election as state governor. Not the bad old Wallace of the 1960s, not the man who'd personally blocked the doorway of his old university to prevent blacks from registering, or the one who'd adopted "segregation forever" as his campaign slogan and been shot for his troubles while running for the Presidential nomination.

No, this was the 1982 version. And suddenly, miracle of miracles, Wallace the racist was Wallace the brother, everybody's brother, black and white unite and fight - fight to return George Wallace as Governor of Alabama. And that was exactly what they did.

Naturally in the Bible belt the concept of being born again was one that people of all races were perfectly prepared to swallow. And the leap from religion to politics proved to be no trouble at all. Wallace was elected - on the black vote!

Of course Roger the Slogger was never into racial discrimination. He didn't care what colour he was sticking the boot into as long as they were lecturers! But while the Wiley Wallace might have got away with it in the 'Bama boonies, can us cynical FE folk of the l990s really believe in such an unlikely metamorphosis?

Has new Roger really offered us anything of substance? Take that phrase "world class". Doesn't it have the ring of the politician about it? Designed to make us feel good but it costs nothing. How many of the following can we expect new Roger to be signing up for? Lecturers deserve a significant pay rise, the days of demanding more for less are over, stress in the classroom must be addressed, quality in education cannot be delivered by a harassed and demoralised workforce. For Slogger should we now read Dodger?

What he has said recently is that FE needs more money from the Government. But that it would be "unrealistic" for his AOC to ask for it. Instead it's the same old stuff about first putting our own houses in order: doing more on drop-out rates, class size, managerial efficiency. "Quality" and "price" are still the thing. True, there's nothing about biting anyone's head off, but surely even the dimmest among us can work out that bigger classes and tighter prices mean fewer jobs and less pay?

So, let us remind ourselves, as our eyes close each night after a taxing day in the FE firing line, that we are "world class". But let's also remember that class still rhymes with arse - as in kick!

Stephen Jones lectures at a London FE college.

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