Working in isolation

7th April 2000 at 01:00
Lecturers from outside FE are given little professional support by colleges and are left to draw on their personal resources, says Jocelyn Robson, a research co-ordinator at Greenwich University.

Her conclusion follows a study of how trainee teachers - those with previous professional experience - cope with entering FE. Jocelyn Robson, of the university's school of post- compulsory education and training, is examining the "dual identity" of FE lecturers. She observed and interviewed six individuals (a business consultant, a fashion designer, a personnel manager, an engineer, a solicitor and a quantity surveyor) for five days each during their college placements.

All the students found the transition very difficult and went through "a painful period of adjustment". They were all victims at some point of what Ms Robson calls "extraordinary institutional rituals". They received conflicting advice about how to deal with common problems and most wereshocked by the cultural changes they experienced, such as having to prepare their own resources.

The solicitor commented: "The systems and structure that I would expect to see in place in any organisation, are here virtually vestigial... so it's a complete reversal of my own work experience prior to this."

The personnel manager described FE lecturers as being "like a series of islands that come together at low tide", but who don't actually operate together. She found teaching comparatively isolating.

The trainees found ways of coping with these difficulties by drawing on their personal resources rather than on their professional experience. The research concluded that they had not been sufficiently prepared before they started college. "I fed this information straight back to the people running the programme," says Ms Robson. "In the light of other feedback, we're currently looking at the way we prepare and support our students."

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