You're fired, dummkopfs

21st April 2006 at 01:00
Rob Wye, the man charged with directing strategy at the Learning and Skills Council, found himself searching around for a word the other day. Asked what the funding body's proposed new powers to sack the principals of "coasting" colleges would mean, he suggested that they first had to decide what coasting itself was. "We need," he said, "to firm up our definition to get it right."

Now, cast your mind back a couple of weeks and think what the word of the moment was as far as FE was concerned. A certain entrepreneur with a gruff voice and a face so crumpled as to make Sid James's look like a baby's bottom, had thoughtfully provided it for us on prime-time television.

The word was dummkopf, which according to my dictionary has a number of English synonyms, of which booby, dunce, dullard, fool and bonehead are merely a selection.

Sir Alan Sugar seemed to be applying the term to our students, but if they are all such thickos, what does that make those of us who teach them? Extend that thinking upwards through the management structures, and who's the dummkopf now? Particularly - Mr Wye, please note - if they have been found guilty at the Court of the LSC of the said crime of coasting.

All right, so that's the definition sorted. The next question must be: what should be done with our errant principals? A simple sacking complete with the usual brown envelope and lucrative consultant's contract, would be tedious in the extreme. How much better to learn from Sir Alan again, and set up FE's answer to The Apprentice.

A group of failing - sorry, coasting - principals would be gathered together in a place where they'd feel at home, say a five-star hotel. All are for the chop save one, the ultimate winner of the contest they're about to embark on.

Over the next month or so they'll be given a series of activities to complete, both individually and in teams. One by one the fickle fingers of FE doom will be pointed, followed by the dreaded words: "You're fired, dummkopf!"

But what of the tasks? Perhaps they could be required to run a college for a week. No, not a good idea, that one, under the circumstances. What's needed is something that's not impossible, but still extremely challenging - say, living on a lecturer's salary for a month. You can just picture the scene where they have to hand in the keys to the BMW and are issued with the bicycle-clips instead.

While this is going on, the second group could try their hands at being the Association of Colleges negotiating team. Their challenge would be to keep a straight face while telling the lecturers' unions that 1.5 per cent is really a good deal for them.

As the weeks go by, the dummkopfs would gradually be eliminated. Now the going would really get tough. Each would have to face - that is, to teach - a disparate group of those same 14-year-olds they persuaded the governors to admit a year or two back. "Doing our bit for the community", was how it was put.

So, bring on the "bog standard" catering class - you know, the one where the kids are first given a health and safety check, and when they fail are issued with their own set of sharp knives.

Teaching them the culinary arts would be too easy - that's what they've signed up for, after all. Only "key skills - communication" (on a wet Wednesday) will be good enough to test the abilities of our remaining dummkopfs.

Assuming that this will see off most of the rest, we're ready for the final, and ultimate, challenge. Get this one right and you might even be allowed to keep your job. You've been given the graveyard shift in college, Friday afternoon. Naturally, your students are all waiting with just one thing on their collective minds: the weekend.

But you have a problem. You urgently need some photocopying, but when you arrive at the machine it's not working. Apparently, there's no toner, because the finance office hasn't paid the supply company's bill yet.

Cursing all authority figures, you run to the other end of the campus where you know the ancient back-up machine is kept. Hallelujah, it's working! You press the print button: two copies spit out before the whole thing shudders to a halt. Out of paper, says the message, please refer to supplier.

Now, here's the challenge: in the face of all this, can you still stay sane without running up to the principal's door and breaking it down with a sledgehammer?

You try your best, but no, the frustration is too much, the urge too strong. You arrive at the door, but damn, there's no hammer to hand. Never mind, it's your door and you have a key. You slip it in and turn. Nothing.

The lock has been changed. Why? It's obvious: because you're fired, dummkopf.

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