If you stay in FE long enough, you realise that things can get a bit reactive. Like when there’s a meltdown in nuclear power plant.
I don’t fear change. It’d be a bit of a problem if I did, given that since I started working in the sector, I’ve taught a dozen subjects and had so many titles that even I’m not 100 per cent what my current one is – I’m going for “lecturer”, because it’s fancy.
I’m not overtly against shaking things up once in a while. Adaptability is an important trait when you work in a college, as new challenges present themselves with manic regularity.
But having said that, I do believe that there’s good change and there’s bad change. Good change is a considered move towards something desirable – or away from something undesirable. It’s measured and thoughtful and has definite reasoning behind whatever the decision is that is being made, placing it within the contexts of both situation and time. It’s usually made by people who have considered the ramifications of what they are doing.
Bad change is arm-flapping panic about a real or perceived problem. It cares not for issues such as embedding, practicality or consequences. It’s the metaphorical equivalent taking of a mallet to the control panel in the nuclear power plant because you’re in too much of a state to find the right button to press.
Unfortunately, from my own experience, policymakers involved in FE have a terrible habit of taking up that mallet with a rampant fervour. Take GCSE resits, for example.
'We must resist bad change in FE'
Personally, I’ve not made up my mind about the policy. I understand that GCSE represents an almost insurmountable challenge to some – and that, in turn, brings with it problems. I also know that it’s a logistical nightmare come exam day.
However, I want everyone to have the same chances when it comes to education. Until functional skills has parity in the minds of employers and other stakeholders, it’s not going to be seen as valid.
But while I’m waiting to see what the effects of a shift are, it seems like it’s mallet time. Key skills becomes skills for life. Skills for life becomes functional skills. No one’s passing functional skills because they’re as challenging as GCSEs. Let’s rejig functional skills and the rules that apply to them. Let’s offer GCSEs. Let’s make GCSE resits mandatory.
And, for some reason, the alarm still sounds.
All this in the space of a few years. No time to consider. No time to embed. No time for anything apart from the next mallet strike. An ever-present now of reactive policy change made by people who seemingly have no knowledge of anything other than the current moment.
We have to resist bad change in FE – and the unnecessary pressure, confusion and disengagement it brings to students and staff. Otherwise we’ll end up in a meltdown, mallet in hand, wondering why none of it made any difference.
Tom Starkey teaches English at a college in the North of England