Open the door to difference

4th March 2016 at 00:00

They are changing the doors at my college and talking of painting them all grey. After a merger with an FE college in the town next door, we are faced with a shiny new logo, new lanyards and smart, new, matching classroom doors.

Up until now, the doors represented a gradual evolution, replaced as and when, and painted (or not) in whatever style reflected the fashion at the time. I guess nothing says “unprofessional” like mismatched doors along a lengthy corridor. The first ones to change, inevitably, were those on the senior management team corridor. But now, as I sit writing this, the banging and hammering has become so loud that I am half expecting the imminent arrival of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. So far, no sign; only Brian the workman (two sugars) and his lump hammer.

Colleges and schools seem to be ever-more concerned with the look of the campus. From the menu in the canteen (they call it the “Bistro”, which sounds all olives and flatbread rather than sausage rolls and crumble) to the tabards of the cleaners, from the sign-off on our emails to the college colours on the Christmas tree – corporate is our watchword.

Now don’t get me wrong, I like tidy. I like things to look neat. But not at the expense of expression. There’s a fine line between professional and dead-behind-the-eyes, devoid of personality like a Stepford wife.

It worries me, too, that our physical learning environment, knowingly or unknowingly, says something about how we see our educational philosophy. I worry that, increasingly, the aim is not to celebrate the diverse skills, gifts and abilities of our learners, but rather to form them into compliant consumers who don’t challenge the status quo.

Every time that there’s a new tick-sheet or a box to be filled in, a little part of this child of the 1970s dies. It’s necessary for things to be professional and for goals to be achieved, but, for me, there is more beauty in a crazy mismatch of humans – working out how we might journey together – than there is in any well-filled-out spreadsheet. But sometimes all we want is for our learners to be matching doors. In fact, sometimes it’s all we can manage.

The trouble is, I’m not even sure whose fault it is, or when this shift in educational philosophy happened. Some blame the government, the management or the parents. I’ve even heard that it is the fault of the learners themselves – a product of their consumer-driven, YouTube generation.

I used to work in a sausage factory. If the Cumberlands didn’t come out looking the same, I was put on a warning; three warnings, and I was demoted to chipolatas. I never did like that job and I don’t want to go back to it. Matching doors and identical sausages make for a very boring world.

Rev Kate Bottley is chaplain of North Nottinghamshire College @revkatebottley

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