I think we almost felt guilty. Last night we had enjoyed a superb dinner, retired in due and mellow course to our luxurious rooms, slept a blissful night, had relaxed over a full English breakfast, and now were gathered in the Gresham Country Club's conference suite for a strategy seminar. Perhaps I should add that it was all sponsored by Lingford Industries, the hugely successful enterprise run by Charles Lingford our business governor.
In deference to Charles' munificence, Alan our chairman had invited him to lead our deliberations.
"To start off with," Charles began, "I think we need to chuck out our vision and mission statements with their lifelong learning and centres of excellence nonsense. We must declare that our purpose is to provide the education, training and employment skills our local people need. And we must give the best possible support and rewards to our staff."
Principal Rex turned a lighter shade of pale. "But our present vision and mission statements are shared by the whole Further Education sector. The Government's focus is on achievement, retention and quality. And, of course, developing the skills of the workforce throughout their lives."
Teacher governor Mary, with practised classroom skill developed Charles's theme "Its a horse-and-cart situation. The cart should indeed contain a load of students achieving the qualifications and skills they need. But if you don't give the horse, in other words the teachers, the facilities and rewards they need, the cart goes nowhere."
"Mary's analogy goes further," Charles interrupted. "The direction the cart goes in is critical. The needs of business and industry are unique. So our cart must deliver students that meet those specific needs."
"Aye," added Fergus our university governor. "Unlike the university, the college's purpose is t meet local needs. So the direction must be guided by careful research into those needs."
"In other words," Mary interjected, "we should probably cut out a number of programmes and introduce new ones tailored to the local need - which is what the new learning and skills council wants" "No, no, no," Rex could stand it no longer. "This goes all against the work we have done to build the college into one of the largest in the region. We have some of the best buildings and facilities around. Whenever I attend conferences and committees, our college is highly-regarded. I take considerable pride in our achievement."
"That, I'm afraid, is the point," Charles concluded. "Like the bad old industries of the past, we are product-oriented empire-builders. Here's our prospectus - take it or leave it, but in passing look how big we are.
"Inappropriate to today's needs. We should be out in the local community, constantly researching its needs and, of course the needs of our local businesses, and introducing new courses to meet them.
"So you would cut out those areas that overlap the school curriculum and concentrate on technical, craft, commercial and professional courses?" I enquired.
"Exactly!" Charles enthused.
Mary was concerned. "I can see the logic of that, but it removes the role that FE has long had as the place of second resort for pupils who have failed to benefit from secondary school and deserve a second chance."
Charles persisted: "Our role should not be to pick up the failures of the school system. The schools should be responsible for their own failures and develop ways to rescue the failures."
"And make sure they all leave with adequate key skills." Mary added despairingly.
Rex was busy with a large doodle on the pad in front of him. He had combined the college logo with a skull and crossbones, all contained in a border the shape of a coffin.