Why I'm not retiring yet

Graham Jones

So are you ready for another one? Can you handle another year on the FE rollercoaster, always looking as if it will come off the rails but miraculously finishing the course?

Once you've packed them in at enrolment, will you be fit for the long march of trying to retain them all, and making sure they pass their exams so that you don't get someone like me breathing fire at you? Are you up for internal audits, lesson observations, quality procedures, moderations, verifications and possible flying visits from our friends in the inspectorates?

Of course you are. If that's what it takes to be an educator then that's what you'll do - and who can blame you if you whinge a little. Anyway, what choice do we have, with the mortgage to pay and the credit card bills rolling in?

But for some of us, for the first time in our working lives, there is a choice. In a few weeks' time I become eligible for a free bus pass, free prescriptions, an extra discount on Saga holidays and the right to retire with a pension. The finishing line is in sight, though whether it is a winning post is for others to judge. In a few weeks' time on my birthday, as is the way these days, I imagine every roundabout on my way to work will be festooned with placards and balloons celebrating my new status as a potential retiree.

Colleagues remind me that it is rare these days to get to the end of a senior FE career without the sack, or disgrace, or being hounded out by OfstedAli. Some urge me to go while the going is good. One senior servant of the crown even offered me the services of a retirement counsellor to smooth my path.

Others are doubtless quietly praying that I'll take the money and run.

After all, as one of them said, a pension is half a salary for staying at home, so by continuing to work I'm earning only half as much as I was. And isn't it about time I gave someone younger a chance?

These are powerful arguments to add to the prospect of unlimited golf and lunchtime gin and tonics. And if there was nothing to look forward to in the FE sector, they might be compelling.

But there are reasons to be cheerful. I exclude the excellent staff and students as a reason for staying because, important though they are, that would need a whole article in themselves.

I've chosen four reasons and the first one might surprise you: Ofsted. A prime reason for retiring early you might think. Or for not entering the profession in the first place. But the inspectors have just ended a consultation on lighter-touch, shorter notice, quality-focused inspections.

This will either prove disastrous and discredit Ofsted, or work well and lift the burden on colleges. That sounds like win-win.

The dear old Learning and Skills Council is the next reason. It has only two roads to travel. Either its daring planning, reviews, action plans and strategies will brighten the post-16 sky with the bright sunshine of ordered collaborative opportunity or it will be implode in a firestorm of impossible demands and conflicting interests, leaving us with a new cosmology to ponder. I'd sooner the former, but could live with the latter.

And then the real reason to be cheerful: Tomlinson and his 14-19 report. All my working life I have worked for a coherent set of curriculum pathways, different but equal, for the upper secondary and tertiary stages.

I believe in it passionately and so does the Tomlinson report.

Other schemes have been rushed into existence without proper preparation and we have all repented at leisure. With Tomlinson, sadly, the timescales are geological and the forces of reaction will hammer away at them without mercy.

If his proposals survive, and provided they are implemented well before my grandson is thinking of retiring, they might provide an answer to some of the motivation and social exclusion problems that have beset our profession and the wider world. Not a bad reason for hanging around to be part of it.

There are other reasons. For example, both main political parties will enter the next election vying to promise a swifter and more fundamental demise of costly pointless bureaucracies to switch more money and power to the front line. And I want to have a stake in the outcome.

So there you are. At least one of the lucky few with a choice is positive about the future and not about to throw in the towel. So the upcoming party is just a birthday party, albeit a significant one, with champagne, and the pension, both on ice!

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Graham Jones

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