Friday, 11 May 2012

Reasons to be cheerful

If you felt a breeze this afternoon drifting from the Home Counties and surrounding areas inhabited by staff working at an educational institution there then it was probably generated by the massive sigh of relief accompanying the news that OFSTED's imminent Inspection had been postponed.

Due to start on Tuesday, I was faced with Saturday, Sunday and Monday being spent worrying about what to do. It wasn't the sessions I had planned that was bothering me, or whether students would attend / behave or whatever. It was the amount of extra paperwork that was being demanded and the insistence that 'lesson plans' show all sorts of additional things that were going to take an age to include and which were mostly just going to be there in some sort of pretence that it was what we would 'normally' be doing.

For example, I am now running workshops across the board. I have provided long ago all the general teaching and provision of materials and resources that would have enabled a willing and reasonable able student to have completed their units on levels 1 to 4 BTEC programmes to as high a standard as they could achieve. So the idea of a formal 'lesson' with specific topics being addressed and clear 'learning outcomes' would be nonsense and, if I were to do so, then firstly I would have to try and come up with something new at this very late stage in the proceedings and secondly ask quietly beforehand that the students do not say something like 'that's all very interesting, Sir, but what we really wanted to do was complete missing bits in this or that unit'. Yes, I know I could probably have entertained them, or, at least, those that turned up but it would have meant a lot of work, a lot of co-operation from students beginning to panic at this time and wishing they had paid attention more in October. A huge amount of work, in fact, for the 8 potential sessions that inspectors could have dropped in on.

There is also the problem that, even if I had put on a super performance and had them clapping and dancing in the aisles the they would represent at best about 30% of those on the register for a combination of reasons that include many have actually completed everything and won't be there, some who have disappeared and not been seen since January, and those who tend to come to sessions where I have fewest students so they get more attention, mixing and matching very smartly but not in the way college managers seem to appreciate. 'Poor attendance' means unsatisfactory, no matter the reasons or, for that matter, what I do for those who do come.

A further problem is that of something called Equality & Diversity which, in the Education sector, is now going the same way as Health & Safety did in the wider world. It seems that if I cannot demonstrate in my paperwork that I have included specific steps to ensure that students of one or other race or creed can achieve as well as others, can show that I have arranged for everyone to know about odd things like this colour or that colour week, advised them of the dangers of sundry sexually transmitted diseases and reported any suspicions that any are taking drugs or having problems at home or, horrors, communicating with a tutor by any means other than via the official student e-mail which I don't think any of them ever actually use - if I fail in any of these areas in my lesson plan text then I'm unsatisfactory anyway.

So my inclination had been simply to do what I usually do - remind students of what they still had outstanding by way of tasks and offer to help anyone to meet the requirements by showing them in small groups or 1-1 if necessary sample answers, where to find resources etc etc. That's what works. That's what they all appreciate and actually prefer me doing in these last few weeks. I even get queries on other tutors' assignments. It can be challenging as I can never be completely sure what's going to come up but I always manage to give feedback and suggestions to everyone and those that deserve to pass do so. That wouldn't have made me popular with some senior management, though. If I'd had to choose between helping students pass and helping the place get a good grade, however, then I have to say I was definitely thinking more about the former option and hoping that OFTSED might see the sense of what I was doing and get some nice comments from any students they landed upon too.

It was going to be a nerve-wracking few days. I am so very relieved. I can now continue to do what comes naturally and have a nice, peaceful weekend. The people demanding all the new paperwork have good intentions at heart but they'd be better starting from scratch with a new team in September, with digital documentation and decent ways to collect, report on and monitor progress in these off-topic, pastoral and 'minority' or 'social' areas than attempt to get tutors to invent stuff now or spend hours rewriting plans that may well not even be seen at a stage when it simply isn't in the best educational interests of the students attending at this time and wanting to complete their tasks.

Naturally, the fact that the institution due to be inspected was still in the middle of a quite prolonged reorganisation, with many posts vacant, visiting tutors covering for redundant staff, students demonstrating about their concerns at what might happen to their courses next year, unions drawing up petitions about this and that, staff and students being moved en masse to temporary and rather last minute arranged accommodation, one department's staff being entirely at risk of redundancy and staff left doing their level best already to ensure that things go smoothly just to get their students through while people move offices and even stand-in managers disappear at short notice has aboslutely nothing to do with the postponement. I do rather suspect, however, that it might not just have been teaching staff that breathed that huge sigh!

All will be well next term - let's just hope they can put it off til then.

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