Saturday, 26 May 2012

The van could be Japanese!

There is a serious need for some common sense advice from someone in Government, Ofsted or anyone that education management might listen to. I have just seen a form that tutors are being instructed to complete for every session. It has to be one of the worst forms I have seen in a long time. Never mind the layout or even the desperate grammar (although if I were an Inspector I would be inclined to wonder to what extent this reflected the quality of the Quality Department or Management Group that probably spent many hours drafting it). Even if, and this a pretty massive if, even if we give these people credit for wanting to help somehow, and generally have good intentions at heart to improve the experience of some students or another and we ignore the fact that no-one does complete this at any time other than when they think they might be observed - despite all that, it is all quite bonkers.

Let's just for a moment consider what it is that we're trying to achieve: I suggest two objectives, the first being clear, easy to read materials that take into account any difficulties that some students may have in following instructions contained in, or learning from, handouts and the second being demonstrating that tutors don't somehow show disrespect for or indicate some judgement about a group comprising a particular race, creed, religion, sexual preference or whatever.

Fair enough. No one should be producing poorly designed documents that are difficult to read or interpret. No one should be setting up one group of type of person as an object of amusement or distaste on grounds of race, creed, gender etc. We know that. Nothing new there. I have to say that, in fact, I reckon the poor folk working as Health & Safety advisors probably have had more cause to complain since all these regulations have been on the scene than any coloured, gay, Jehova's Witness or disabled person. I mean, they have had a really bad time. At virtually every meeting I've attended in the last 10 years someone has cracked a joke about the Health & Safety man, done the Kenny Everett impression of political correctness gone mad and Equality & Diversity caricatures have started appearing too.

So just what is this extraordinary form designed for? OK, designed isn't a good word here, especially if you have any sense of good layout, proportion and use of space but that is another matter. Well, it might be another matter. We'll see. Let's look at what it is asking.

What strand(s) of the Single Equality Act do the learning materials impact on? I think they mean: which type of possible discrimination do they not emphasise? Or which bit of the Act are we attempting to prove that we are observing? Yes, that's more like it, isn't it? Someone has said that Ofsted will be checking how we comply with the Act so why don't we have a form that says we do.

That could make sense as some kind of general policy that we all signed up to. Some general guidance on preparation of learning materials, perhaps, and examples of good practice where ostensibly real scenarios were to be envisaged in a particular session. No problem there. But it's not necessary to have to do this for every single session. I teach web design. One week I may ask them to consider making a site for a client of mine who is  obviously white, lives in a nice part of the country and does wonderful carpentry work for clients who have nice houses and lots of money, judging by the illustrations of the work he does for them. Another week I may give them a Nepalese restaurant in a grotty part of Golders Green to design for. If I were to attempt to invent some client who dealt with transexual clothing and Indian Head Massage in Brighton they would laugh me out of the room. Indeed, some might even be genuinely unhappy about working on that. By not mentioning anything like that, by dealing with the real world that I live in and which they might realistically find themselves invited to work in themselves (I do use students to help my clients so it is real) then I don't offend anyone and the sort of weird problems that managers seem to be worrying about don't even arise in the first place.

Imagine the hairdresser who is taught to make conversation with customers. The age-old question 'Where are you going on yer 'olidays then?' would appear to be quite unacceptable now. Ooh, we mustn't put them in a possibly embarrassing position - they might not be able to afford a holiday. A holiday implies that they're working in the first place. the Single Act police would presumably have her ask 'Do you find that ankle tag device interferes with your ability to chat up people of the same sex in an interdenominational environment?' or something completely innocuous like 'Do you like the way the salon door opens?'

Do the learning materials have an adverse impact on any of the above Groups, or any other groups?
Eh? ...or any other groups? OK, I am rather concerned that JLS won't be happy but the Stones have said they're not too bothered. What other groups? I should imagine that there is bound to be someone somewhere that might profess to experience an adverse impact but that may well be because they're intolerant or just plain mad and should be ignored at all costs. Or the chances are so remote that they'll ever know what we're doing for an hour or so in room A411 that it really doesn't matter. Crazy.

Then we have to think a bit more about this section. Surely, if this form is supposed to be attached to every lesson plan as staff are ordered, then the ruddy materials will have been fixed if they were problematic before the actual session and so, logically, the answer to that section has to be simply 'No.' I understand that Quality personnel would like to demonstrate that they have a process to weed out stuff that is likely to offend or have that 'adverse impact' but surely that would be a pile of samples they have examined and corrected. It doesn't make sense to have to show it in every plan. In fact, any Inspector worth his salt will smile ruefully and realise he's being conned - or conclude that the tutor is plain silly.

How will the learning materials promote good relations? With whom? Anyone? The Society of Aborigine Anti Abortionists? The Kennel Club? The Conservative Party? George at 19 Acacia Avenue? I just love that sentence: The van could be Japanese. That is absolutely brilliant!! You really do have to read the example illustrated. If you haven't had a good laugh for a while then make sure you're sitting down and have some tape for your sides. Come on, managers, it can be difficult enough to draft tasks that meet criteria and which can be enjoyable and inspiring for students. Help them do that, not worry them about whether or not they're promoting good relations or every flaming task and assignment will be along the lines of Design a poster to promote Adopt A Person Of Religious Minority Week. Oh no, that won't work because by promoting one group one is de facto not promoting another! Balls.

I could go on. In fact I will. It ends with the signature of Mr, Ms, Miss or Mrs Monitored By. That implies that the individual lesson plans are all being individually monitored by someone. How can that make sense? Checked, maybe. But monitoring something is a continuous process. It could be appropriate for the more general course materials proposed for a term, a batch of assignments perhaps while they're being developed.  But an assignment can only be issued after it has been internally verified. That process confirms that the work  outlined as being required to be completed provides suitable opportunities for certain criteria to be met. Meet them and the student passes. Since when did Edexcel or C&G require that all the other stuff was required? Sensible IVs will suggest improvements and will recognise where material might be unsuitable or inappropriate. A further layer of compliance procedures is not going to help anyone.

Lastly, this whole form reminds me of a manager who thought that putting a table on an A4 sheet in Microsoft Word so that small rectangles could easily be cut up for topic cards or something was a good example of ILT (Information Learning Technology) at a session set up specifically to inspire colleagues in his department to develop their ILT skills. Surely, in 2012, we should be putting our materials on-line, using web pages, collaborative tools, video, audio, games and all sorts of wonderful new applications where, amongst other advantages, the matter of text size, even fonts can be adjusted easily by those who need to. I have a student with poor sight and he much prefers my instructions in a blog format where he can simply enlarge everything and change the contrast so it is clear for him to read.

The very language that we use when writing our materials is a key matter too. If tutors' own grammar and spelling were better then there might be some hope that students' English will improve too. By all means, Quality and Senior Managers, Inspectors et al rate us on our language, presentation, communication and ability to inspire in class. But please, don't ask us to look stupid.

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