The premise of George Orwell’s classic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, for those that haven’t read it, was a dystopian futuristic society in which a colossal amount of control was placed on the way people spoke, acted and even thought. History was altered with the swipe of an eraser in order to meet specific political needs, and Freedom was stripped away from people by massive Government agencies such as the Ministry of Truth.
This obviously seemed quite plausible to Orwell when he wrote the novel in 1949, and in many respects he hit the nail on the head. Which brings me onto Further Education… Frankly, it’s hard not to be reminded of Nineteen Eighty-Four when you hear the phrase “Machinery of Government”. It’s a phrase from an Orwellian nightmare if ever there was one and I discussed the problems it will cause for the education sector in my last column on FE News.
Luckily, the motives behind Machinery of Government are far less sinister than those of the people who ruled over Oceania. They’re not scrabbling for power, rather, devolving it so local authorities take more control of further education. Fine, in theory, except we are faced with the prospect that those being given the power are not necessarily ready for it.
Again, unlike Orwell’s protagonists, we are in the fortunate situation that we can actually do something about this. The FE sector – with a particular emphasis on support organisations like NCFE, which works closely with colleges and training providers throughout the country, can help reduce the impact the Machinery of Government will have while it sorts itself out in the short and medium terms.
Firstly, I firmly believe that customer service should be at the top of the agenda. Ok, I would say that ‘service’ has been part of NCFE’s strapline for years, and we recently gained recognition for that as we scooped the Culture and People Award and were crowned Best Medium Organisation at the UK Customer Experience Awards. These awards included entrants from across a variety of sectors and marketplaces and were delighted with the results.
However, to put not too fine a point on it, our sector generally has a slightly shoddy reputation for customer service. There’s no question that most organisations could be doing a little better and, with MoG round the corner threatening to really upset the apple cart, the stability of the FE sector is seriously at risk.
If going the extra mile to make things easier for colleges and training providers is what it takes, then that is absolutely what we should be doing and we really have the chance to make a difference here, there has never been a better time to address the issue and start universally offering the sort of world-class, award-wining levels of service the sector deserves.
Secondly, there are an awful lot of questions still out there about MoG – many of which remain unanswered. What is being done to tackle what’s happening? Are there any other ways of preparing? Are there best practice examples that can be shared, or plans in place to deal with what’s happening?
The industry needs some real leadership right now – someone must grasp the nettle and find a way to bring all these answers together in a presentable, palatable form before next Spring. We need to work together to negotiate MoG successfully and I know this for sure: the first half of 2010 will be an incredibly interesting period.
David Grailey is the chief executive of NCFE, the qualification awarding body
Read other FE News articles by David Grailey: