From education to employment

Better Late Than Never – FE News Looks at the Week that

In the spirit of it being better late than never, Sunday Service finally makes its belated appearance today!

What is time, after all? One day comprises a fixed quantity of that commodity that we presume to believe is linear purely because our mental faculties have decided it is. We even decide to divide this period of time into different units. In one day, there are 24 hours; alternatively, for those with a passion for longer division and greater precision, there are 1,440 minutes or 86,400 seconds in one day. Having just spent several of the last of these units typing this, it is easy to understand on a smaller scale the vast remorseless march of time.

Qualitative or Quantitative?

But how we view time is a matter for conjecture. Is it best to view time as the period that has elapsed between one tick and one tock of the second hand of the clock that no ““ one likes to look at before nine in the morning, and every stares intently towards at four fifty five in the afternoon? Or should we begin to appreciate the way in which time is spent, and judge the passage of time by the accomplishments therein?

It may seem that I am going nowhere with this, but please, do bear with me. There is, as the saying goes, a method to my madness! It can at least be agreed that time is not a static device, that time flows (for the moment, let’s say in one direction) in a continuous stream as far as our consciousness is concerned. And as such, our measure of accomplishment and of the value of our use of this time should not rest at one level. Part of the human condition is a state of continual dissatisfaction with what we have, or what we have achieved.

And Now, an Annoying Guitar Riff

This is why the idealised world of the sitcom is so popular. We see a group of people who profess to have regular jobs and live in normal places, living what are supposed to be regular lives. They suffer from problems that everyone suffers from ““ fear of rejection, problems at work, office politics ““ and all is neatly resolved in a twenty three minute sugar ““ coated helping. As the audience, we can all sit back and relax, and maintain our belief that things can work out. Indeed, we can even decide that as they never seem to stop spending time with each other, change jobs, or suffer any truly lasting emotional, physical or economic hardship, that they can remain ecstatic measuring themselves in the same environment.

Thus, the sitcom represents a longing for a static world. And how does this all relate to Further Education? Well, it relates to the drive for success. It is vital that we recognise the successes of the FE sector, of course ““ and significant success has been achieved. But success cannot be measured by a sitcom standard that stands still in time, defying the odds and playing the role of a twenty three year old at the stately age of forty two.

Success a Continuous Quest

For example, many people sing the praises of the falling number of colleges being given failed inspection reports. And yes, this is a wonderful success that the FE sector should be proud of; not least the students, often the forgotten harmony supporting the delivery melody, without which nothing would be possible and for whom the college exists. But success is only as good as the standard; surely the bar must be raised if success is achieved at one level?

In education above any other sector, it must be remembered that today’s success is tomorrow’s standard, and today’s standard is tomorrow’s step backwards. The outgoing Chief Inspector for Ofsted said as much at the Association of Colleges (AoC) Conference in November 2005, commenting that the next step is to realise that satisfactory grades, whilst better than failure, should be improved upon swiftly.

One observer of the FE sector was recently heard to ponder on the question of when we would have no failing colleges. The answer, it would seem, is that either this will be achieved; in which case FE should take a closer look at the standards it is using and how contemporaneous they are. Alternatively, success will be a constant ongoing battle to improve success, and not simply a push for a single marker that stands still when the rest of the world does not.

Jethro Marsh

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