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Looking Back on the Week that Was with FE News

I must confess that I have never actually seen that eternal favourite, “Sound of Music”.

This is not through any particular element of choice ““ it just so happens that I have never been seated before the television at the same time as it has been on. Of course, as the years have gone by, it has almost been a source of pride to be one of perhaps seventeen people not to have failed to enjoy such a treat; rarity of a commodity being a valuable thing indeed. The long and short of this is that I apologise if this is not an exact quotation, and indeed I am not 100% certain that I am even referring to the correct musical. I believe, however, that the line goes something like this:

“Let’s Start from the Very Beginning”¦”

Answers on a postcard to”¦But in all seriousness, one striking element of the world is the way that patterns can be discerned when large systems are being observed. For example, as far as a layman understands it, the Universe is believed to have begun through a “Big Bang”, followed by an immediate expansion that continues today. In effect, extremely slowly, the galaxy that we know and the universe itself is slowly moving apart from itself. Therefore, in a few million years, it will be even harder to hop off to the next solar system ““ not that we show much of an inclination to do so even now.

So expansion is the way of the world, and beyond the world, then. If this is taken as factual, it can fit into human behaviour. At some point, a few tens of thousands of years ago, human beings moved in small packs and groups. Again, from the layperson’s perspective, at some point these packs decided to form larger social structures, primarily centred on the principal sources of water in the neighbourhood. From this too came the inclination to remain in one geographical location ““ after all, if there is water, then it would make sense not to leave, as many of us living in the South East are beginning to appreciate.

Following the Herd

From this came the start of organised farming and then agriculture; much safer to have domesticated animals bred for food than spending hours chasing after something that might be faster, and would often have teeth to make a Beverly Hills orthodontist cry in his Chablis; and vegetables and crops generally fight back with even less force than chickens and pigs. As they weren”t moving, and as generally caves tended to be quite a distance from the nice fertile land that their crops and grazing stock were fixed on, it would seem only logical that they should build some form of structure that would be able to house them close to their land.

In the next instance, once settled into one place, it becomes logical as well to invest more in the accoutrements of the home, and to dedicate more attention and more effort into improving the daily life. To use an appallingly out-of-place comparison, it would not make much sense to live in a tent but to carry a washer dryer about with you from campsite to campsite. This is when advances in the written word, in arts, in technology really begin to take hold, once people gather together into a larger group they wish both to improve the communal lot and also motivate themselves through more avaricious methods (if my neighbour has that, I want one that is even bigger and better).

Motivated by similar motives ““ the desire to have bigger more and better of whatever anyone sees someone else has ““ other communities would set up in imitation further down river. Due to improvements in technology, the non ““ nomadic communities would be better able to defeat the attacks of the remaining nomadic tribes, and would therefore prosper. Again, to cut a long story short; one moment mud huts, the next moment mud facials.


So the bigger the better. Certainly, Further Education and Education in general does contain some evidence for this. For instance, Ofsted has recently decided to absorb the Adult Learning Inspectorate (ALI) in spite of the evidence indicating that the inspection regime for adult learning was working well. This comes just a short time after the inspectorate incorporated FE inspections into its remit. And regular readers will be aware that the new “super union”, the University and College Union (UCU), has recently launched into action. The result of the merger of the Association of University Teachers (AUT) and the University and College Lecturers” Union (NATFHE), it will see more than a 120,000 members gathered under one new acronym.

But there must have been a reason why these bodies were separate to begin with. Perhaps there was a feeling that separate bodies might be better equipped to devote more focussed attention to the specific concerns of the members of that area of FE, rather than having a huge quagmire of responsibilities? One concern with this great amalgamation is that the hoped for greater voice from numbers for the UCU will fail to materialise; instead, without a more dedicated FE union, the FE membership could end up marginalised.

On a personal note, I am also reminded of the pattern in my own place. Basically, each year I re ““ order my files and papers. On one occasion, say in January, I will decide that one big pile or location will be simpler and more effective. Then, about six months later, I decide that this makes very little sense, and split everything up into seventy different areas. So”¦amalgamation one moment, devolution the next.

Sound familiar?

Jethro Marsh

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