From education to employment

Looking Back on the Week That Was With FE News

It is quite incredible, when stopping to contemplate rather than leaping with ne”er a glance at the alligator pit ahead, just how much it is possible to learn from the past.

At the most basic level, the human animal is supposed to learn from experience. That is one of the reasons why we have managed to survive the many, many mistakes that as a species we have made and created. We learn to fear that which hurts us; we often fear water because of the danger of drowning; we fear fire in case we end up getting badly scalded or scolded; and, of course, we fear becoming a politician for both these reasons.

For any fans of that wonderful example of social commentary in a handy bite ““ sized form, The Simpsons, this essentially refers to an experiment that Lisa initiated involving Bart and a test subject from the supposedly “lower” animal kingdom. In this, through electrocuting her brother and (if memory serves) making him pull down a bookcase, she proved that the hamster at least was able to learn from experience. In the same way, the first time we bake, it is quite possible we will burn our hand on the oven tray; the second time, we are fairly likely to have found a rag of some kind.

Best of Times”¦

This argument is one of the fundamental reasons for anyone entering education. Education is not just the opportunity to emerge with a charmingly monogrammed piece of parchment (several months late, of course) and a lifetime subscription to the college ““ leavers” newsletter that is the most punctually released document in education. It is the chance to learn from past experiences, to build on the successes and avoid the failures of the past. It is a manifestation of a fundamentally positive trait in humanity that is about as common as a universally accepted England manager; namely, our ability to cooperate and improve on a social level rather than constantly seeking to wriggle the blade between the shoulder blades with an evil super villain laugh.

It may be unusual to hear the eponymous “mwah haaa haaa” and talk about Charles Dickens at the same moment. Fear not, a method exists deep within the madness; and it lies in a tenuous connection with Paris and London. Beyond the parochial gaze of media flash bulbs and staged stunts in super hero costumes, the public sector ““ in particular the FE sector ““ could stand to learn from our European counterparts when it comes to protecting certain rights.

Standing Tall

The work being loosely referred to, of course, is the Dickens classic “A Tale of Two Cities”, set in the time of the social upheaval in Paris and London. Reading the passages at the start of the book bring to mind the recent work contracts crisis in France; and then draw the mind inexorably to the difference in responses here in the United Kingdom. With all attempts to be as fair as possible, something would seem to be amiss.

In France, following the publication of a law that would change the working conditions for young people and that would make it much simpler for an employer to sack said young people, hundreds of thousands took to the streets in protest. Whilst the actions of those few “riot chasers” who simply hijacked the protest and burnt cars for the thrill of it are entirely indefensible, the vast majority of the people who stood shoulder to shoulder (or sat, one would imagine) were honest law abiding citizens who fervently believed in the defence of rights and the fact that justice in the workplace must be defended as an act of solidarity.

The result, as everyone knows, was that President Chirac changed his mind. As thousands of readers up and down the country gasp in the very purest manifestation of shock at the notion of a politician changing tack, contrast this to the solidarity of action in the public sector here. When Further Education college lecturers went on strike last year, they stood alone; when staff at the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) went on strike last Friday, they also stood alone. Thus the end result; many colleges still have not put into action a pay deal from two years ago, and lecturers are faced with an offer of 1.5% this year.

The Association of Colleges (AoC), it is understood, have made a new offer that has yet to be made public, which NATFHE members will consider before deciding on strike action. But this will not mark the end of disputes; university lecturers are also deeply unhappy with their employment conditions, whilst the National Union of Students (NUS) continues to campaign against top up fees in Higher Education.

This is not an argument in favour of action for action’s sake; it is simply an observation that objection for objection’s sake is not an effective bargaining tool. If we take a cursory glance backwards, it is possible to discern the same old pattern looping back around again and again. The employers say 1; the employees say 10; and after a dance of letters, speeches and negotiations everyone settles on a number that they already knew was inevitable. A dance for dancing’s sake, if you will; one which paints neither side in a good light, and eats up time and resources that could be better invested.

Jethro Marsh

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