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Looking Back to Look Forward with FE News!

For some, the fact that this is to be my final “FE Sunday Service” piece will mark a happy transition with trumpets sounding and the fanfare of joy and mirth sweeping across the land in a cascade of chirpiness the like of which has never been seen before.

The sad truth ““ or not, depending on your perspective – is that I will be moving on as Editor for FE News next week to pastures new. My replacement, Vijay Pattni, is dynamic, creative, passionate about FE and about uncovering the news ““ I am certain you will enjoy reading his work as Editor and working with him to help to raise both the awareness of the FE sector in general and the profile of the people working therein.


It must be admitted that this is not always an easy task. Reticence is the reserve and indeed the gift of the British, or can seem to be. There are so many who work within the FE sector, and work extremely hard. It is these individuals, for whom their job and the successes that the performance of their jobs entail is simply part of the daily fabric of their lives, that are the long sought after “story”. Because, after all, what exactly makes a story? Is it simply a collection of random words thrown together by a journalist perching on a computer chair at one in the morning smoking the sixty seventh cigarette and sipping the bitterest of coffee ““ based nectar as he or she cackles maniacally in the very best of “evil super villain” laughs?

The majority of Britain, sadly, would probably say “yes”. In a survey earlier this year, the media was actually found to be less publicly trusted than politicians. Admittedly, this was before certain scandals made themselves clearly felt in the public consciousness”¦but we shouldn”t really touch upon that. Suffice to say that in my time here, I have yet to meet a journalist, press officer, media relations officer, editor, reporter or whatsoever they may be called, who owns and carries around a pure white long haired cat, strokes it maniacally and calls everyone they face “Mr. Bond” in a variety of odd accents. It just doesn”t happen. Apart from anything else, journalists sometimes have to go abroad”¦can you imagine a super villain putting their cat into quarantine for six months?

So the cold hard facts are that, as much as the media is regarded with the same mixture of fear and repulsion as the strange smelly great uncle at a wedding who talks a lot but no – one recalls inviting, the words that are issued forth through the media are not simply made up. Leaving aside the problems of litigation, it is not the role of a journalist to create news. Rather, it is the role of the journalist to uncover news, to report it in a measured and impartial manner so that more people are aware of the information relevant to the subject and are thus equipped to form their own opinion and make up their own minds.

The Roles

There is some justifiable criticism of the role that the media plays in building up so called “bad news stories” ““ indeed, Alan Corbett of the Association of South East Colleges (AOSEC) made that very point earlier this week. In that specific example, he raised the problem of perception, complaining that the British media is so quick to criticise the work that the FE sector does and the inadequacies that might be found therein that there is little effort devoted to raising awareness of the good work being done, and what Mr. Corbett believes to be the relative success when compared with our European neighbours.

All of which is true”¦as far as it goes. There is much good work being done in British FE, but much of the very best of it is never touched upon. This is what could be called for our purposes a manifestation of the British reticence. After all, as wonderfully important as funding statements and policy initiatives are, the hard work that is done in FE is done at the very front, by trainers, by educators, by teachers, and by learners. Paradoxically, these are the very people who would normally not consider what they do worthy of attention or news ““ they are simply (as far as they are concerned) doing their job as they were asked to do and as they are paid to. Therefore, their stories are very rarely heard.

There is of course another problem. Mr. Corbett points to the “relative” success of the FE sector in comparison with our neighbours. This would and should be wonderful news, and as such should be trumpeted from all areas of the press. However, when taken in conjunction with Britain’s rather pathetic showing on the education participation and attainment tables provided by the Organisation for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD), it is much more difficult to paint as positive a picture.

Perhaps, therefore, there is an element of “damned if you do”¦” that the media experiences. The truth is that there are an infinite number of possibilities when writing an article, and that the majority of journalists execute the difficult balancing act by using the information to hand. So perhaps, as a parting suggestion, this would be profitable for all concerned ““ please share more information. Because the more that everyone understands and knows, the more information that people have access to, the more they will be able to form their own opinions based on cold hard facts.

Jethro Marsh

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