Chris Kay 28 Jan. 2002


I need to write this dissertation, more so, since leaving Swindon College after nearly sixteen years of teaching and leading vocational business courses at post sixteen and post eighteen levels. The process of taking voluntary redundancy, in July 2001, was racked with painful, difficult and onerous decisions, not only about me, but of concern for some of those I worked with and, most importantly, students.

I want to reflect upon some of the things I, or perhaps we, my working colleagues, have achieved in the past few years, simply because my job, and theirs, was an endless continuum of things to do with little time to think. I want to celebrate some of the things we achieved, simply because few others, apart from students and a small number of teaching staff would do so.

Over recent years the teaching team has shrunk. Those retiring or have left were not replaced. The teaching hours in Further Education (FE) for academic staff has risen from 21 hours a week contact time to 24 hours, even as high in some terms to as much as 27 hours a week. The sheer pressure on simply student numbers replaced the previously held Institution’s concern of teaching to decent standards, although that could be questioned for certain courses. The lack of physical resources, even though reorganisations were commonplace to improve efficiency, the lack of teaching resources, books, computers and networks, seminars rooms and even simple things like overhead projectors were the norm. Income gained from students was top sliced by as much as 40% retained for the centre, the management. Swindon College claimed to be one of the largest FE colleges in England and Wales. Its expansion into offering National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ’s) to organisations across the United Kingdom (UK) enable these companies to gain access to FE funding for a fee. The self-belief enabled Swindon College to gain the contract for the running of Bridgend Training Centre for Ford (UK), in conjunction with the Welsh Development Agency (WDA). It lost 11,000 per week of our money. We lost the plot, big time!

All of us on the team worked at least two nights a week, if not three for some staff, in addition to a four and a half to five day week. The pressure of time to reflect, prepare, mark, talk, cry and laugh was limited. Yet, there were quality moments, major learning moment for students, perhaps after a real struggle with aspects of the course, often related to skills not the acquisition of knowledge. Quality moments in the often ad hoc discussions, perhaps the wrong word, with staff, when real progress could be made for interesting assignments for students or the realisation that we were doing appropriate things, like facilitating student self learning and self esteem! Despair moments, perhaps longer, sometimes much longer, of self doubt, of seeing no solution(s), of concern of the impact of our teaching on students and of no support, apart from our close circle of concern. My isolation, simply because I knew most of the other staff were working at full stretch, with proper and appropriate concern for all of us, yet it was wrong to burden them with more demands. It was not fair to unload my work on them, especially as I was the last Senior Lecturer to be appointed in Swindon College and my pay was much more then theirs. So there was no route for promotion, the recognition of being allegedly able at teaching was curtailed. Some were worthy of this reward!

The most important part of my life, and most of our team, were students. An Hnd/c course is a second opportunity course. It is vocational, no apologies whatsoever. It is about developing a useful and appropriate skills base. It is about enabling students to take control of their learning environment to their ability, for themselves. It is about nurturing, growing self-belief, encouraging, sometimes getting cross, and helping students to improve their life chances for their better, even if my judgement was wrong, as it can be! The rewards last forever as acquired skills remain with us to be used again and again.

It is these aspects that I want to explore. I have the time to do this now. I did not before as all my time was clouded in the never-ending concerns, sometimes with no solutions. I want to recognise my efforts, and that of others, for I do believe we did achieve more that I think. And I want to reflect on these things.