Goodbye FE

Harold Wilson

For the last two or three years I have been involved in the mainstream (Further -FE) education sector as a part-time Hospitality Assessor.

But no more.

I left the college that employed me last week and I have no desire to return to the sector as it continues to eat itself up from the inside.

I know that I must sound like an old curmudgeon, but I have spent a good part of my working life in FE, and loved every minute of it – until recently, when the learners/students/apprentices (call them what you like) started to be seen as monetary outcomes, rather than souls to be nurtured, taught and encouraged.

This was just one of the reasons I had for handing in my notice, there were many more, but all were based around the fact that middle managers are squeezed so tight that they really have no time to manage their team, their time or their learners’ academic outcomes.

For the last four months my charges, all level 2 food preparation apprentices, were seen as outcomes to be achieved by half term, when their funded time is up. Their practical (and often pastoral) needs were ignored: well, not ignored exactly, but no one cared whether they were being taught the skills they needed – just that they came into college and that that TICK was put on the register. The permanent staff treated apprentices like vermin.

With that sort of attitude, unchecked by a management more interested in securing and receiving funding I had to leave.

So, goodbye FE, thanks for all the fish.

Digital Students Humble Teacher

Mobile phones – in learning environments

It’s been a while since I posted anything here and for that I’m sorry.

I do have a ‘looking back on 2013’ post drafted ready for posting, but haven’t felt able to send it up, given that it had been hard to get the year into any sort of real perspective. Hey ho …

My life has changed greatly over the last six months or so. Partly due to circumstances and partly due to a resolution to make every day count. Besides being a City and Guilds marker, I am now employed two days a week (15 hours) by the local college to assess second year, level two, Hospitality and Catering apprentices. I’m also employed to deliver Technical Certificate training to year one apprentices – two hours a week on a Tuesday.

It’s the second group that take me right back to my teaching roots. What a wonderful group they are.

I took over the teaching of this group in January; they had had someone else teach them during their first term and that teacher had done a wonderful job of helping them understand the basics of catering theory. With no scheme in place and about one more year left for them to complete underpinning knowledge tests and technical certificate tests I decided to start with commodity theory.

This involves me delivering subjects such as ‘Vegetables’, ‘Meat’, ‘Poultry’ and ‘Fish’ – the classification, preparation, storage, cooking, menu usage, health issues etc. for each commodity up until Easter and then the more in depth issues behind work in the hospitality trades. Week four, this week, saw me delivering the first of their lessons on meat. Trying to practice what I’ve preached for all these years, I’ve tried to involve the group in ‘how’ they learn and we have settled into a relaxed Delivery+Q&A, followed by formative testing, followed by re-cap, followed by Delivery+Q&A and so on mode. They seem responsive to this method and given that we have no access to PCs, other modes are limited.

We actually use the IWB installed in the room. I’m a ‘Smart Board’ man, but the one installed here is ‘Promethean’ – so although I can prepare and use Active Studio – it isn’t as off-the-cuff as it would be with Smart Notepad. However – when I wanted to use it ad hoc last week (to record some student thoughts) but couldn’t immediately remember how to open the notebook facility, the students came up and showed me. There was no problem, no embarrassment, two of them just came up to the board (and the machine), switched Active Studio on, then went back and sat down. I laughed out loud – shows what I know!

Which brings me to this week.

The formative test I’d given them (after a 20 minute introduction to meat PPT, with lots of back and forth chat) asked them (at one point) to name a boned and rolled meat dish. Some of the answers were good, some slightly off kilter and one I had a good snort at! A boned and rolled ox-tail. Really?

Again, I laughed out loud and asked if they had ever seen an ox-tail that hadn’t been cut into chunks? There were some uncertain yes’s and some emphatic no’s – and I had to suggest that ‘boning’ and ‘rolling’ such a joint would be nigh on impossible.

But Dave – we’ve seen Michel Roux Jnr do it on T.V.” 

Again, I said that it was very unlikely and at that point it was like the Gunfight at the Okay Corral – out came about a dozen iPhones and assorted Samsungs and off they went to find the clip on You Tube.

I was humbled. And wrong.

And both feelings were turned to my advantage as teaching points, as the subject matter fitted in well with the lesson, and I was able to point out that when we accept that we are wrong it allows us to learn – no matter what age or position in life we are at.

This wasn’t the first time they had used their phones to add substance to our lessons, individuals frequently trawl the ‘net via their mobile, to find the answers to questions I’ve asked. It’s always a boon when two differing responses are found – allowing me to explore and expand their evaluative skills.

I will now add the Michel Roux clip to my resource bank and offer thanks to the group for opening my eyes. Once again.