I began my career in Further Education after spending fifteen years as a teacher and therapist for small children in various settings including child guidance. I felt that I wanted to be on the ‘other side’ of the fence and share my knowledge and experiences with other like-minded people. I had recently moved to London and was very excited but at the same time apprehensive about what I had committed me and my small child to. We knew no one and for the first time, I would be working quite a distance from my child’s school, so therefore I couldn’t get home quickly, should there be an emergency.
Sympathy for the Starter
The first group of students I taught were very sympathetic and, thankfully, very friendly. The information I had prepared barely filled the two-hour session. My throat was dry and I spoke so quickly I am sure they didn’t understand much of what I was trying to say. I am relieved that I cannot remember what I was talking about as I am sure it would compound the embarrassment. They gave me boiled sweets to help my throat and once I accepted that my lesson had ended, we talked about why they chose a career in child care.
These were the last remaining halcyon days of ILEA (Inner London Education Authority). Further education tutors had a reputation for being anarchic and keen to fight for causes which may have had little to do with education, but that was OK provided they were fighting injustice. They were the final survivors of the era of union might and ‘brothers and sisters’. They were the Silver Book Brigade.
Many tutors were those who had barely made it through the 60s and 70s with protest songs and ‘weed’. Most dressed in the drop out uniform of the disenchanted – vaguely hippy and hardly clean. Some felt it was their right to do very little and be paid a reasonable amount to do so. There was very little paperwork to complete; exam results could be ‘tweaked’ if percentages demanded.
Outings with students in tow were commonplace. Travel and Tourism tutors were happy to go abroad to numerous locations with young people who had probably never ventured further than Brixton or St Albans. I can remember taking the child care students to France for the day on a few occasions. I also remember losing one or two of them. There are photographs somewhere in a dark cupboard, of me dancing disco style on a ferry in the roughest seas. The floor is almost at 90 degrees as the vessel was tossed about in the stormy waters.
I met some wonderful people who felt that they were privileged to be allowed to train to support children. Mature students were given generous grants and jobs to return to once the training ended. Younger students learned from and educated their older colleagues. The atmosphere was lively and jolly. Tutors and students mixed socially and there was evidence of real depth to learning and understanding.
I introduced equality and child protection awareness to the curriculum – a move, which at the time created some animosity amongst other tutors. The students I first met were dedicated to learning and felt able to challenge and debate aspects of training, theories and care and education methodologies. It kept me on my toes and I have to say I absolutely loved this time in my professional life.
Re-organisation and Targets
Something happened to child care students once ILEA became disbanded and colleges were obliged to go towards incorporation. This introduced a lot of instability and there was an obligation to accept anyone who expressed interest and then the pressure was to retain these people. There were fewer mature candidates coming through because there were fewer financial incentives. The young people were not so enthusiastic and under ordinary circumstances, most of them would have been rejected at the interview stage.
Now it was a case of ‘bums on seats’. Numbers and outcomes became essential reading and manipulating. Paperwork requirements increased and to a large extent, the pleasure of delivering information and sharing knowledge trickled away. A syllabus and lesson plans are obviously very important, but by the introduction of a defined and bullet-pointed scheme of work, there was very little time for anecdotal information and distractions and spontaneous tales or enhancements to a session.
Some students spent more time letting the college and its staff know that they knew their rights. A more aggressive element of student and student life crept in and it became more important to employ security guards to keep everyone safe.
The quality of the courses maintained their high standards and a real progression from assistant training through to management training was now very clear. There are now many more qualifications and many different ways to achieve them. There is a much more open attitude towards equality and discrimination and a successful outcome is always the most desirable.
There is a finite shelf life to any qualification. Usually after five years they are updated or deleted from the qualifications grid. This indicates that workers should be constantly updating their skills and knowledge in order to maintain a level of currency within the industry. Continuous professional development is most important. It allows employers and employees to monitor together, gaps in skills and knowledge amongst the workforce. There is certainly much to remember and learn.
Time to Move On
I was pleased to leave the teaching after more years than I care to remember. By the time I left, I felt quite disenchanted with teaching and the hoops that were constantly dangled for everyone to jump through. I knew it was time for me to go when I realised that I actually didn’t like my students anymore and I suspect they didn’t like me. I had lost my edge and, in my opinion, they never had one.
There is now a dearth of good quality childcare professionals in the workforce and I remain convinced that when qualifications are diluted so that more can pass, the knock-on effect is disappointing and dangerous.