Education: The general public at an FE college

Those who know me are aware that I spent five years working in the public sector. In Further Education to be a little less vague. All in all, my experiences at this organisation left me somewhat disillusioned about life, people, work in general and the education system itself.
When I started work there, as a bright-eyed, eager eighteen year-old, I assumed that all the people employed by a large organisation would work together, assisting other departments and colleagues, and generally aiming to create a conducive, efficient working environment, you know; seeing as the same person signs all the pay cheques and the general aim of education institutes to assist people in gaining qualifications. I know! What a numpty! Naive much?!
Don’t worry, I soon learned…

‘But,’ I hear you cry, ‘you stayed for five years, Tom. It can’t have been that bad!’ Well, let me enlighten you. No. No it wasn’t, not at first. I was just office gimp in the early days; making drinks, printing, photocopying, filing, answering the phone, sending letters to students (or ‘learners’ as they’ve been re-branded- don’t get me started) and whatever else no-one else wanted to do. I soon progressed on a fuck-ton of others things, including the responsibility of claiming funding for a £1.5m contract on a monthly basis and the recruitment, assessment and enrolment of applicants. That meant teenage girls. Teenage girls who wanted to be hairdressers… Have I mentioned I was eighteen when I started? Right, consider that five years rationalised/justified.

Eventually, the mountain of bureaucracy you have to traverse before achieving anything, lack of career progression opportunities, ever increasing responsibility, complete absence of salary increases and the realisation that while nice to look at, someone who’s life ambition is to cut hair was not likely to provide the fulfilling relationship I was looking for pushed me to start hunting for alternative employment.

A fan of irony? To escape the disillusionment, ya boy ended up going to university… Oh yes!

Anyway, background sorted, this brings me on to what I’ve called this post. Each summer since starting university I’ve returned to my former employer to assist during enrolment by issuing new and returning students with the ID cards that allow them access to the building. This involves taking a photo, printing the card and explaining some basic rules and regulations. Now each year, this place enrols something like 15000 students. And they all need ID.

So over three weeks me and my colleagues speak to and take photos of a massive range of people; from school children to retirees, Americans to Zambians (see what I did there?) and more. Now to get some perspective, when it is open enrolment and anyone can walk in, see what’s available and sign up for a course, these people may have been in the building for up to six hours, slowly working their way through the process by the time they get to my area (the last stage), at which point I stick a webcam in their face and take an awful photo of them which they have to walk around showing for the next ten months.

In three days so far this year, more than 1500 people have been processed. Here are some generalisations thinly disguised as observations that I have made in this time, as well as a few from my full-time days that have popped into my head since I started writing this:

Dyslexia is regularly used as an excuse to disguise a poor level of education
This used to piss me right off. The standard assessment for new students is a Maths and English test. Applicants with learning difficulties, upon presenting evidence of the diagnosis, are obviously allowed some assistance, such as extra time and/or someone to read the questions to them, whatever is required. However, the amount of people who claimed dyslexia each year when it was clear that they were just thick never failed to astound me.

People get precious over the most trivial things
Yeah, this is an obvious one- we all know this, but it never ceases to amaze me: I’ve had middle-aged women (you know, like someone’s mum) violently try to snatch back their old ID cards when I’ve explained that it will be shredded, even though it has expired, has no further value and their new one is being printed as we fight.

People also try to steal various useless things, normally the fabric lanyards we issue the cards with (students must display their ID at all times) covered with garish logos and the word STUDENT. The ‘welcome packs’ are also popular for thieving; they are rubbish plastic folders containing some basic information, a crap pen and a cheap alarm clock that we give to every student anyway! Or if they don’t try to steal them, they get upset because ‘I didn’t get one but my friend did.’ *Sigh*

No-one listens
It’s so rare that someone actually leaves through the designated exit I clearly point out (it’s behind me) that I celebrate when someone does. The usual procedure plays out like this: show student where the exit is, they (appear to) acknowledge the information you have just provided, they turn and march off in the opposite direction.

An awful lot of people fail at listening AND reading. Each area of the hall in which enrolment takes place is clearly signposted. After having their forms signed off by a tutor, students are seen by a ‘scanner’ who checks all the right boxes are ticked. If required they are then sent to the ‘Welfare’ department who assist with benefits and housing issues or the ‘Learning Support’ department (dyslexia etc). Then the form is processed, any fees are paid and they are sent to us for their mugshot. As I’ve said, each stage is clearly signposted: the ‘Security ID Passes’ area is labelled ‘Security ID Passes’, the ‘Welfare’ department’s area is labelled… umm… ‘Welfare’ and the ‘Learning Support’ area is… You get it.

So you’d think it’d be pretty hard to confuse the three… Hmmm… *Deep sigh*

I’ve also noticed that ‘da yoof’ of South London have developed some interesting pronunciation (how old do I sound now?). Again, this is not news but this in particular caught my attention: A photo is not a photo, it is a picture. But it’s not a picture, it’s a pit-char… See, told you it was interesting.

And I’m yet to work out why every sentence has to end with ‘still’… still. Would you like an example? Here’ya:

‘How was the film?’
‘Yeah it was all right, still.’

I know; ridiculous, right?

Part two coming up shortly!