Friday 26 April 2013

Cannington College (6)

The last few weeks of my time at Cannington College were really rather strange. By this stage Steve S and Dave M had already left and the mobile classroom and office the three of us had occupied for several years was empty apart from me. My location, near the edge of the sports field, was scenic enough but geographically isolated from the rest of the department and shortly before I too was due to leave the entire block was rented out to – I think – a crèche and I was left homeless.

In characteristic Cannington fashion nobody bothered to warn me in advance and the first I knew about all of this was when I found a rather terse note on my (former) desk from the new occupants asking me to vacate “their space” pronto! Curiously and amusingly I never met the author of this note and although we exchanged a number of messages over a period of a couple of weeks I never saw them or any member of their staff or even the slightest sign that any childcare provision was taking place.

In ten years I had worked at Cannington I had accumulated lots of teaching resources and I was, understandably I think, reluctant to move them to some unspecified location elsewhere on the college site without good reason. I say unspecified because, although the college bosses had agreed to me moving out so the crèche staff could move in, the bosses hadn’t given any thought to where I was to move to. In the end I found my own temporary home in the large office used by the peripatetic agricultural lecturers and it was there I was based until the end.     

Friday 19 April 2013

The Daventry years (1)

It is a fairly standard rule in education that if at all possible lecturers should avoid assessing the work of a family member. This is particularly important if any marks awarded will count towards the grade awarded in an external qualification. If this problem really is unavoidable then the whole process needs to be very closely monitored and the marks awarded subject to rigorous moderation.

It was exactly this problem that formed the basis of the one and only clear-cut case of educational malpractice I came across in all my years as a lecturer. The member of staff was teaching his brother and it soon became clear that the marks the student was getting in the one module taught by his elder brother were totally at variance to those he was getting in modules taught by other colleagues.

What caused the whole affair to escalate was the absolute refusal of the lecturer to have his work moderated coupled with the discovery that no mark schemes existed for the assessments where his brother had done so well.

This student had transferred to “my” college after the start of the academic year and it was discovered that he had been accepted onto the course on the basis of having passed a lower level qualification elsewhere. The problem was that there was no proof that he held the qualification he claimed to have. For some years it had been standard practice for the administration team to take a photocopy of any certificates documenting a student’s academic history but when this particular student’s folder was checked it was empty.

The student was eventually withdrawn but as far as I know the member of staff who was clearly heavily involved managed to bluff and bluster his way out of the problem – mainly by playing the race card.

Wednesday 17 April 2013

Cannington College (5)

At the end of the academic year there was always a staff meeting. Colleagues who were retiring or moving on to a new job would be given their leaving cards and presents when all the academic staff were gathered together. There had been very few resignations from the Food Technology department during my decade in Somerset - indeed four of the five lecturers who had been in post in 1980 were still there in 1990 - but by coincidence, and it was certainly no more than that, three Food Technology lecturers handed in their resignations during the summer term of 1990.

I don’t know why Norman didn’t follow the example of other departmental heads and make the three presentations to “his” staff at the normal time. Suffice to say he didn’t and I can remember being surprised when the staff meeting came to an end and nothing had been said about me leaving. I suppose it is just possible that the circumstances surrounding the departure of one of my other colleagues were such that a formal “good bye” for them was seen as inappropriate but I don’t see why that should have made any difference to my own rite of passage.
I never did have a formal presentation. All that happened was Norman, very casually, gave me a book when I was sitting in the staff room. Curiously, or perhaps not curiously, he also chose a day when almost none of my remaining departmental friends were on site. With hindsight this was just another example of the "way Norman was" - not a very nice person!

I had ten enjoyable years at Cannington College but by the end I can honestly say that I was pleased to be going.       

Friday 12 April 2013

Cannington College (4)

In the summer term there used to be a residential study tour that involved both students and staff. One of these tours forms the basis of a classic Cannington memory. In 1985 we took the students up to London for four nights. Mike Bryan arranged the visits – for which I was duly grateful because finding food-related places prepared to have students visit was always a time consuming and thankless task.

We drove up on the Monday so the first visit was supposed to be Billingsgate Market on the Tuesday. Of course Billingsgate only operates first thing in the morning so by the time we got there it was closing. Fair enough Mike and I were both to blame and we share the responsibility.
Wednesday was a useful visit to the Leatherhead Food Research Centre. No problems.

Thursday was another cock-up. For some reason Mike Bryan decided to take some of the students over to France! So he took the minibus which left the rest of us with no means of getting to Covent Garden Market. In the end I had to use public transport to get my half of the students across London  and unsurprisingly we got there too late to see anything useful.
On Friday Mike had arranged for us to visit the Barbican Centre (err, why?). When we got there we were not expected so the whole visit was pointless. Then we drove home to Somerset.

Fast forward to the next Tuesday. Clearly some parents had complained and Norman Dickie decided to blame me – and only me. I got the dreaded summons and Norman started to get very agitated. Mike Bryan was very much Norman’s pal so once Norman found out that most of what went wrong was down to Mike the whole business was quietly dropped.

Saturday 6 April 2013

Cannington College (3)

One of my favourite times of the year was the annual prize giving ceremony. The Principal used to give his review of the year and the lecturers sitting at the back of the hall used to keep count of how many times he mentioned the different departments that made up the college. In a typical year about 65% of what he said was about agriculture, about 34% about horticulture and about 1% about food technology. Indeed at least once he didn’t mention my department at all! Even when food technology became larger – in terms of full time students – than agriculture we still hardly got a mention.

Each Head of Department also used to write regular reports for the governors and for the academic board. This was another source of endless amusement because Norman Dickie used his reports to praise his friends and allies within food technology while the rest of us didn’t get a mention.  It was always those of us  “exiled” to the mobile classrooms and offices by the sports field that used to get ignored.
Norman always used to witter on and on about doing lesson observations for each member of the department. Three or four times a year he would mention this in the weekly meeting but it almost never happened. We would all sit there nodding wisely as he pontificated on the subject knowing full well that he would never get round to doing it. I wondered at the time exactly how Norman filled his day. All the more so once I moved onward and upward  because none of the duties that I took on in Daventry or at Guilsborough School ever seemed to be done by him.