There have been some astronomical changes in the Further Education Sector during the past thirty years or more that have affected the academic, cultural and social landscape of Liverpool Community College. Having spoken to a number of people, who have worked there over that period and to people who currently work at the college, it has become apparent that the majority of changes have not been for the better, in relation to the college actually living up to its name as a college of the community. Richie Krueger gives us his thoughts.
Increasing Lack of Community at Community College
many contemporary staff, there currently exists a pervasive atmosphere
of disempowerment, as working conditions and wages have been compressed
by an aggressive style of management aimed at controlling staff through
a one-way dialogue process, overseen by an equally aggressive human resources
department, stifling professionalism and creativity. The authoritative
dialogue is reinforced by the economic gap that has opened up between
the inflated wages of senior management and the compressed wages of staff,
which has created an almost unbridgeable distance between them. Academic
staff are forced to teach top-down courses that are tailored to meet the
reactive demands of the local economy, while the level of bureaucracy
attached to these courses is overwhelming for tutors, who are in the profession
to teach, rather than becoming target hitting machines.
One of the main factors has been the loss of a level of democratic control for staff. The college, once run by the City Council and therefore by elected officials, had a democratic link to the staff through a relationship between the unions and the elected officials; there existed the opportunity to exert influence on the decision-making of management. Levels of funding varied, depending on whether there was any help from the private sector, for example, the Riversdale Campus engineering department’s link to the Merchant Navy. However sparse the resources were in other departments, where they may be no link to the private sector, as in arts and humanities, the environment and the learning that took place there, was good.
There were eight local colleges, with a variety of specialisms, where the relationship between staff and students was allowed to flourish, informing a ‘working together and supporting each other ethos’. The time pressure that exists today was not there, which allowed staff to devote some of their time to the social aspect of learning, for example, supporting the Student Union, football and netball teams.
During the 1980s, under Thatcher, the government introduced the policy of Incorporation into the sector, which saw the beginnings of the service becoming an industry. The implications for the staff were massive, as the comfortable atmosphere, which allowed for preparation time, marking time, research and the time to develop skills to improve teaching, was replaced by an ethos of managerialism and rationalisation, which saw the eight colleges merge to four and then, eventually, to one centralised set of campuses in the city centre. The democratic link to decision-making was broken, as the funding arrangement was given to senior management at the college. This is currently the state of play, whereby management bow to central government demands and expectations, which set the parameters of funding. This process has hit adult education hard. For example, the Access to HE courses, which have given so many people a second chance of education, has been narrowed down to a minimum.
It has become increasingly hard for older local people to enter FE, for a number of reasons. The lack of local colleges has restricted many people with child care responsibilities from entering FE, whereas in the past, more mature people, especially women, found it compatible to take a part-time course, at the local college, with their own child care responsibilities, allowing for a greater mixture of young and mature students, which allowed for a more vibrant learning environment, a place where life experience would meet academic theory in a positive and stimulating way.
As the pressure on staff has increased, through increased teaching hours for full-time staff and plummeting wages, from an over-reliance on part-time and temporary agency workers, so the sense of the community within the community college has largely evaporated. Without the necessary personal management and communication skills, senior and middle management is target driven, unimaginative and open to manipulation, leading to a distinct lack of trust between the latter and the staff, which has created a negative work experience, which has failed students in the sense of a holistic education.
If further education is to be a credit to the city, then management need to cooperate. But that means that central government needs to become committed to a sector that truly involves staff in democratic decision-making about how to run courses that are vocational, academic and courses that are ‘learning for learning’s sake’. Courses that allow for the opportunity for a second chance at education, courses that explore and encourage creativity and also courses that allow for a route into employment. These opportunities to expand the sector in a creative and positive way are currently stifled by a lack of democratic local involvement, managerialism and the diktat of central government. It is time for a radical rethink of our approach to further education, so we can make the community college an intrinsic part of the community again.
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