Having laid to rest, I hope, in an earlier blog the image of Cinderella as role model for the FE sector, I was reminded by the TES this morning that we still haven’t agreed on a character to replace her as our champion. On the day that the extent of additional in-year cuts to the education budget became apparent, a BIS spokeswoman said yesterday, “It is right that as the nation tightens its belt on public spending, the FE sector plays its part…”
Which begs the question, which part would we like to play? Luckily we have Twitter to start the conversation. No sooner had @bobharrisonset tweeted the link to the TES article than @TeachNorthern replied that in terms of value-for-money and finding savings, “we’ve been in the lead role for years!” To which my first reaction was, maybe that’s the problem: we’re trying to play the lead role. Wouldn’t it be better if we had a more low profile role, like second slave carrying jug of water enters stage right perhaps, or man in Trilby walks slowly away from cordoned-off crime scene?
But what a poor first reaction. I’m ashamed of myself. We didn’t come into this business to melt into the background. We came into FE to have an impact, to make a difference, and a dozen other cliches that are no less true and heartfelt for being cliches. So if the prince-hunting, slipper-dropping girl from the cinders isn’t to be the face of FE, who is? What part shall we play?
The answer was staring me in the face. Last Thursday. Members of my family were snapping themselves on a visit to Madame Tussauds in London. One of the snaps caught them on the set of The Hunger Games with Katniss Everdeen. She had that focussed, determined look of the archer she is, quiver of arrows slung over her shoulder, and not a glass slipper or pumpkin in sight.
If you don’t remember the story, let me remind you. Katniss comes from District 12, a mining area built on vocational skills in a dystopian and autocratic country. The Hunger Games is a fight to the death that takes place in the full glare of the media. Her younger sister, Prim, representing no doubt the school-age sector, is chosen to take part in the ‘games’. Katniss volunteers to take her place. As you would.
Katniss first competes with the other contestants for donations from sponsors to equip her to do the job in hand. She then survives the attempts of all the other armed combatants to destroy her, with only her mastery of hard and soft skills to protect her. She teams up with Peeta, a thinly veiled representation of sixth form colleges, and together they become victorious, working together, and refusing at the end to turn on each other and fight to the death, as the rules of the games demand.
The story is partly a reworking of the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, but none the worse for that. Don’t we so often find ourselves living out the same old story, again and again?
So there you have it – Katniss Everdeen, the new face of FE? That’s my starter for ten, as we say in the world of televised higher education. Your turn now. Who do you think our post-Cinderella role model should be?