Don's Diary

June 12, 1998


Our second examination week, so we will expect a fair few panicking students in the counselling service where I work. We are all aware of this, and will be looking out for them despite heavy counselling loads. Three of us have major events in the offing: one has a daughter getting married this weekend; one is moving house; and I am off to my very last conference of the National Association of Teachers in Higher and Further Education. Fax first draft of treasurer's report to Natfhe head office for figures to be checked. I have always worked well with the head office officials who are tremendously supportive and committed. I will miss working with them.


A day of students. I see my first exam panicker and also a student experiencing a post-finals anti-climax. Spend the evening working on suggested amendments for the treasurer's report that has arrived by fax and phone. It is now all but done.


Intensive one-to-one consultations with student services colleagues, preparing for our Investors in People assessment, in June, which I am coordinating. Our staff development activities are fine. But are the monitoring and evaluation of staff sufficiently embedded across the whole department? After these consultations I believe they are. I reluctantly turn down two offers of glasses of wine, as I will be leaving early in the morning for four days and need to prepare both papers and clothes. The trip includes a mixture of professional meetings and formal and informal conference appearances and I want to travel light, as it will be Eastbourne via Manchester. I choose carefully.


Meeting of university counselling service heads in Manchester, which starts by looking at CORE, a clinical outcomes measure developed by the Leeds psychotherapeutic studies people. It is a before-and-after, easy-to-administer measure (they tell us), of four elements: well-being; functioning; risk; and symptoms. They are looking for about 12 institutions to pilot it. It would mean some changes in our practice, but the gains, of having nationally validated data to measure ourselves against, might be worth it. Head for the train and Eastbourne.


Natfhe national executive all day. Seems we expect controversy at conference over funding for higher education branches. As part of the separate identification of resources for the HE and FE sectors, we have earmarked sums to be distributed by head office rather than through the regions. A dastardly plot to undermine our wonderfully lively and democratic regions is claimed - when the reality is that many regions are inquorate. We intend to press the point.


At conference, general secretary reports on the warm reception he and our president received at AUT council the previous week. Will we be able to progress the AUT/Natfhe relationship this summer under the guidance of our independent chair? On a day when the referendum outcome in Ireland shows that skilful negotiation can result in a strong "yes " vote, anything seems possible. But then, the political will was there.


One of my last jobs is to deal with delegates' expenses. The finance officer and I are kept hard at it until it is time for my report to conference. When finances are tight, a treasurer is never popular and I have made some heavyweight speeches in this slot. At least they do listen. I treasure the comment once made in debate by a political opponent: "When Vicky Seddon speaks, people listen to her." She was arguing for the abolition of the treasurership. She has not managed it yet. This time, I start by playing it straight and then more light-heartedly. Delighted when they catch the nuances and chuckle. Never easy to judge with Natfhe conferences. I wish them good fortune with my successor. Some warm applause - and then on to the emergency motion complaining about HE branch funding. It goes down with barely a squawk. Things are looking up! I sign the last cheques and sort out the last expense problems. I ask the finance officer for my name plate from the cheque-writing machine as a souvenir. Discover there are rules against it. After all, I might sneak back and try to use it. Then it is all over and I find myself in the pub with some of the conference steering committee. Do they know how to steer? I am invited to Haltwhistle, and offered a trip round Weymouth Bay when the boat gets bought next year. Feels like I have arrived just as I am leaving. Met at Victoria and treated to lunch by offspring. We talk personal things. Head home where the Van Gogh irises are in full bloom. Brilliant.

Vicky Seddon, Head of the counselling service at Sheffield Hallam University. She has just stepped down as treasurer of Natfhe, the University and College Lecturers Union, after ten years on its executive.

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