What did you do at work today?

June 26, 1998

Lucy Jenks, Project Manager in Adult basic education, Tower Hamlets College

Phil Baty spends a day with an FE project manager and Alan Thomson tails a university professor

The power-cut comes just ten minutes from the end of a two-hour class in elementary literacy and information technology. Word-processed end-of-term assignments, CVs, job application letters, all carefully proof-read and spell-checked, disappear simultaneously from half-a-dozen computer screens.Lecturer Lucy Jenks asks: "Did anybody save their work?" The essays were due in today.

Ms Jenks is not even supposed to be here. She is a specialist in adult literacy and is filling in for a sick colleague. She has been up and down three flights of stairs, three times, looking for a missing student register. In colleges, funding is dependent on student retention so taking a register is almost the first priority.

Now she has to find someone to calm an unfortunate student who is trapped in the lift and someone else to help a wheelchair-bound student marooned on the third floor. All this while pacifying a restless group of students.

"One thing about further education," she says, on her way to the garden where she expects to find a helping hand from a colleague, "is that it has taught me to walk faster. It is very frustrating, very stressful, but it is never boring."

Ms Jenks left home at 8.00am arriving at the Poplar campus at 8.45am to arrange rooms for this afternoon for interviews with potential new students. At 9.00am she was in a programme managers' meeting for the school of language and learning, discussing a summer school.

At 9.30am she was at a meeting on implementing an 8 per cent cut in teaching hours, made necessary through a lack of resources. Around 60 per cent of those who Ms Jenkins teaches are Bangladeshi, with English as their second language. They are all adults, many with disheartening experiences of earlier formal education. Budget cuts are the last thing she needs.

"It is very painful to cut back on course hours," she says. "A lot of our students can only come in the evenings. Some are mothers who have to pick children up from school. Others simply can't travel. But there is a constant strain on the timetable. There is a thriving culture of learning here, but we're always fighting for it not to be chipped away."

Back in the IT class, the students have decided to call it a day. Ms Jenks will have to interrupt her afternoon interviews to see if she can retrieve any of the work from the computers' files.

For Ms Jenks there is no lunchtime. She grabs a sandwich in the cafe for a 15-minute meeting with a colleague to discuss a bid for some sponsorship cash from the Docklands Light Railway Company.

At 1.30pm Ms Jenks gets her first cigarette since before 11.00am - five minutes of peace in the garden, before going to the interviews. "I'll be home by about 6.30pm tonight because it is Friday. I do an evening class one day a week, but most days I'll get back at around 8.00 pm, she says.

"The job is not too dire. I really enjoy a lot of the work. It all comes down to the students. I'll be really knackered after a morning of meetings and I'll be dreading teaching. But there is always so much energy. They are a joy to teach and learn with, and if that stopped, I would."

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