A rant about … a bad beginning

I wanted to chew my fingers in frustration, to gather up my notebook and pens and leave; or cry out, ‘can we please get on?’ But on it went despite this being the worst beginning ever. Has this happened to you?

Writing Workshop

Classroom photo via Visual Hunt

I’d been invited to attend a free writing workshop. I live in the kind of place where the local education authority offers six-week writing courses at times that suit me. But they are frequently cancelled for lack of participants. The offer of a place on a free workshop was an inducement to sign up for a course in September.

So I took my seat at 10.26 am, eager as mustard, keen as a beaver, with my note pad, a supply of pens, and a readiness to enjoy meeting fellow writers and work at our topic – the structure of novels. Six of us assembled in the classroom. It’s actually the room where we hold our writing group meetings so it has a familiar writerly feel to it. I was in the perfect zone to begin learning.


10.30 am. Our first task was to fill in the forms for the local authority. We had to check the course code, our name, address, date of birth, email, telephone number, level of formal education achieved and benefit status. If you claimed benefits the form required your NI number. You were also required to tick a box about your housing situation: living with another but main earner, living with dependent children, living with partner, none of the above.

And we were all required to produce some form of ID. People offered library cards, bankcards, a promise to bring something to the office later, a passport. Who carries the course code, their NI number and ID with them to a writing workshop?

That was page 1. It was now 10.40 am. Turn over to page 2. Now we move on to targets: targets for the course, your targets and other targets. The tutor said we should write the course target and then score our current level of proficiency on the scale 1 – 5. She had helpfully written them on the white board.

Your own target? She suggested a few, such as ‘learn terminology of novel structure’, or ‘develop a plan for my own novel’. I write ‘gain confidence’ and leave it at that. You must write something, we are told, or the form will reappear for corrections. Martin will be up in a minute to collect the forms and check them.

It is 10.50 am. One of the participants suggested there will be detention for people who don’t do their forms correctly. Someone else suggested the cupboard is full of previous course participants locked in with their incomplete or inaccurate forms. Open the cupboard door and they’ll all fall out. At this moment Martin appeared and collects our forms. We sobered up immediately.

Admin Burden by Pizarros via Wiki Commons

A round of introductions

Now, said the tutor, (it’s more or less 11.00 am) Martin will check the forms and return them at the coffee break. I’d like you all to introduce yourselves and say why you have come to the workshop today. My enthusiasm had drained away. I didn’t want to be there any more. And it wasn’t over yet.

The end

Martin duly reappeared and a few people had to correct their forms. At the end we all had to go back to our targets, and score them again from 1-5. Finally we were given cards for our anonymous learner evaluations.

Two questions leave me speechless with frustration:

Has this course helped you to feel happier or healthier? Yes No

Inner voice says: see above about happiness and frustration.

If you were unemployed when you started your course, has this helped you get a job, start volunteering or go on another course? Yes No Not applicable.

Inner voice says: in 2 hours? I was sat here for 2 and a half hours so of course I didn’t get a job. More silly forms.

What are they used for anyway?

Photo credit: manoftaste.de via VisualHunt.com / CC BY

Steam and my ears

It’s not the tutor’s fault. Funding for adult education requires us to complete these ridiculous forms. My learning requires them to stop doing it. One fifth of the designated time was taken up with the wretched things. By the time the tutor was able to engage us with the material we had come to explore I had lost my enthusiasm and gained much resentment and hostility.

And I gained another number: a learner identity number to go with my NI number, my library card number, my passport number and my level of education code. And there I was thinking I had a name.

I detect a conspiracy to create the most enormous barriers to learning and put adults off formal learning as a contribution to austerity.

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Filed under Learning, Writing

12 Responses to A rant about … a bad beginning

  1. Jennifer Evans

    Oh dear! It sounds horrendous.

  2. Helen Ashley

    Oh, how frustrating! I’ve taught a few poetry workshops – one where I had to be temporarily employed by Torbay Council, but the lovely librarian did most of the paperwork for that. (I was still getting information about changes to car parking for employees, months after my two day workshops!) I’ve had feedback forms to give to participants after the workshop, but nothing so complicated as you had to go through. Let’s hope you don’t have to suffer it all again if you sign up for the September course.

    • Caroline

      Thanks for your commiserations Helen. You remind me that this paperwork was nothing to what I received after I had run a workshop at a well known adult education institution in London. It went on for two years and for all I know they are still emailing my previous email address!

      I’m not signing up for September.


  3. Sarah

    Oh Caroline I so empathise… as an ex adult educator it makes my heart sink to think how people can get things so wrong. Complete waste of time, money, opportunity and goodwill for everyone involved. Kind of insulting too…

    • Caroline

      Thanks Sarah. My own explanation is that this is the underside of accountability. The funders require accountability from providers, who must record it, who must ask their students for all this information.
      It makes my blood boil too. Like you, I have experience as an educator and I know how important it is to capture that enthusiasm. Although my enthusiasm for the workshop fled, I have not lost it so far as my writing is concerned!
      Hope to see you soon

      Caroline xx

  4. Oh, Caroline, how frustrating, but seems to be the way with much externally funded training. And I was feeling optimistic about adult education this morning after the news that continuing learning can be preventive factor in dementia.
    Mostly I just don’t bother completing their stupid forms, although I can see that wasn’t an option here. However, with repetitive strain injury I try to restrict the amount of physical writing I do, so I’d probably have summoned Martin to complete mine.
    It’s not just in education there we find this lust for evaluation without sufficient understanding of how to collect meaningful data. I had a small issue with a savings account which was eventually rectified by a very helpful member of staff. I then received a form with 11 questions (okay, most were rating scales) to “tell us about your complaint experience” that has gone straight to the recycling. My “complaint experience” had been fine until I received that form.
    But much worse on a training course because it puts you into exactly the wrong mindset for learning. Keep up these rants, Caroline.

    • Marianne Coleman

      Most of all what a waste of the goodwill of the tutor and the eager participants. So disappointing for you all.

      • Caroline

        I shall have to ponder how it could have been better handled. But I fear that my 30 minutes was wasted and no-one will consider the outcomes of our collective 4 hours of form filling. Not even Martin.

        I expect the wheel will eventually turn.

        C xx

    • Caroline

      Ah yes, Anne. After all those transactions and telephone calls to service industries you are asked to rate or evaluate their service. I’ve taken to choosing not to, on the whole. I especially disliked the question: how likely are you to recommend our service to your friends. I don’t have that kind of conversation with my friends, so when I answered the survey I always said ‘never’ however good the service.
      Thanks you for encouraging my rants. I don’t like being such a cross woman, but – really!
      I can feel one coming on about calling older people ‘grandmother’ or ‘pensioner’ when it isn’t relevant in news items. Enough with the euphemisms.

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