Friday, March 10, 2006

Bigmouth strikes again

Somewhere along the way I volunteered to be the Staff Student Liaison representative for the part-time students on the MA Screenwriting course I'm doing at Edinburgh's Napier University. We're now five weeks into our second trimester (what genius decided to equate our creative progress with giving birth - the twit deserves a slap) and the SSLC is meeting in a fortnight to assess how the course is going. We're the first intake to tackle Napier's MA Screenwriting, so there's a whole guinea pig of doom thing going on with us. In other words, sometimes you very much get a sense the tutors are just making things up as they go along. I guess it's kind of approriate, since that's what all the students want to do for a living, but it feels wrong.

As preparation for the SSLC meeting, one of our tutors invited us to express any strong feelings we've developed about the course to date. Talk about asking for a kicking. Once a few people got the ball rolling, the vitriol started coming thick and fast. It was quite a cathartic experience, in a way, like lancing a boil or squeezing a big, fat spot that's been festering for several days. The problem is that once you open the Pandora's Box of discontent, it can be hard to shut it again.

When I was editing comics at a company called Egmont Fleetway in the 90s, the managing director decided we should be involved with a prestigious programme called Investors in People. If a company is admitted to the programme, it demonstrates the firm is a good place to work and committed to helping its staff gain skills and get the most from their working life. Unfortunately, our company actually had to do that before it'll get accepted on to the programme, it can't simply say that's a good idea but not do anything to make it happen.

So Egmont Fleetway had to go through a big consultation process, whereby staff could pass judgement on their bosses and managers, saying exactly what they thought about those in charge. This didn't lance the boil, it was more like a surgeon popping in for a quick exploratory procedure and discovering the patient was riddled with cancer. One or two senior staff were dismayed to discover most of those under their leaderhsip hated them and had absolutely no respect for their abilities as leaders. By the time the whole process had run its course, several key figures from the upper echelons got the chop and any attempt to become part of Investors in People was abandoned as simply impractical - the company had too far to go to achieve what was necessary for acceptance anytime soon. As one MD said to me at the time, the word 'management' had taken on the connotation of 'mother****er' at Egmont Fleetway.

Happily, things weren't quite that bad during yesterday's blood-letting session at college. I've put together 500 words on why the part-time screenwriters feel left out, excluded and disenfranchised, and that's now with the other eight part-timers on the course for their contemplation. We represent 40% of the screenwriters students, but we certainly don't feel like we're getting that amount of care and attention from the tutors. Still, things are improving and hopefully the SSLC process will further the progres that is being made to address our concerns.

Ooh, I feel all militant. No wonder I read the Guardian most days.

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