The idea for Tutor Voices came from the energy which surrounded the launch of ‘Further Education and the Twelve Dancing Princesses’, with some of the original princesses involved – and still involved – from the start. Momentum was quick. Around 50 people came to the first organising conference at The Northern College in September 2015 and we now have approximately 300 ‘members’ (people who receive the irregular Tutor Voices newsletter). We have a strong social media presence, including an active Facebook Group.
So what have we achieved in a year – with no money, no dedicated time and no formal structure? Perhaps not in some ways as much as we’d like – our Critical Pedagogy COOC needs some attention, for sure – but we have punched well above our weight, our voices heard alongside other organisations with a mandate to represent educators: the ETF, the College of Teaching and our colleagues in the trade unions UCU and ATL. There is a strong sense that things are changing in (for short) further education – as they are, of course, in the country as a whole. It could go either way, but with the shift across to the Department for Education there is a possibility for the first time that we can behave more like an ‘education sector’ as a whole.
Naturally, it’s impossible to disaggregate Tutor Voices’ influence in all of this and these are still very challenging times. Many of our members are fighting to keep their heads above water, amongst increased scrutiny, restructuring and Area Reviews. But our name is heard – through our writing for publications like TES FE and FE News, our connection with other social-media driven movements such as #ukfechat and the networks we’ve developed amongst those who make the decisions that impact on us all.
From the very beginning, Tutor Voices has stayed close to its mission to be a network for educators who haven’t got cynical. Despite provocation, we’ve continued to be affirmative in our dedication to a brighter future for our sector. We’ve challenged and changed the language of our work, we’ve shared and explored ideas, we’ve ignited the thinking of ourselves and others. The way in which we work – rhizomatically – might be partly a consequence of not having the resources to to anything else, but it’s kept us fly. All that slows us down is the tiredness of always fighting, but there’s energy in that too, especially when connecting with others who are energised by what we do.
It won’t ever be easy to carry forward projects on top of the workloads we all face, but given what we’ve already achieved, I hope you will agree that it is more than worth carrying on. Even a moment here or there to retweet a key message, or a kind response to someone else on Facebook, can ripple out and make a contribution.
Finally having a website (after a false start) also feels like a positive move: a home, a host. Over time we’ll gather here all our publications this year and draw our cartography over time. The irregular newsletters will still go out! And we hope that 2017 brings us the offer of a free venue, to fan that wonderful energy that has kept us going since last September.
As Northern Soul fans say, Keep the Faith! We are making a difference to the profession that we love.