What I’d like from my Professional Organisation

Back in March I wrote about my IFL membership (https://samuelshep.wordpress.com/2011/03/24/affiliations/) and the general grumbling and grousing around that. Since then it seems people have been reading the blog (deeply gratifying that I should say something interesting enough to read!) and an ELTchat discussion on Twitter has made me realise that I was a little uncharitable in my comments.
Not in the sense that I regret them. I pretty much still think that a professional organisation is a good idea, and that IFL is no better and no worse than any of the rest. They’re not a quango (unlike another educational body I’d like to see abolished, or at least reformed) which is one good thing: in fact the paying of membership fees means they don’t have to be and can be independent from government controls and fads (unlike the multi-million pound behemoth that is OFSTED).
Anyway, this isn’t an OFSTED bashing session (too easy, like kicking a football at a barn door). Rather I thought it would be nice if rather than just saying we need IFL but we need it different, and then not saying how different it should be, that I suggested the things that I wanted.

So here you are, what I would expect from a professional organisation:

1. A really clear and obvious system of governance. Proper open voting for key members of the leadership, supported through secondments (i.e. If I decided to be a member of some sort of leadship team, i would be supported by both IfL and my college in having the time to do this, possibly even through some sort of sabbatical system). This isn’t meant as a criticism of the current group who lead IFL. I have no personal beef with them, but it would be good to have some greater say in electing those members.

2. A grown up journal promoting research and development in FE teaching. Not a slip of a magazine (which I’m sorry to say is what we get), but a proper peer-reviewed journal. For me, personally, this would be a cornerstone of membership, as would…

3. Research incentives such as small grants. This is something IFL have been doing through work with LSIS (the 10-11 LSIS Research Development Fellowships were run with IFL, and there have been small grants through the Hewett-Driver Bursaries). I applaud this and would like to see more of this. This would also provide resources for the peer-reviewed journal idea above!

4. A more open, simpler system for recording and declaring CPD. Yes, I mean Reflect. I have disliked this since pretty much day 1, and in the last few years I haven’t been won over. Get rid of the silly swishy confusing “pads”. They’re a distraction and serve no purpose apart from crashing browsers and not working on iPads and iPhones (ok, so I should take the last point up with Apple, but never mind). Get rid of the confusing classifications of CPD: if I attend a course and get a qualification, is this an Event, an Activity or an Achievement? Just have one type (Activity) and be done with it.
Look at the model of reflection used and allow flexibility in this. The filling in of specific boxes on the forms suggests that if you don’t complete a box you are missing some crucial stage in the activity, and not reflecting properly, rather than the reality which is that some CPD might be better evaluated through a different model. Instead suggest models of reflection and provide guidance on these, and simply have a single form type with a title, a big blank box, and then some stuff about how long you spent and when you did it.
And while we’re at it, have the time spent on an activity as a blank box rather than a drop down box which allows you a maximum of 12 hours. What do I do if attend a week long course? Or attend a year long subject specialism course? I know I can add it in my CPD declaration, but that involves me keeping separate records, which rather defeats the object. I’m certainly not going to use Reflect to record every single session.

5. Intelligent linking up with the trade unions instead of bickering. Unions: your job is to provide support and resources for me as a worker. Professional Organisation: your job is to provide support and resources for me as a teacher. It wouldn’t be hard to collaborate on those areas which are mutual (like issues around professional misconduct for example). And think about collaborating over fees and membership admin…

6.(added later in the day and sort of linked back to 2 and 3 above) A conference. A proper conference just for teachers in the lifelong learning sector. And not (sorry) just about managerial stuff, funding and management of courses,etc. But actually on teaching and learning. It could be small, and I wouldn’t expect it to be free (by comparison, NATECLA costs around £350 for the weekend). But it would be another facet of being professional, filling the gap left by subject specific conferences, and LSIS.

So there you have it. It’s not a long list, for now, but these are big things. I would settle for four out of the five, but for all of them I would pay £70 a year. (incidentally I did give most of this as feedback to IFL). But you know, just the journal would shut me up for a while…

October 2012 addition:
Since I wrote this, I’ve not rejoined, mainly because nothing has changed. Reflect and some online publications are still the main advertised benefits, and I’ve really not changed my view of the former. I’ve not received the magazine, for obvious reasons, but I rather doubt that that has changed. I don’t blame IfL for basically banking its fires, particularly now the government have rehashed the idea of a professional organisation, calling it an FE Guild and opening it to tender. IFL are ideally placed to do this, and some sort of IfL / LSIS combination would be about right.

I would also suggest a small change as well: instead of being one organisation fits all, where a professional organisation exists, such as NATECLA, allow some sort of affiliation system, so that membership of those organisations can be seen as equivalent to the IfL (or whoever) and have access to the relevant resources. For a combined UCU/IFL/NATECLA (or equivalent) I reckon people would pay in the region of £25 a month pre-tax. And you could save stacks on admin, surely?


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