Professionalism in FE

So there was a little report published a week or so back. The “Professionalism in FE ” interim report (here: http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/biscore/further-education-skills/docs/p/12-670-professionalism-in-further-education-interim.pdf) , from a committee headed up by Lord Lingfield, “noted as an advocate for school autonomy” according to wikipedia, one principal, and two former inspectors who now head up private training and consultation businesses (http://www.beyondstandards.net/ and http://www.first4skills.com/)

I won’t bore you with the details of the report, and they have been widely summarised elsewhere, but the two headline recommendations, and ones which are most likely to be approved are the scrapping of compulsory membership of IFL and the deregulation of teaching qualifications so that, and this is a quote, they are there “for people who wish to take them.” There is also a running theme of comparisons, both to school teaching and learning and, more importantly, to HE.

So, scrapping compulsory membership of IFL. Well, given that I was balancing up my own membership fee against the cost of a new pair of Converse suggests that I’m not about to be too disappointed by that. But IFL made their own bed to an extent on that one. When government funds of £30 a person were withdrawn in 2010 they inexplicably decided to charge teachers close to £70 for the exact same service. Which raises a question so obvious I don’t think I need to ask it here. There are other issues here. For example, what do you get? QTLS is one, perhaps, but what does this actually mean? I’ve had it since 2009 and it’s not exactly done a lot for me. And while IFL membership was in a lot of teacher contracts, this was probably primarily there because it had to be due to the 2007 regulations, not because it was genuinely felt by colleges to be something useful.

I don’t want to dismiss IFL. It was a grand experiment which needed clearer thinking out, and they produced some interesting work, like the Brilliant Teaching and Learning publication, not to mention starting the ball rolling on a more open and honest model of CPD which acknowledged the value of reading, interacting, discussing and sharing, as well as traditional training sessions, workshops, conferences, etc. I will limit my comments about Reflect, which I loathed from day one, and their slightly desperate “Dad dancing at the disco” attempt at a social networking site. Between my blog and Twitter I have developed a much more encompassing adaptive and valuable reflection model than the rigid terms offered on Reflect, and indeed have blogged about this before. Something externally imposed is never going to have the same appeal as something which develops and grows organically such as these forums. However, and this is important, it did get people reflecting when perhaps they might not have done. It promoted the value and use of CPD and reflection on it, that if directed and focussed, it could have real benefits for professional practice.

This is all neither here nor there. A field can be professional without an organisation, although it is a fine way of identifying yourself as a profession. One can do CPD perfectly well without silly flash heavy PebblePad systems. However, the section which worried me most, however, was the recommendation to make qualification “discretionary” for both institutions and for the individual teachers. I have faith in colleges. I think that most colleges will insist on qualifications for their teachers, and the overhaul to qualifications isn’t that bad: effectively reducing the quals to either PTLLS or DTLLS and getting rid of the somewhat redundant CTLLS. And yes the initialisms and acronyms are silly, but then so is calling a funding organisation “SFA”.

What concerns me more is that the private sector, that is, a private sector which currently accredits qualifications (edxcel, City & Guilds, etc.) and already has demonstrated dubious and illegal practices (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-17476415) can now employ indiscriminately, and effectively cheat students through assessments using sub standard courses leading to qualification. For which they can get government funding.

I get carried away, and this is, I admit, a worst case scenario, but the possibility has always been there anyway, and deregulation of qualified teachers means that this is easier to do. Yes, if you have OFSTED, they can and should be inspecting these providers, but the nature of a small privately run profit making business is that they can pop up again and again with more or less the same staff and managers.

I get the argument here, I really do. Leave the power in the hands of the people who know best, that is, the institutions themselves, is the basic argument, and fair enough. I fully trust my own institution, for example, to be a leader on this, and insist on proper qualification for teaching staff. We have developed a really positive attitude to staff qualifications and CPD in college, and this will remain in spite of government attempts to cheapen the FE sector. But it’s not as simple as “handing the power over”.

The report recommends parallelism with HE. A good plan. So let’s choose the obvious parallel here and do away with OFSTED inspection for all post-16 provision then. Set up an FE academy, like the HEA, perhaps. Rely on peer review and peer inspection. Get teaching and learning evaluated by teachers and learners, not ex-teachers and managers whose classroom experience stopped some time ago. Of course this won’t happen. A major part of the urgent government’s approach to the public sector in general at the moment seems to be to say “we’ll hand over the power to you, you decide, bottom up, etc etc etc.” but, and this is important, only when it suits them.

So do I agree with these reforms? In part, perhaps. IFL is, unfortunately, now likely to fade into obscurity, unless they can do as I have always said they should do and get into bed with the unions to offer a complete package of workplace support and professional support.

Do I agree with making qualification basically optional? No. And not because I am involved in delivering those programmes, but because one of the primary signs of the professional is that they are qualified to do their job. While membership of a professional organisation is a less widely recognised aspect of this, a qualification is the single factor which marks someone out as a professional. Remove this, and you return FE to the bad old days of well meaning amateurs feeling their way, especially in my own area of ESOL, and undoing any work which has been done on raising the professional profile of FE. The winners here are the private training companies who can recruit at will, and consultancies who will be called in to tighten things up when OFSTED come knocking. This really shouldn’t be a surprise.

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3 comments

  1. Agree with much of this although oddly I would hate to see the loss of the CTLLS qualification as it makes a good stepping stone to greater things. Its a bit like having GCSE’s and Degrees with nothing in the middle

  2. Just googling the potential changes in teaching qualifications etc. and came across this post. You raise some interesting points, but I do have to disagree with the final paragraph in which you say a qualification marks people out as a professional and that removing such will go back to the old days with ‘amateurs’ in the classroom. In my own opinion professionalism is something you practice, not a piece of paper with a title of a course written on it and also from what I have seen, having a teaching qualification hasn’t really removed the ‘amateurs’ from teaching and learning! But perhaps I am biased being a non-qualified ‘teacher’ 🙂

  3. I agree that a qualification alone doesn’t mark you out as a professional, and you are right in that there are definitely plenty of people out there who are “qualified” but decidedly unprofessional. Being a professional is about attitude and approach, and the value you place on doing your job to a particular standard. Qualification alone, and I would also include the QTLS accreditation offered by IfL here, does not confer professionalism; rather, it is what you do afterwards which counts. That said, if you are starting from scratch, what better way to learn how to do it than some sort of training. It is worth noting that the current teacher training model favours in-service over pre-service training, and the value of this kind of learning “on the job”. The best teacher trainees, in my experience, are the ones who start to see their whole job as a development opportunity, and who can then carry this on into their post-qualification career.

    And, of course, there are people out there with professional attitudes and approaches which have evolved independently of the formal qualifications process. I am reflecting on my own experiences of teaching in ESOL – when I started, it was fairly early on in the beginning of formal qualifications as a requirement, and there were plenty of people claiming to teach English but who were by and large sitting in a big room, having cups of tea and speaking in the learners first language, or just making it up as they went along without looking at any kind of research or information into how to teach. I don’t doubt their commitment or enthusiasm, but I do doubt the value and impact of what they did with no awareness of what learning is.

    I was talking in bald generalisations perhaps, but the non-qualification system did allow for very poor teachers to be in the classroom, with the qualified-but-poor teachers on top of that. It’s a shame there’s no way of comparing like with like on this.

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