From education to employment

Righting FE’s wrongs

Joel Petrie is the advanced lecturer for HE in the City of Liverpool College, and a founding member of Tutor Voices

This week 800 years ago the barons rose in rebellion against the autocratic rule of King John, who at sword point agreed to Magna Carta.

The anniversary was marked publicly by both the Queen and the Prime Minister, and you could be forgiven for missing the radical shift in power that the Magna Carta represented in these celebrations.

But the tensions within the State eight centuries ago reflect the need for a new settlement of powers between politicians and practitioners in FE now.

Education should not be the personal fiefdom of education ministers; and we must not forget that government officials considered axing all FE provision under the ConDems.

To mark Magna Carta’s anniversary Tutor Voices, the new democratic association for Further, Adult, Community and Skills educators, have published A Bill of Rights for professional educators in FE and Skills.

The Bill of Rights should be seen in the context of a wider struggle to reclaim a national system of education for us all – students, parents, employers, educators and local communities. Following the announcement of a 24% cut to the adult education budget in England before the General Election a major campaign to save FE was launched by sector trade unions and sector bodies.

Of course the threat to FE appears to be even graver under the new government: a petition with over 42,000 signatures opposing the cuts to FE will be presented in the coming weeks, and this week FE staff and students lobbied politicians in the new Parliament in defence of FE.

In the aftermath of the general election Eddie Playfair argues that we need to start from first principles, remind ourselves what we think education is for, and be clear about our values of “equality, democracy, solidarity, education for human progress and human flourishing.”

We also need to better articulate the value of FE in terms of both social justice and economic prosperity. In Further Education and the Twelve Dancing Princesses we argue that the dreary deficit metaphor for FE as Cinderella waiting for her Prince (a benign Secretary of State, or a government that finally recognises the value of FE) must be challenged.

Geoff Petty, exploring another fairy tale metaphor, argues that “it’s time we shouted our own praises as no-one else will. We are the goose that lays the golden egg and its time we got our fair share of funding.”

Of course in the fairy tale the farmer who owns the magical goose eviscerates it to learn its alchemical secret – the task of raising FE’s profile and celebrating its impact is clearly urgent, and the 157 Group’s report The economic impact of further education colleges is timely.

The 10 rights and responsibilities articulated in the Bill of Rights seek to right some of FE’s wrongs for professional educators; but more importantly, they aim to enhance the learning of our students because the two are intimately connected: as the National Opportunity to Learn Campaign in the US succinctly puts it in its Education Declaration to Rebuild America, “the working conditions of teachers are the learning conditions of students”.

Frank Coffield will be discussing the Bill of Rights at the ATL conference on Friday 10th July, and at the inaugural Tutor Voices conference in Northern College on 26th September. If you agree with the ideas expressed, join us in our campaign for change by contacting us via [email protected].

Joel Petrie is the advanced lecturer for HE in the City of Liverpool College, and a founding member of Tutor Voices

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