From education to employment

The changing face of continuing professional development in FE

The past few years have seen an increasing drive to further raise the professional standards of those delivering teaching and learning. It seems universally agreed that any campaign that helps put the learner at the heart of the teaching and learning process, and helps deliver higher quality teaching should be commended. So how do we make the most of professional development and ensure it delivers a higher quality experience for the learner? As with many things, it is easier said than done – particularly given the pace of change in teaching and learning, the wider range of development options now available and increasing constraints on teachers’ time.

Of course, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach, and you must choose the solution that best meets the circumstances and needs of your organisation, as well as your own needs as a learning professional. But perhaps we should firstly reflect on what professional development is, or can be, given that this too has been changing over recent years and no longer just refers to classic, structured professional development. Staff in many schools and colleges often share knowledge, information and skills informally, including for example the key points that they have picked up at conferences or from their own experiences.

The Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) considers that “sharing effective practice and contributing to the development of colleagues is a professional responsibility and a requirement for all teachers who have to demonstrate that they work as a team member”. This is a highly desirable goal for the FE sector, but one that is made more challenging by changing circumstances. Raising standards, sharing and disseminating good practice, and performance management take on a new dimension when a college has a significant percentage of part-time staff and perhaps up to seven or eight major campuses, as is the case in some of larger English colleges and the recently merged FE colleges in Northern Ireland.

With such different working arrangements, it is of little surprise that approaches to the professional development of staff vary so considerably from organisation to organisation. Moreover, such flexibility is essential if we are to allow colleges to choose a path that fits their circumstances. As a framework, the Lifelong Learning UK (LLUK) standards offer a base line for those involved in the co-ordination, delivery and management of that development. The Institute for Learning (IfL), the TDA and the Ofsted website also provide a wide range of information and resources to help in this regard.

With all the extra pressure on college budgets in the current economic climate, it may also be time for a rethink of the simple INSET-day model: whilst this may be a more cost-effective option in the short-term, it is not necessarily the most effective solution in the long-term.

A recent LSN publication Rethinking continuing professional development in further education by Frank Villeneuve-Smith, Chris West and Balj Bhinder raises a number of key points. Firstly that the management of continuing professional development (CPD) must be a strategic function and good CPD, like good teaching and learning, should be delivered through active learning techniques that provide sustainable and long-lasting improvements to practice. The report points out that CPD must be purposeful at both individual and organisation levels and should move from compliance to opportunity – in the current climate this makes sound business sense. The report additionally advocates a distributed model for CPD encouraging everyone involved – from support staff to teachers and managers – to take responsibility as professionals to identify needs, and to develop CPD plans within the strategic context of their organisation.

To meet the 30-hour CPD per year requirement, serious consideration also needs to be given to using technology for learning, and the benefits that a blended approach to CPD delivery can offer. Used effectively, technology can bring the flexibility, breadth of choice and cost-efficiencies that lie at the heart of the CPD challenge. It also goes some way towards overcoming the loss of face-to-face meetings at INSET days, by joining professionals into virtual networks which build on the outcomes of CPD activity.

Given the changing FE landscape, there is a clear need for flexibility of CPD delivery along with effective professional development choices that will ultimately have greatest impact on the learner. For example, I am pleased to see my own organisation taking a lead in developing new blended learning CPD programmes that combine individual online learning with face to face group development. Our range of CPD programmes are designed to offer the level of flexibility that helps meet individual and organisation needs, whilst providing sustainable improvements to teaching and learning.

John Stone is chief executive of LSN, the not-for-profit organisation focused on making learning work for further and higher education, local authorities and schools, public services, work-based learning and international organisations

Visit LSN’s website for more information on a range of CPD options for colleges. Download your copy of Rethinking continuing professional development in further education (LSN, 2009)

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