From education to employment

The curious world of politics, further education and skills

It is a puzzling state of affairs if new policy introduced during a recession can mean that further education’s professional teachers and trainers, who are ready and able to upskill people, have to turn many away because courses are full or have closed. People being turned away include those who are low skilled or unemployed and want to better their prospects; those needing to gain advanced skills; and those hoping to do their jobs better and help to boost productivity in their workplace.

It is even more curious if, on top of that, some professional teachers and trainers in further education lose their jobs, meaning that even more prospective learners are unable to increase their employability and skills. Increasing numbers of teachers and trainers are contacting the Institute for Learning (IfL), their professional body, in many cases very distraught because hopeful learners with ambition for themselves and their families cannot access courses, as key provision is being reduced or stopped. Teachers and trainers are at the crossroads of policy and real life, and they are very worried.

Which architects would design policies for further education – the engine room for the economy and social justice – that could lead to such consequences, and in a time of recession? On reading the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat party manifestos, it is clear that each party is committed to regenerating the economy; greater fairness in society; and prioritising frontline workers and services.

IfL believes that further education and skills teachers and trainers have the crucial responsibility to help upskill individuals and the nation, to help revive the economy. Their role in preparing young people and adults for work, including for the new low-carbon and hi-tech industries and advanced manufacturing, is vital. IfL supports more than 200,000 further education teachers and trainers to focus on their own continuing professional development so that they are leading edge subject experts and teachers – true dual professionals. Just what the nation needs.

What do the three main political parties offer in their manifestos for education, for teaching and training, and for successful learning for young people and adults?

IfL is encouraged and agrees: firstly, that “the single most important thing for a good education … is access to a good teacher” and that a government “invests wisely to boost frontline teaching and training and its effectiveness”; secondly, that “education is key to personal fulfilment, economic prosperity and social mobility” and that “our goal is educational excellence”; and thirdly, that all should “receive an excellent education… to ensure they succeed in life”.

So which party sets out these impressive and important priorities? The answer is all three. The extracts are from the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos respectively. It is really good news that there is strong cross-party consensus about the central importance of teachers and excellent teaching.

But, and here lies the rub, these manifesto statements relate specifically to schools. Although the manifestos have some things to say about further education and the importance of apprenticeships and vocational education, they are silent about the importance of high-quality further education and the essential role that teachers and trainers play. Is this because quality teaching and learning does not matter in further education? IfL trusts – and hopes – that absence of commitment to quality teaching and training in further education is a sin of omission, not commission. IfL looks forward to discussions with the newly elected government to make sure.

IfL wants the new government to listen to teachers and trainers from further education and skills, so they gain real insights into frontline services and teachers’ and trainers’ unmediated perspectives on the needs of learners and employers, as presented to them day-in, day-out through the year. We expect the government to make policy with teachers and trainers involved in its design – not just top-down. Listening to teachers and trainers on the front line will give new ministers the chance to gauge the impact of policy on the ground.

Teachers and trainers also have thoughtful and good ideas about new policies that are needed and could work, as well as suggestions for adapting existing policies. IfL wants the new government to trust and draw on teaching practitioners’ wisdom and celebrate and commit to the highest quality teaching and training across further education and skills. We know the government will benefit from committing to further education always having well-qualified and expert professional teachers and trainers. The country needs this.

IfL and our members will help. As teachers and trainers exert themselves to help us out of recession, now is the time to invest in further education – and to support the front line wisely.

Toni Fazaeli is the chief executive of the IfL, the professional body for more than 200,000 teachers, trainers, tutors and student teachers across the Further Education and Skills sector

Read other FE News articles by Toni Fazaeli:

What makes a brilliant teacher?

Sparking the fire

Ofsted reports ‘did do better’

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