From education to employment

Modernising and elevating teaching standards in the ‘Cinderella’ Further Education & Skills Sector

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In June 2024, NOCN Group launched its new Level 5 Diploma in Teaching, a flexible qualification designed ‘for experts, by experts’ to enable learners to excel as teachers in the Further Education (FE) & Skills sector.

Dr. Annie Ostapenko-Denton, a senior product developer for NOCN Group, led the design and development of the new qualification, bringing her in-depth knowledge and experience from 25 years of teaching in FE settings.

In this blog, Annie puts the spotlight on the unique nature of teaching in the Further Education sector today, exploring why it was imperative that NOCN’s new Level 5 Diploma was designed by someone who has ‘lived and breathed’ teaching in FE.

The unique nature of teaching in the FE Sector

It was during the late 1980s that FE was first labelled the ‘Cinderella’ sector by the then Minister of Education, alluding to the lack of government focus it received. Since then, the term has become legacy, with the pandemic bringing it back to the fore.

But this new Level 5 Diploma could be the key to changing that for the future. Education Consultant Gavin Lumsden said in an article in FE News that the new qualification was: “A significant transformation in the realm of Further Education and Skills training” and “reflects a progressive shift designed to better equip teachers for the evolving landscape of further education.”

Not only is it aligned with the latest Learning & Skills Teacher (LST) Occupational Standards, it also incorporates new topics relevant to today’s FE teaching environment, such as sustainability and digital pedagogy. It also expands the scope of the hands-on experience required, increasing the number of logged teaching hours required to 250 and the 8 observations to 10. These are all good signs that the future of FE teaching – and therefore the impact it has on learner outcomes – is being taken seriously.

And the change is much needed. Stephen Howlett commented in a 2021 Times Educational Supplement (TES) article:

“Teachers have had to change the way they teach almost overnight, and school and college leaders have been dealing with the impossible job of balancing pupils’ and staff’s needs in a landscape of ever-changing policy and guidance. What’s made this all the more difficult is the continued lack of clarity from central government – and in my role as Chair of a large education group, I feel that Further Education has suffered considerably.”

The rise of remote delivery in FE teaching is just one example of where the sector has had to quickly adopt a new flexible approach to upskilling teachers. This backdrop provided the rationale for NOCN Group to develop its Level 4 Certificate in Remote Teaching, a unique qualification exclusive to NOCN that allows teachers to focus on remote delivery. The new Level 5 Diploma features optional units from the Level 4 Certificate, allowing learners to cover remote learning, and those who have undertaken that qualification can use these units.

This flexible approach is an evolving requirement for FE skills design and development and remains vital to this day, with FE teachers having to adapt to an ever-changing landscape, planning for future disruptors like pandemics, and teaching for jobs that don’t even yet exist.

Designing a fit-for-the-future qualification

Decades of working as an FE teacher and mentoring on the suite of Initial Teacher Training/Initial Teacher Education qualifications, going on to teach everything from diving to nursing, have provided me with invaluable insight to bring to the design of our new Diploma so that it is not just future-fit but fit-for-purpose. FE teaching is not the same as teaching at other levels and shouldn’t be treated as such.

But of course, with the landscape changing so rapidly and the future looking completely different to what we have come to expect in FE, our new qualification also needed to be designed and structured to reflect modern-day challenges. I worked in close collaboration with NOCN’s long-standing college and training provider partners to understand exactly what the current challenges they are facing are and see first-hand what is required.

This has led to the inclusion a number of new and exclusive flexible elements, including units requested by Centres, a strong suite of optional units and assessment materials, resources that are more accessible, and the option to select the two units from our Level 4 Certificate in Remote Teaching.

All of this provides a high level of added-value support with the scope to deliver the qualification in a completely tailored way to reflect all the different environments, learning styles and student cohorts FE teachers are working with. Learners are provided with the opportunity to look at the nuance and complexity that is teaching in the FE sector in 2024 and beyond, covering things like Education Healthcare Plans (EHCPs), Social, Emotional & Mental Health (SEMH) difficulties, and learners with complex needs, as examples.

Skills shortages remain key challenge in FE teaching

At the start of 2024, FE News reported on the findings of the Advanced Education Trends Report 2023/24 which highlighted that finding appropriate teaching talent is the highest priority for education providers in 2024, with more than half (56%) of senior education professionals ranking attraction and retention of staff as the biggest problem facing their organisation today.

The Department for Education addressed this through the launch of it ‘Teach in Further Education’ campaign in January 2024, which calls on those with industry experience to teach in FE. By sharing skills and training, the next generation of FE teachers, the campaign encourages employers to motivate staff into part-time teaching in the sector in 2024.

By Annie Ostapenko-Denton, Senior Product Developer for NOCN Group

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