From education to employment

Transforming FE Teaching as a Profession

David Russell, Education and Training Foundation

#Post16RevolutionaryReforms – Nobody within the political machine ever reads articles by those outside their immediate sphere. Ministers and officials are swamped with more reading than they could ever absorb in the course of their jobs, all written by others inside Government.

This is why white papers always seem so disconnected from the realities as experienced by teachers, leaders and employers. They are written by clever sages who live inside a high castle with very narrow arrow-slits, through which they peer from time to time so they can bring news to their masters about the movements of the outside world.

The sages have little knowledge of what came before – they have come from elsewhere in the castle, and the libraries are not well-used. Sometimes they manage to spend enough time looking through the same arrow-slit that they get a good understanding of that part of the kingdom; when this happens, either they or their ministers are led away to another part of the system.

Writing a White Paper in a Revolutionary Way

What would an FE white paper say, if it were written in a different or revolutionary way?

What if the sages came down from their towers, and spent time talking and walking through the villages and fields with the people?

Would they become lost “down in the weeds” (a place they regularly invoke with horror)?

Would they become confused without their “helicopter view”?

Might they become seduced by the merely “transactional” and lose their vision of the “strategic”?

Or would they be able to meld their understanding of the whole landscape with new insight from the lived experience of the people they are trying to support and influence?

Insight from the Ground

A white paper that was written with insight from the ground as well as the high castle would say something like this.

The purpose of the FE system is to educate and to train. What people need to learn will vary hugely, depending on background, experience, age, job, prior attainment, preference and purpose.

It will be as varied as life itself. But the consistent thing the FE system must do is be excellent at education and training.

Teacher and Learner Interaction

There are many things that affect the quality of the learning experience, but at the heart of it is the interaction between the teacher and the learner. This may be face to face or remote. It could be one to one, or one to many. It could be intermittent or intensive. It could be expert to novice, or it could be peer to peer in professional exchange. But it is by far the dominant factor in how much one learns, develops, grows, gains skill, knowledge and power.

Many other things are relevant. Funding, qualifications, equipment, setting. Even second order considerations, such as governance of the teaching institution, or accountability regimes for teachers and their leaders. But all of these myriad factors – which civil servants and ministers have influence over or can even determine wholly – are peripheral. The thing which actually shapes the learning directly and profoundly is the teachers, what they do and how they do it.

Key Questions

So a white paper that was really serious about putting the quality and impact of the FE system at the heart of everything would address these key questions:

  • How do we attract, develop and retain talented, knowledgeable, skilled and committed individuals in FE teaching?
  • How do we free them to focus on teaching and learning, and help them to excel?
  • How do we create a profession with pride, prowess, high status and good self-knowledge?

And in answer to these questions it would set out a bold, ambitious and far-reaching transformation of FE teaching as a profession.

Three Reforms for the White Paper

  1. First, the white paper should propose a long-term, properly funded programme of recruitment, qualification and initiation into the FE profession.
  2. Second, the white paper should create professional pathways, standards, and professional statuses with clearly defined, high-prestige roles at local, intuitional, regional and national levels.
  3. And third, the creation of structures and culture to support the application of the science, art and craft of teaching, with vibrant debate and professional exchange between teachers, researchers and industry.

David Russell, Education and Training Foundation

‘Revolutionary Forces’

In the immediate aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is easy to forget that there were wider revolutionary forces at work on the UK’s economy before the virus outbreak.

Issues such as Brexit, the rise of automation in the workplace, longer working lives, and poor UK productivity have brought into even sharper focus, education and skills. NCFE and Campaign for Learning (CfL), published the first in the series of ‘Revolutionary Forces’ discussion papers on 6 July 2020.

In this Revolutionary Forces series different perspectives and proposed reforms for the post-16 education and training system have been brought together in one pamphlet, from expert stakeholders, think-tanks and educational professionals.

Building on the recommendations outlined in the first paper for flexible reforms that support economic and social renewal, this new paper, “Reforms for a Revolutionary Post-16 White Paper“, takes a deeper look at which areas need to be addressed.

The authors are:

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