The economic downturn is affecting teachers’ and trainers’ practice throughout the further education and skills sector in a number of different ways. Recessions are not new, but with between 12,000 and 15,000 new teachers entering the sector each year, it is fair to say that a significant proportion of IfL members are probably experiencing the full force of a recession on their practice for the first time.
Over the past few days, we have been conducting a short online poll, asking our members how they have found their teaching or training role changing in the light of economic downturn, and whether the recession has affected their subject specialism or approach to teaching and learning. So far, 241 people have responded to this snap survey, with 76 per cent of them taking the opportunity to share their thoughts with us by responding to an open-ended question about the changes that teachers and trainers might need to make in their practice.
Only 18 per cent report no change to their teaching role, while 47 per cent say they have found a little or some change, and 34 per cent report significant or very major change.
The impact on respondents' subject specialism or approach to teaching and learning has not been quite so marked, with 32 per cent reporting no change, 45 per cent little or some change, and 23 per cent declaring significant or very major change.
Many learners have been made redundant, and some members say that the college or provider where they work is receiving a large number of applicants whose apprenticeships have fallen through. Access to higher education students are worried about incurring debt and many have made a conscious decision not to pursue their plans for higher education. Some learners say "What is the point?", and are leaving, whereas others are even more determined to complete their course, gain qualifications and improve their chances of employment.
Teachers and trainers say that the worry about or squeeze on learners’ disposable incomes means that learners can no longer be expected to buy lots of extra tools, equipment, books and so forth, so teachers and trainers are doing their best to make do with the resources they already have. One points out it is even more important to make unemployed learners aware of the college facilities that they can use – computers, careers advice, counselling and gym, for example.
Teachers and trainers say cuts in funding are taking their toll, putting pressure on them to manage larger classes, spend less time with learners, fast-track some courses and be prepared at short notice to teach another subject. Adult education courses are being hit particularly hard, and many of our members are angry about the way in which older learners, including pensioners, are being abandoned. As one says, if there is not enough money for food, who is going to be able to pay for adult education? Disabled learners and those from disadvantaged backgrounds too are being affected disproportionately. As a sign of the times, teachers are seeing increased interest in some courses such as sewing and rag rug making – as ways of families making ends meet on less income.
One strongly recurring theme is an impassioned plea for less bureaucracy; less change; fewer new government initiatives, targets and management fads; and the overarching need for teachers to have more time to spend with their learners, and more professional development in the recession, not less. According to one respondent, it is the whole political climate and not just the recession that concerns students. They are afraid for their future. Like many respondents, this teacher advocates preparing students for long and successful lives, equipping them to look beyond immediate skills and a job that may or may not exist at the end of their course.
Another feels that it is very important not to let the recession affect main core vocational subjects, which are always needed in the medium term. Many teachers and trainers say they need, even more so in the recession, to boost their own teaching, training and subject knowledge, to avoid there being a dearth of expertise when the recession ends, as surely it will. Sadly, a few respondents have already been made redundant, and many others are concerned about losing their jobs and having to change career or take on reduced part-time, hourly paid roles.
I was heartened to read some of the more bullish responses. One trainer notes that in the current climate clients pay for outcomes, not delivery, and that this is built into their proposals and contracts. Demonstrating real professionalism and resilience, another teacher – who was made redundant after 16 years' service and is now working on a pilot programme – believes that it is important to stay up to date with trends in one's specialist subject area; maintain close links with industry and with former colleagues and learners; look for innovative approaches to delivery methods and recruitment; and above all, to be open-minded and proactive.
An e2e tutor is seeing more referrals and learners staying on programmes for longer. Another teacher reports that their college would like their department to close, but that they are getting lots of work as people need to retrain, and are "needed like never before".
One trainer assessor says that it is all about confidence – all their major clients are growing their businesses, and "it is best to maintain a positive view with students and continue to make the lessons useful to them". It is important to help them be energetic and highly skilled at riding the waves of a recession and targeting and capitalising on the specific kinds of commercial opportunities that the recession brings.
A teacher from one college says that they have noticed a surge in the number of people willing to retrain, particularly in the area of welding and fabrication. Courses for the unemployed are fully booked but they find it galling that there is a waiting list for new enrolments. By its very nature, a market economy will always have peaks and troughs, and this teacher believes that education is even more important during a recession, and that we must develop the workforce to hasten and to prepare for the upturn.
Who can argue with that?
Our teachers and trainers have shown that they are flexible and adaptive to meet the needs of employers and individuals in a cold economic climate. I believe that teachers and trainers have a crucial role to play in leading local people and businesses out of the downturn, and should be afforded all the financial and moral support we can muster. Chris Humphries, chief executive of the United Kingdom Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) describes teachers and trainers as vital trailblazers for industry and the economy. Our survey confirms this.
For further information about the Institute for Learning, and to become a member, please visit our website at www.ifl.ac.uk. To express your views, please respond to our next polls on the recession.
Toni Fazaeli is the chief executive of the Institute for Learning, the professional body for more than 188,000 teachers, trainers, tutors and student teachers across the further education and skills sector
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