At the end of May, the Institute for Learning (IfL) gave written evidence to a select committee inquiry into training and development arrangements for FE teachers.
I also attended the House of Commons on 8 June 2009 to provide oral evidence to the Children, Schools and Families Committee.
Our evidence addressed five key elements:
becoming a teacher or trainer in further education and skills
registration as a professional teacher or trainer with IfL
remaining in good standing
licence to practise (professional formation) and QTLS or ATLS status
continuing professional development.
A major point I made is about a problem for IfL members with the first of these elements, especially in the context of 14-19 provision.
Teachers in FE, including those who gain Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills (QTLS) professional status for teaching in FE and skills, are not able to teach in a schools context unless they are qualified schoolteachers. Schoolteachers, on the other hand, are allowed to teach in FE settings, because Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) is recognised as meeting the qualification threshold.
We believe that this lack of recognition for QTLS is wrong and that there should be mutual recognition of QTLS and QTS. Lack of recognition for QTLS hampers the delivery of 14-19 policy priorities. It is a barrier to FE teachers, with their distinctive and up-to-date vocational expertise, being able to contribute more fully to the 14-19 curriculum where some of the provision is delivered in a school.
According to research undertaken by Lifelong Learning UK (LLUK), schoolteachers moving into FE say that although there are some differences of context – curriculum, age group, range of qualifications, and to some extent a different vocabulary – with good induction, a good orientation programme and good support, the transition can work well. LLUK has developed a useful orientation programme for school teachers moving to FE and skills.
The standards of being a professional teacher in a school setting and in an FE and skills setting are closely aligned, even though the contexts are different. Given the latest Ofsted report on initial teacher training in FE and skills, which highlighted the significant improvements in quality and evidence of effective practice, now is the time to facilitate the movement of teachers and trainers between FE and skills and the school environment.
I believe that there is an opportunity to review and achieve mutual recognition of QTS and QTLS for the benefit of learners, teachers and colleges, providers and schools. We are working with the General Teaching Council (GTC) in England and with other partners to explore the options, and we urge the government to enable this development by reviewing the relevant regulations as necessary.
For the majority of teachers and trainers, teaching in FE and skills is a second or third career. The average age of those undertaking initial teacher training is 37, reflecting the fact that teachers and trainers spend time in earlier professions, building up their vocational and subject expertise.
The sector requires highly skilled professionals from all walks of working life – plumbers, chefs, architects, social workers, lawyers, beauty therapists, etc – to reach the stage in their first career where they have the capability and the capacity to train future generations and to give something back. They are highly experienced, qualified practitioners in their chosen field and see teaching and training as an extension of their initial professional identity.
This is what we mean by dual professionalism, and it is worth noting that many of our members belong to other professional bodies – the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering, the Royal Institute of British Architects, the General Social Care Council, to name a few.
The distinctive model of initial teacher training for FE and skills recognises that teachers and trainers are recruited for their vocational and subject skills and knowledge and that they bring to the sector substantial expertise from their background in business, industry, commerce or careers in the public or voluntary sectors.
Giving CPD the priority it deserves
I told the committee about our deep concern that teachers and trainers are, in many cases, being hampered by time pressures and that this adversely affects their chances of undertaking CPD. We hear from our members that the amount of timetabled contact time, arrangements for covering colleagues who are sick, and the need to complete reports for quality assurance systems, awarding bodies and the like, means there is little if any time left for their own CPD. Yet it is absolutely vital for learners, and for the nation, that teachers and trainers are fully abreast with developments in their vocational or subject area and in teaching methods.
As Chris Humphries, chief executive of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), said recently, "Teachers and trainers should be vocational trailblazers." In fact, our economy depends on them being so. I believe that in the good times, CPD is important, but in times of recession, CPD is not an option. Only highly skilled and up-to-date teachers and trainers can help lead the workforce out of the downturn.
Even though they are very committed to their own training, to mentoring others, and to their own CPD, this is what gets squeezed, in practice. Commitment to their learners and to the demands of their college or provider takes priority. With the wider financial pressures on the sector, I am concerned about even less time being set aside for supporting trainee teachers, teachers and trainers, and for CPD.
This is a too high a price for the nation to pay. We cannot afford engineering teachers and trainers, for example, to be four years out of date. If teachers and trainers are to help the next generation of learners become the world-class workforce we need, they must be at the leading edge in their field. During autumn 2009, IfL will analyse the amount and kinds of CPD that teachers and trainers undertake. This will hold up a mirror to the sector and point to problem areas and to good practice in CPD for individuals, as well being an acid test in terms of assessing the impact CPD has on teaching and learning and learners
Our written evidence to the select committee is in the public domain, and you can download the full document from our website.
Toni Fazaeli is the chief executive of the Institute for Learning, the professional body for more than 190,000 teachers, trainers, tutors and student teachers across the further education and skills sector
Read other FE News articles by Toni Fazaeli: