We can be in no doubt that the state is rowing back from controlling, setting targets and measuring every microscopic move in the further education sector and across other government-funded services. Furthermore, ministers are very clear that micromanaging is not the role of the government. This gives us a proper and fundamental question to consider, which I will return to later: "Is micromanaging anybody’s role?"
Professional teachers and trainers across further education tell the Institute for Learning (IfL), their professional body, that their work is scrutinised and checked too much, and to the extent that the ‘weighing of the pig’ gets in the way of their focusing sufficiently on the outcomes for their learners. IfL hears of many examples where a third or more of a teacher's or trainer’s time is spent on activities other than teaching and related activities of preparation, marking and directly relevant professional development. Teachers’ and trainers’ time can be stolen by administration, checking and being checked for compliance by a manager in charge of one employer-created system or another, sometimes couched as, or actually, needed for Ofsted or a funding body.
The new world heralded by the coalition government focuses on the best outcomes for learners, employers and local communities, not well-defined inputs of funding, hidebound units of activity and a restricted list of ‘priority qualifications’. This in turn will surely mean that employers, colleges and providers, focus on the best outcomes for learners and look to shed any hidebound systems and restrictions that have impeded teachers and trainers. Why the focus on teachers and trainers? As I have written before, take the teachers and trainers out of FE, and there is a hollow offer for learners and employers.
It is not easy being a professional. Talk with any teacher, lawyer, nurse, surgeon, engineer or accountant. Professionals shoulder a great deal of responsibility and, with that, the freedom to decide on the best ways of achieving good outcomes, and to determine their own professional development needs. A good professional seeks the views of others, especially the learners or service beneficiaries and their manager; considers research findings and reports on best practice; and, crucially, reflects on their own practice and its effectiveness. They are determined to give a good service, as a minimum, and they harbour a thirst and determination to improve and be excellent. Their determination to deliver the obligations of being professional and to be accorded proper professional status is why, back in 2002, teachers in FE, supported by leaders from the sector, created their own professional body, IfL.
The public and learners can be sure they will get an up-to-date service because teachers and trainers, every year, give a major focus to their own continuing professional development. Their teaching of physics, plumbing or philosophy, for example, is modern, not as it was 10 or 20 years ago. Just as when I had an operation recently, I was confident that the surgeon, although in his 50s and long past his initial training, was up to date in the most recent developments in laparoscopic surgery.
Since 2007, for teachers and trainers before or just after they start to teach, entry to the teaching and training profession in FE demands high standards through initial teacher training, followed by gaining the full professional status of Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills (QTLS) or Associate Teacher Learning and Skills (ATLS), awarded by the professional body, IfL. Full professional status gives the public and learners confidence that they should receive a quality learning experience and be highly likely to succeed.
If the public and learners are confident in the effectiveness and currency of teachers and trainers in FE, managers can be too. Because teachers and trainers are members of their professional body, IfL, and meet the standards of the profession, colleges and providers have the opportunity to consider how heavily they need to keep their foot on the pedal of checking teachers and trainers. Our understanding is that college leaders and employers, unless there are serious problems, respect and review rather than frequently scrutinise the minutiae of the performance of their accountants, estates and HR professionals. The FE sector has the best ever generation of new teachers and trainers, with Ofsted giving a green light to the standards and effectiveness of initial teacher training and to the more diverse approaches to CPD. These give a strong focus on good and ever better teaching, and therefore better outcomes for learners.
So, if we reconsider our earlier question, "Is micromanaging anybody’s role?" – the self-evident answer is that it is neither affordable, nor, especially in times of scarce resources, sensible.
However, one stinging question remains. Is QTLS accorded the same status as Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), held by school teachers? IfL has worked to make parity a reality through giving robust evidence to the Select Committee and to the Skills Commission, leading to parity of QTS and QTLS being a recommendation in both reports, with the expectation that the government will respond. IfL has talked with and built a ‘coalition’ with a range of senior officials in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Department for Education (DfE), and with schools agencies, including the Training and Development Agency (TDA). We are helping to ensure that practical routeways exist for teachers with QTLS to get proper professional recognition for teaching in schools settings.
TDA consulted on and gained broad support for an ‘assessment-only route’ to QTS. Hopefully, the DfE will agree soon that this route should be adopted, giving a rigorous and quick way for FE teachers holding a degree and QTLS to gain QTS. IfL is committed to the highest standards and quality of teaching, which is why, over the next few months, we will be working with 20 or so members holding QTLS who have volunteered to help pilot new ways to gain QTS and teach in schools for part of their time as recognised full professionals holding QTLS.
Teachers holding QTLS can bring much-needed and highly expert vocational teaching to young people, whether they learn in an FE or school setting. Ofsted’s finding that 14-16 provision in colleges is very good demonstrates that FE teachers are very likely to succeed, even when schoolteachers’ approaches so far may not have worked well with some young learners. IfL believes that teaching to high standards deserves equal standing.
Toni Fazaeli is the chief executive of the Institute for Learning (IfL), the professional body for teachers, trainers, tutors and student teachers across the further education and skills sector
Read other FE News articles by Toni Fazaeli: