Government could erode professionalism in FE

Like many practitioners and leaders in the further education and skills sector, I am extremely concerned that proposals recently made to the government could erode the professional status of the teachers and trainers in further education and, over time, the quality of education delivered in FE.

Lord Lingfield’s interim report on professionalism recommends that initial teacher training (ITT) should be optional for new teachers and trainers entering the sector, who would need to gain only a preparatory award as part of an induction process in their first job. Being a qualified teacher would be optional.

Most teachers and trainers enter the sector from non-teaching backgrounds in commerce and industry, and are currently required to attain ITT qualifications and Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills (QTLS) status. The interim report recommends revoking the 2007 regulations that require this.

But a detailed report on research carried out for the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS), ‘Evaluation of FE Teachers Qualifications (England) Regulations 2007’, presents evidence of considerable gains under the current system.

More than three million people receive education and training through the English FE system each year. Learners range from young people studying vocational courses, GCSEs or A levels, and adults receiving specialised training in the workplace, to some of the most vulnerable people in society, including those with learning difficulties, young and adult offenders, and those for whom education had previously been a closed book.

So, let me ask:
1. Do we, as a society, believe that the FE teachers serving this vast and diverse group deserve less professional training and support and a lower professional status?
2. Is it right for vulnerable young people and adults to be taught by unqualified teachers? And what will young people and parents think of this?
3. Should our engineers, accountants, technicians, mechanics, plumbers, chefs, healthcare and social workers of the future be taught by teachers who may know their subject or vocation well, but have not been through robust ITT processes to give them a thorough grounding in practice and theory?

Schoolteachers have to undertake ITT and afterwards gain Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). Persistent lobbying by the FE sector, most notably by the Institute for Learning (IfL), led to the government accepting Professor Wolf’s recommendation that the equivalent post-qualification professional status of QTLS should have parity with QTS for teaching in a school. This became law on April 1.

As the professional body, IfL is determined that our members should continue to benefit from this hard-fought parity of status being recognised.

So far, nearly 10,000 teachers in our sector have attained QTLS status through professional formation, conferred by IfL. Some already teach in school and FE settings, and the increasing trend for colleges to sponsor or form partnerships with schools and academies means there should be more opportunities for FE teachers to provide 14 to 19-year-olds with the high-quality vocational education that our economy clearly needs.

Lord Lingfield’s report points to the unregulated nature of teaching in higher education as a possible model for the future development of FE teaching. But academics in HE are teaching students who have achieved at least a level 3 qualification – a far cry from the diverse range of abilities that an FE teacher typically faces.

I strongly believe that it is in the public and national interest for FE teachers to have ITT, enshrined in law, rather than being left to the discretion of individual employers and the year-in, year-out changes inherent in annual national funding agreements with colleges and providers. School pupils are protected by law, as are people seeking medical help, financial services and legal help. So should FE students not be afforded the right – by law – to be taught by qualified teachers?

I cannot accept that, as a society, we are prepared to allow a situation where teaching and learning in FE requires no ITT beyond a standard induction for new entrants to teaching. To do so would send out the worst kind of message about the standing, status and quality of education offered in FE and do little for the professional prestige and career chances of the people tasked with delivering it.

Further education plays an indispensable role in improving the life chances and career opportunities of millions of people, to the benefit of the UK economy and our society. I think it deserves the highest professional standards, starting with mandatory ITT, and urge the government to resist calls for this to be sacrificed.

Toni Fazaeli, Chief Executive,

Institute for Learning

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