It is an irony that The Lingfield Review established to ‘consider how best to sustain the professionalism of FE teachers so that the quality of service to learners might continuously improve’ (p6) concludes with recommendations that will predictably lead to undermining the enhancements to professionalism the sector has achieved since 2001. Is it intentional that the review’s definitional criteria underpinning professionalism (p22) does not acknowledge that gaining ‘expert and specialized knowledge of the field in which one is practising’ requires an initial gateway qualification as well as ‘continuous enhancements of expertise’?
The text seems intent on drawing readers into a cynical game. Amidst the UCU boycott and controversy, the Institute for Learning remains the only professional body FE teachers have had. The fees are a bargain when compared to membership fees paid by other professionals. The proposed guild, as an employer rather than a professional body, is no substitute.
The review positions FE as central to creating and sustaining a ‘technically accomplished workforce’ that will enable the UK to outperform its competitors in a difficult economic environment. Amidst all of this, colleges will no doubt be held to the same or higher quality standard. I am sure they will achieve it. But at what cost?
My concern is that many will create a workplace environment in which the only thing that counts is 85% more, and improving. Where 100% is not good enough: only perfectly perfect, and getting better, is good enough.
The preparedness of teachers to deliver these outcomes is now to be based on an employer’s sense of ‘duty’ as if this were the only counter balance to coercive co-ordination. Those of us who express concern about the professionalism of post 16 teachers may well be missing the point. The line of argument that points out the compulsory nature of pre-16 teaching no longer holds. School teachers no longer require qualifications if they teach in an academy and most schools will have academy status by 2013. It is the well being of teachers that may be greater cause for concern; their well being is at stake. I am amidst interviews with trainees for a Portraits of Authenticity and Professionalism project; those participating in the research have recently completed a PgCE / Cert Ed. In conversation with teachers of apprenticeships working for a private training provider, they describe – without a flicker – conditions that made my eyes water. As a freelance trainer they may turn up to teach a session in an empty room – desks and chairs are a maybe; there are no guarantees of what they will find and finding a room that has been appropriately booked – is considered a success. If they need to use a projector, a computer or anything – they are expected to provide them without help. There is minimal contact with colleagues – and certainly no informal contact. Freelance trainers are unlikely to sit down with each other for a pint or have lunch. How would they; they hardly ever meet face to face. They are required to pay the company for access to the materials they need to teach – professional standards, assessment criteria – or obtain them independently from an awarding body. The organisation provides one weekend of training per year. This is the only time when colleagues are able to meet. Held somewhere down south, attending the session is free but travel is paid for by teachers themselves.
The contractor achieves success rates of 85%: more and improving. So, that’s all right then. That is after all what what counts as quality. These teachers understand the value of initial teacher training. In some instances they have funded their own PgCE / Cert Ed from redundancy money, personal savings or wherever they can get it.
For many trainees, teaching regulations have been a safeguard and an opportunity. They safeguard the quality of teaching, and therefore it’s status as a profession by ensuring only those who have been rigorously assessed gain entry to the field. By defining standards and expectations, they have at least the potential to provide a basis for securing conditions that lead to genuinely good quality outcomes – something broader and more meaningful than 85%. They also provide a valuable opportunity, ensuring FE teachers are allowed to develop the pedagogic expertise required to do a continuously improving job.