Is a bottom-up approach to professionalism the answer for the FE sector? 

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14 June 2015 by ATL
I was invited to chair a session on the Policy Contexts of Professionalism, as part of the in the Developing Collaborative Expertise in the Further Education Sector seminar series.

James Noble Rogers for the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers set the scene by giving an overview of national policy related to professionalism in the learning and skills sector.

Joel Petrie from City of Liverpool College examined policy from the FE practitioner perspective – a powerful and evocative talk.

ATL’s Norman Crowther suggested that if we had a better common understanding of what the English FE sector is, it would be easier to progress professionalism.

Emerging from the talks and the lively discussion that ensued, I was able to detect a number of common strands or issues:

  • There is a continuing lack of strong public recognition and clarity about the purpose of the FE sector. This leads to problems determining the nature and function of a professional body.
  • Many of us have concerns about the future shape of the sector given the current and imminent funding cuts associated with austerity policies, and the difficulties in finding the space and time for professional learning.
  • What came across clearly was how vital continuing professional learning is for those working in the FE sector - particularly given the changing shape of workplaces and FE itself. We want to see this as a right rather than simply a bureaucratic obligation.
  • There was a common agreement about the need for a professional body for the FE sector. However, we all we dissatisfied with past and current models - including the new Society for Education and Training - because of their top-down nature.
  • The sectors needs to debate about the most appropriate level (national? regional? local?) for discussion about the nature of this professional body and to whom such a body would be accountable.
  • We found there are many dynamic, bottom-up organisations or movements (e.g. Tutor Voices) that champion ideas about professionalism in the FE sector, but they suffer from fragmentation and lack of co-ordination.
  • There was a difference of opinion about how necessary teaching qualifications are for those who work in the FE sector. We also discussed the difficulties of making sure qualifications are flexible enough to encompass the very diverse workforce that makes up the FE sector.
  • Finally, we discussed our concerns about the ‘policy amnesia’ of national policy-makers. We need to capture the ‘policy memory’ that resides with those who have worked or researched in the FE sector over many years, in order to avoid repeating past mistakes.

By Ann Hodgson, UCL Institute of Education.

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Frank Coffield on bottom up Bill of Rights for FE professionals here: