Developing the expertise of vocational teachers and trainers

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19 September 2015 by ATL
How can vocational teachers and trainers (VTTs) develop and their subject and pedagogical expertise? How much CPD goes on ‘under the radar’ as VTTs seek their own ways to maintain their professional connections? Do FE and skills institutions provide enough support to new, experienced and part-time VTTS?

While acknowledging the fear and despair generated by the continued funding cuts, the FE seminar on 18 September grappled with these questions.

Dr. Janet Broad, from the UCL Institute of Education, drew from her research on the CPD experiences of VTTs in FE colleges.  The key reason for doing CPD was to maintain professional connections and update specialist knowledge and skills. This meant CPD occurred largely outside colleges through work experience (during holidays or through part-time work), reading trade and professional literature, and skills’ competitions, which provide the chance to network and try out the latest products and techniques.  Prescribed and generic CPD can often be seen as irrelevant or a chore, so Janet’s research provides evidence for a more differentiated and practice-based approach. She found that the varied ‘worlds of work’ VTTs mediate between have different ideas about the levels of theoretical and procedural knowledge required.

Jim Knight, former Labour minister and now Managing Director of TSL Education Online Learning, argued that changes to the landscape of work (e.g. growth of a freelance economy and more people working beyond traditional retirement age) plus rapid advances ICT technologies (including ‘augmented reality’) would create new demand for vocational education and training.

He explained that these technologies are triggering new forms of knowledge acquisition – more online and collaborative. This means, our concept of ‘teaching’ needs to be expanded to include pedagogical strategies such as coaching and facilitating. But he warned we’ve been here before in the 70s and 80s, with learner-centred pedagogy and teachers as ‘facilitators’. Jim’s most provocative proposal was that the online availability of ‘knowledge’ meant the growth of what he called the ‘amateurs’ - raising concerns about ensuring quality.

Mark Adiss, Professor of Philosophy at Birmingham City University, asked who should take the lead in vocational expertise? He challenged the long-standing dominance of higher education over the content of teacher training courses and argued that when FE and HE worked together on work-based programmes (e.g. Foundation Degrees), it was HE that called the shots. Does VET require a more relational approach?

Some European countries demand VTTs gain higher qualification, including Masters degrees. But that often reflects the higher status of vocational education and greater labour market regulation through licenses to practice.

The seminar ended with this thought: Amid the policy noise and constant restructuring, we must make a renewed effort to make sure our VTTs have the time, space and resources to develop their varied expertise.

By Lorna Unwin, Institute of Education.

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