A qualified workforce - what was said

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10 February 2015 by ATL
The first seminar in ATL's Developing collaborative expertise in the FE sector programme took place on 30 January 2015 at ATL's offices in London.

 Mary Bousted, general secretary of ATL, argued that a qualified workforce is part of the core mission for further education.

Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, also thought that those with significant teaching roles ought to be properly qualified in pedagogy. End of debate?

Hardly, and differences soon emerged as Martin spoke of the need to separate the terms: qualifications, professionalism and regulation. They are related but not the same he said.

Martin has a point. No amount of regulatory hoop jumping and box ticking is really going to make me more professionally capable than I was previously. Is it?

He proposed further that vocational competency or expertise in further education had been neglected in favour of the focus on pedagogy.

Do all teachers need to be qualified to the same level in terms of their pedagogy? Don’t we need to understand more fully the interaction between these twin pillars of dual professionalism before we decide on professional qualifications?

On the face of it, it does seem unlikely that a narrow set of national qualifications and regulations can be applied meaningfully and equitably to all who teach and train in a sector as diverse as FE. Controversial perhaps but it’s an important question and it needs to be explored.

Geoff Stanton, an adviser to the Commission on Adult Vocational Teaching and Learning, said that people were joining FE from industry, acquiring expertise in pedagogy only for a few years later to find out that their professional or vocational expertise had decayed.

Ann Lahiff, from University College London, Institute of Education, turned the issue of qualifications and professionalism on its head by asking what it was that we actually want to develop in teachers? She questioned qualifications-led professional development.

Many, including Chris Winch, professor of educational philosophy and policy at King’s College London, and respondent to the speakers, argued that while flexibility around qualifications is important there remain important and irreducible elements to teaching.

For Chris there is a greater interdependence between the qualifications-professionalism-regulation trinity than perhaps Martin had suggested. Chris argued that qualifications ought to provide the wherewithal to allow teachers to progress to further learning and, if desired, higher qualifications.

The theoretical and practical underpinnings of any given profession, should, therefore, have a degree of universality as Dan Taubman, the University and College Union’s former senior education policy official, said.

With money so scarce and funding unlikely to improve soon, how, practically, do we support teachers and trainers to maintain and develop their professional practice and status?

Norman Crowther, ATL’s national official for post 16, said the professionalism of staff is a reputational issue for FE providers. Investment in the qualifications and professional development of teachers and trainers is therefore a ‘good’ for the sector.

The ATL and PESGB want this and the next six of their seminars to be starting points for wider discussion and reflection across further education.

By Alan Thomson, editor of InTuition magazine.

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