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Forgive? Forget it

What's not to like about Geoff Petty? He's everybody's friend - at least if they teach in FE. The doyen of constructivist teaching and learning, he bristles with ideas to help even the most experienced improve their performance in the classroom.

If you've been working on a teaching qualification, you're bound to have encountered at least one videotaped session featuring "Uncle" Geoff strutting his stuff. Or maybe you have encountered him in person at one of his many continuing professional development (CPD) sessions. Either way, you're likely to have gained the impression that not only does he know what he's talking about, but he's a thoroughly nice guy to boot.

But being a nice guy, and an expert in your field, doesn't mean that your judgement might not be called into question at times. And many - myself included - would do just that over Mr Petty's recent decision to front the Institute for Learning (IfL) campaign to get lecturers to pay their membership fees.

As is well known, this is an area of contention. When the IfL was first set up in its present form about five years ago, the government required all teachers and trainers in FE and lifelong learning to join, but provided the crucial sweetener of paying for their membership. This was necessary because many of the new members felt they were being corralled into an organisation that they didn't ask for and didn't want.

Once the show was firmly on the road, though, this concession was peremptorily withdrawn. Lecturers were outraged and their biggest union, the University and College Union, organised a ballot that led to a boycott. Hence the current stand-off, with large numbers of FE staff refusing to pay the current asking price of #163;38 per year for full-time membership.

Into this sea of troubles blithely sails the good ship Geoff. He has now agreed to be an IfL patron. Writing in an IfL New Year letter, addressed directly to the thousands of refuseniks, he tells us: "I worry that those teachers or trainers who have not yet renewed their IfL membership are missing out on CPD from IfL." Later he adds: "I suggest that in this season, let's forgive and forget and rejoin IfL soon."

Well, Mr Petty, I'm afraid that my reaction to this is: do you think I'm a moron? Forgive and forget? What I can't forget is that the real dispute is not so much about money as principle.

First off, the IfL is an unnecessary and costly body that was foisted on us, but you seem to think that if it disappeared so would lecturers' professional development.

To add insult to injury, the IfL has a further function: to act as a kind of kangaroo court to the FE profession, to "try" alleged transgressors for a third time once the employers and the police have had their go.

So, while I'm sure it's for the best of motives, I can't help but think that Mr Petty's doing himself - and the whole profession - a disservice by his intervention. And he may find that harsher epithets than "Uncle" will soon be coming his way.

Stephen Jones is a lecturer at a college in London.

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