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New professional bodies for FE under fire over 'lack of coherent thinking'

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A fledgling membership body for people working in the further education sector could be rendered “redundant” by the revelation that staff will be allowed to join the proposed College of Teaching, it has been claimed.

All teachers and lecturers the FE sector in England (including those working in colleges, prisons and adult education) will be able to join the organisation alongside their colleagues in the school sector, it has been confirmed.

The news comes weeks after the Education and Training Foundation (ETF) launched the Society for Education and Training (Set), which is intended to be the “professional home” of FE staff.

Former college principal Bob Harrison criticised the “lack of coherent thinking” around the two professional bodies and told TES only one was needed.

“The fundamental weakness of FE is that it hasn’t been seen as equal to the rest of the education system,” said Mr Harrison, acting co-chair of governors at Northern College in Yorkshire and education adviser to Toshiba Information Systems. “The status of FE teachers would be enhanced as members of a professional organisation that works across all education sectors. Teachers are teachers wherever they teach, and a College of Teaching – open to teachers across the board – is what’s needed. I think it makes Set redundant.”

But Angela McFarlane, chief executive of the College of Teachers – part of the Claim Your College coalition, which is developing plans for the proposed College of Teaching – said both bodies could work together.

“The whole debate about exactly what the structure of membership will be [at the College of Teaching] is still very much a live issue,” she said. “That debate won’t commence before the official board of trustees is appointed.”

The board is expected to be in place by early October. Professor McFarlane said there would have to be a discussion about the criteria for membership. But the blueprint for the body suggests different tiers of membership that would allow any interested party to join the organisation in some capacity.

“It will ultimately be up to the trustees to decide if they want full membership to be open [only] to people who teach in the compulsory age range,” she said. “But because FE encompasses the 14-19 age range, there will be an overlap. My guess is there’s going to be a major job to do to establish an organisation that first and foremost meets the professional needs of the compulsory sector. 

“I don’t think it would be particularly attractive to people outside of that definition. Will it have a lot to offer [FE teachers]? Will they be full voting members in the first instance? I think that’s unlikely. Set is focusing on the FE and training sector. It clearly has a specialist role. We welcome Set. The organisations are going to work very closely together.”

Tim Weiss, director of strategy at the ETF, said the body would have a “collaborative relationship” with the College of Teaching. “We are really pleased to see other organisations promoting the benefits of professionalism and how that can support teachers across the sector,” he added. “We are keen to [see] how the two organisations can work together in a complementary fashion.”

Mr Weiss said the ETF did not see itself as being in competition for members with the College of Teaching. Meanwhile, Set was in a “strong position” with 10,000 already people signed up, he added.

“I don’t think it’s a question of either/or,” Mr Weiss said. “It is a case of collaboration, not redundancy.”

The situation was further complicated last week by the news that Lord Lingfield’s Institution for Further Education (IFE) had finally received its long-awaited Royal Charter. In a statement, the body said it would be devoted to “developing the potential, reputation and standing” of the sector. 

The IFE’s mission would be to bring together the best training providers across the sector and collectively to promote, recognise and celebrate professionalism and success, it added.

Following the announcements, FE policy analyst Mick Fletcher tweeted: “You wait years for a professional body and then three come along at once.”

Ed Quilty, chief executive of the IFE, said his organisation and Set had “parallel functions”, adding: “Set deals with the professionalism of individuals, while the IFE deals with organisations.”

Mr Weiss said it was “early days”, but that there was a need for “close collaboration” between Set and the IFE.

Read the full story in the 19 June issue of TES. You can do so on your tablet or phone, or by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up at all good newsagents. 

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