A CALL for a common teaching qualification for teachers and further education lecturers came in the past week from the head of Scotland's examination body.
Ron Tuck, chief executive of the Scottish Qualifications Authority, said that for Higher Still to be successful radical steps will be needed "to break down the cultural divide between schools and colleges". He was speaking at a seminar on links between schools and FE organised by the General Teaching Council.
He suggested a common teaching qualification, with a shared core and specialist options, would make it easier to switch staff from one sector to another.
The idea received a noncommittal response from the Educational Institute of Scotland. George MacBride, the union education convener who was present at the GTC seminar, said the EIS had no policy on the matter. He acknowledged the issue was not likely to go away and would have to be addressed. But he warned that the very different skills required to teach school pupils and adult students would have to be borne in mind.
Sarah Chisnall, policy officer with the Association of Scottish Colleges, said they were "very relaxed" about the concept of a common qualification.
She pointed to the anomaly that lecturers holding the FE teaching qualification were barred from teaching in schools, whereas qualified secondary teachers were able to work in colleges.
The shake-up endorsed by Mr Tuck is being driven by the demands of Higher Still courses for staffing flexibility within a framework of credit rated awards. Students will supposedly transfer easily from one level to another, ending old divisions between academic and vocational studies.
"It must be a qualifications system which is unified and seamless, from classics to care and from history to hospitality," Mr Tuck told the seminar. "But there will have to be arrangements on the ground to allow that to happen".
A core plus options structure for a combined qualification would reflect the fact that "there are differences between school and FE which won't go away, nor would we wish them to," Mr Tuck said.
A new system would also require more flexible routes into training, he added. Teachers gained their qualifications before starting their careers, while FE lecturers tended to take them in-service.
Ivor Sutherland, the GTC registrar, said after the conference that common modules for both primary and secondary postgraduate students had already created a precedent for Mr Tuck's proposal.
The GTC came under fire at the seminar for proposing strict limits on the use of lecturers to teach post-16 courses in schools. The council is expected to approve new rules next Wednesday which will allow only lecturers registered with the GTC to teach subjects in upper secondary which are not already available on the post-16 school curriculum.
Shelagh Rae, president of the Association of Directors of Education, asked:
"Why do we get so hung up on this? For years schools have sent pupils to colleges and never once have we questioned the competence of lecturers to do their job."
The Association of Scottish Colleges believes this is an attempt to secure compulsory registration of GTC lecturers, to which it is opposed, by the back door. "It questions the competence of committed professionals in the FE sector who are already subject to an array of quality measures," Ms Chisnall said.
"The aim should be to enhance the learning experience of the student, not protectionism for any one sector."
But Ivor Sutherland, the GTC registrar, replied: "I wholly reject the idea that we've been too strict or divisive, given that we need controls of some kind in any qualifications system."
It's a matter of balance and I think we've hit the right balance"