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The professional body is on its way

When colleges and other organisations were consulted earlier this year over plans to reform post-16 teacher training, there was strong support for most of the Government's proposals.

But one issue left respondents divided. Asked whether new and existing staff should be required to register with the Institute for Learning, only 38 per cent said yes. Twenty-nine per cent were opposed and the remainder uncertain.

Unlike school teachers, who must register with the General Teaching Council, college lecturers and other post-16 staff choose whether to belong to a professional body.

It is only three years ago that new lecturers were told they must hold teaching qualifications. Some FE staff are still not trained teachers and are mainly employed on the basis of other professional qualifications.

To require post-16 teachers to register with the IfL would seem a major step towards professionalisation, but many are happy to see things move along slowly -especially if compulsory registration comes at a cost to individual staff.

Natfhe, the lecturers' union, supports registration as it would help in its campaign to put lecturers on a par with schoolteachers. "We are in favour," says Dan Taubman, a national Natfhe official. "But obviously we have a number of concerns and even a reservation or two about how we get there."

The government wants all lecturers to be teacher trained by 2010. "Many committed teachers don't hold teaching qualifications but are Natfhe members," he adds. "We will be looking for some sort of accreditation of prior learning so people don't have to jump through hoops unnecessarily to register as qualified."

Teachers pay pound;30 per year to register with the GTC. The Institute for Learning, set up two years ago, charges a membership fee of pound;20 per year and has about 450 members.

Dan Taubman believes it would be wrong to force lecturers to dip into their own pockets but says it is possible that the cost of a compulsory registration fee could be built into a future pay increase.

Lecturers should see such a move as helping them to regain some of the status lost during the past decade, he says, so long as the IfL is not dominated by employers. "It must have proper representation of interests of lecturers," he stresses.

IfL chief executive Monica Deasy says the institute will remain separate from Lifelong Learning UK, the sector skills council for post-compulsory education, but employers will have a seat on the IfL council.

The advantage of registration, she says, is that employers will be aware that an individual is fully trained. "It's a form of quality assurance check," she adds. "By having membership of a professional body, a teacher shows that they are of good professional standing among their peers and willing to undergo continuing professional development."

Registration is likely to start with a voluntary scheme covering newly-qualified staff before being expanded to include other teachers. This could take up to five years - but there are no firm targets. "It's not something that can be imposed from above," says Ms Deasy. "It's something the profession has to take a decision on for itself."

Many teachers and employers will see registration as, in effect, giving staff a licence to practise in the learning and skills sector. But such a licence could only be granted by the DfES.

Nadine Cartner, head of policy at the Association for College Management, says a licence would demonstrate improved skills and standards, but it is not going to happen overnight. "It's something that needs to be phased in," she says. "The IfL needs to evolve first so it is offering positive incentives to professionals."

Sue Dutton, deputy chief executive of the Association of Colleges, also believes there should be "incremental change" but, in five to ten years, would like to see some form of compulsory scheme.

Registration would be particularly useful, she adds, for employers that need to check the validity of qualifications held by teachers from other EU countries. "It would give greater status to the sector in terms of the quality of teaching and learning taking place in colleges," she says.

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