'Teacher' vs 'lecturer' debate: Teacher is better for FE

The title 'teacher' captures the power of FE's dual professionalism better than 'lecturer', argues David Russell

David Russell

College staff are dual professionals and their title should reflect their unique status, writes David Russell

Are college teaching staff best described as "teachers" or "lecturers"?

There are two things I love about Ian Pryce’s provocative and well-argued article exploring this theme. Firstly, he makes a powerful point about the commodification of education and the pernicious effect this has on perceptions and funding.

When education and training are seen not as developmental and expansive interactions, but as products that can be “delivered” in set time limits and with tightly managed “human resources”, we have already lost the plot: human growth reimagined as a factory of provision made and outcomes delivered. 

This impoverished framing not only destroys the soul of education, it drives down salaries in the way Ian eloquently describes.

Secondly, Ian is strong on the source of the unique value of FE staff: their dual professionalism. He makes a good case arguing how this feature is what exalts our sector above others, and makes FE the most challenging of all to work in, and therefore – he argues – the sector that should be best rewarded.

Background: College staff are lecturers, not teachers

More on this: Tes FE podcast: Are college staff teachers or lecturers?

Other news: Meet the man defining the college of the future

'Lecturer suggests an academic arrogance'

However, there is a weakness at the heart of Ian’s argument against adopting the label “teacher”, I think. He focuses on the industrial-expertise angle of the dual professional. But the power of the dual-professionalism concept is in its… duality! 

You are a professional accountant and you are a professional teacher. You have the skills of the hairdresser and have successfully worked in that industry, but you are also a professional teacher, and have command of the knowledge and skills needed to successfully teach your students to become hairdressers.

I know many colleagues who self-describe as lecturers, and I respect that. But – in the spirit of Ian’s controversial comments – I might reply that the title of "lecturer" suggests an academic arrogance redolent of the universities of the past.

When I teach, you learn; if you have not learned it, then I have not successfully taught it to you. But when I lecture, nothing is required of you. You can listen or not, you can understand or not. It matters not a jot – I have lectured you.

Lest anyone question whether this is simply semantics, look at the real-world behaviour of teachers and lecturers.

When I was teaching, if half my class were absent I would be very concerned and would devise strategies to be sure those who were absent learned the material by other means. But I will never forget the time I arrived late for a chemistry lecture at university only to find no one there, except for the professor, who was standing at the front delivering the lecture to an empty hall. What did it matter to him? Truly he embodied the spirit of the lecturer. I know which accords with my vision of further education.

'Solidarity across the education system'

I have a final issue with the article, which I hesitate to share because I have huge respect for Ian as a leader of national standing, and someone who has been unstintingly generous to me over the years in sharing his insights into FE. But I know he can take it, so here it is. 

I dislike the tone in which he disparages school teachers. I understand the rhetorical move is to try to flip the lazy, unexamined prejudices that exist in the UK establishment that school teachers have a more important job than FE and are somehow higher status. But I am a passionate believer in solidarity across the education system. 

All teachers and leaders in education must speak up and stand up for each other, across all boundaries and roles; through divisions, we simply play the marketisation game of competition for a fixed quantum of resource, which impoverishes us all.

David Russell is chief executive of the Education and Training Foundation

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

David Russell

Latest stories