A louder voice for FE professionals

3rd October 2008 at 01:00

The Institute for Learning aims to give practitioners a louder voice and more influence. Our membership is more than 163,000 and growing, and our members - teachers, trainers and tutors across FE and skills - are crucial to the British economy and society. So the article by Stephen Jones (FE Focus, September 26) was interesting, and his views will no doubt spark debate.

The institute is led by members, for members, and for the benefit of learners. It has a proud history, begun more than seven years ago when a large trade union for the FE sector and a staff development forum researched and found strong support for creating a professional body for teachers in further education. A group of FE teachers worked with trade unions and employer bodies to create the institute, which was formally incorporated in February 2002.

We get huge numbers of very positive comments, especially from FE teachers who feel they are at last being recognised publicly as true professionals. One member told me that receiving her membership certificate was the proudest moment of her life - more so even than attaining a degree and teaching qualifications as a mature student. In our experience, FE teachers think having their own professional body is crucial to raising their status.

If doctors, accountants, engineers, school teachers, university lecturers, lawyers and other professionals have their own body, why not FE? By FE, we mean the whole of our sector, from adult and community learning, FE colleges, offender learning and the voluntary sector to work-based learning.

The institute's code of professional practice was developed by members, trade unions and other stakeholders. It places a strong reliance on professional autonomy and demonstrates our commitment to self-regulation. We believe that teachers, as true professionals, should exercise their own judgment and discretion about how to act, using the general principles set out in the code. The code reflects the proud traditions of our FE teaching profession and an ethical commitment to serve both learners and the profession.

Similarly, our vision is that teachers should hold responsibility for their own professional development and choose from a wide range of continuing professional development (CPD) activities that suit them. In line with the philosophy of professional integrity and autonomy, we ask our members to self-declare their hours of CPD; this should satisfy the requirement for full-time workers to undertake at least 30 hours' each year.

To support this highly personalised model of professionalism, we have developed a number of tools, such as REfLECT, a personal online space where teachers can record their CPD and reflect on their professional practice. They can also use this tool to share good practice and practitioner research with other teachers, and help build communities of practice. CPD can include coaching, mentoring, work shadowing and peer support, as well as courses, workshops and formal study.

Any profession worth its salt is committed to CPD, and as teachers, how can we teach others if we are not prepared to learn ourselves? We know that many teachers already carry out 30 hours or more, to support their dual professionalism of subject and sector expertise and teaching skills, and that it helps them to make a positive impact.

Recently, we surveyed our members to find out how they would like the institute to develop. Members' views are already informing our practice and our plans for the next five years.

Toni Fazaeli, Chief executive, Institute for Learning.

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