'Brilliant people' must be given chance to sparkle

27th October 2006 at 01:00
From September next year, lecturers will be required to do 30 hours of continuous professional development annually. Alan Johnson, in his speech to the Labour Party conference, recognised that "brilliant people" work in "undervalued and under-resourced" colleges. He now has a chance to show government willingness to improve FE's resources by ensuring these "brilliant people" remain so.

Training is a requirement in most professions and should be welcomed by lecturers as recognition of how important it is in their career development. However, the nature and implications of such training for FE are still unclear. This is particularly troubling given that the renewal of lecturers' licence to practice may depend on successful completion of this 30-hour tariff. Furthermore, the Learning and Skills Network is running a series of training events on the subject this autumn, and top of its list of topics is how colleges can implement professional development that "reinforces the staff-appraisal process".

Lee Davies, of the Institute for Learning, at an e-learning and continuing professional development conference, in London in June, said that providers should not draw up the plans for this training alone, but that lecturers should be central in deciding what would be best for them. To facilitate this, the network has been developing an e-learning professional development framework with online resources.

But lecturers will want to know where to find time for meaningful professional development. Will their teaching hours go down? Or will administrative duties be cut? Registration with relevant professional bodies will also be necessary, and who pays for this?

CPD aims to enhance lecturers' teaching and, consequently, students'

learning, but lecturers may well be suspicious that college management will use the opportunity to impose more of their own training agendas on staff.

If professional development is to be linked to performance reviews, staff will want a say in what they do and for what purpose.

The Law Society, for example, states that solicitors are encouraged to assume responsibility for their own professional development by choosing from a wide range of activities. Similar trust should be shown in lecturers.

But the biggest question arises from the acronym itself. If lecturers are going to engage in formally recognised CPD, they will want to know where the "development" will lead. Mr Johnson needs to put policy where his mouth is and create advanced skills lecturers and excellent lecturers, with the same pay and incentives as teachers.

If there are no routes for career progression apart from leaving the classroom, lecturers may well wonder what the point of the training is.

Failure by government to support "brilliant" lecturers in this respect will make any benefits rather sour. As colleges plan for next year, lecturers must hope that a new Prime Minister will bring a sympathetic ear to lecturers' calls for genuine development.

Nigel Newton is a lecturer and educational researcher at New College, Swindon

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