Drained of members but `here to stay'

18th April 2014 at 01:00
Institute for Learning still a vital resource, argues outgoing leader

The Institute for Learning is "here for the long term" despite shedding almost 150,000 members since compulsory membership was scrapped, its outgoing chief executive has insisted.

Toni Fazaeli, who retires from the IfL this month, has endured an eventful six years at the helm of the professional body for England's FE lecturers.

When she joined back in 2008, the IfL was growing rapidly; membership had become compulsory a year earlier after the body was handed regulatory powers by the government.

But events soon took a turn for the worse. With its government funding of about pound;5 million per year coming to an end, the IfL announced in 2011 that it was raising its membership fee in order to balance the books.

The increase, from pound;30 to pound;68 a year, resulted in a furious backlash from the University and College Union (UCU), with tens of thousands of members boycotting the IfL.

The impasse was finally resolved the following year. A report by Lord Lingfield concluded that the IfL had not won the backing of the organisations that should be its partners. As a result, the institute reverted to its original status as a voluntary professional membership body.

Since then, Ms Fazaeli told TES, membership had fallen from 181,000 to just over 33,500, about a quarter of the profession. But she defiantly insisted that she remained positive about the IfL's future.

"Government policies come and go but professional bodies are here to stay," Ms Fazaeli said. "We are here for the long term, ready for the next phase. The purpose of the IfL is to support practitioners to be excellent in their teaching and learning, not to be one size or another.

"The IfL is in a very sound, positive position. Its finances are robust and members value the services offered. What we offer stacks up well against other professional bodies.

"We will continue to listen to members, understand the context in which they are working and be responsive to their needs. We will evolve, develop and adapt, but the objective will remain the same: to support individuals in their practice."

Ms Fazaeli has been vocal in her criticism of government policies, particularly the recent decision to scrap the requirement for FE teachers to be qualified.

"FE and skills should be an area of investment, an area of public good, not an overhead or a line on a spreadsheet to be reduced or removed," she said. "This government speaks very highly of FE and skills and the importance of it.

"It has put investment into 16-19 [learning] and apprenticeships, which is good, but I think it has made an error in removing regulations for initial teacher education and skills. Any government that commits itself to quality and rigour has to have quality teacher training as part of that picture."

She also attacked the government for cutting funding for 18-year-olds in education, which studies have shown will have a bigger impact on the FE sector than schools. "Why does quality of teaching matter less for an 18-year-old?" she said. "For the IfL it's all about quality of teaching, and that does cost money."

Despite the ups and downs during her time in charge of the IfL, Ms Fazaeli said that leading the body had been a "privilege", and she was particularly proud to have achieved one of her main goals: having qualified FE lecturers teaching in schools.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the UCU painted a less positive picture. "We wish Toni the best as she leaves the IfL," a spokesman said. "It is no secret that the UCU has been unconvinced of the need for the IfL and that view was shared by the many FE professionals who left the organisation when it started charging for its services."

Dr Jean Kelly, the IfL's director of professional development, will take over executive leadership of the body after Easter.

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