Editor's comment: Passage between sectors must be a two-way street

28th August 2009 at 01:00
`Border controls' on qualified status must play fair with school and college teachers

When the plans for a Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills (QTLS) award were drawn up, it was said the initial step before full qualification would be a "passport" into teaching.

It is a strange kind of passport that does not allow you to travel, but that is the situation FE lecturers found themselves in. The idea that schoolteachers were already equipped to teach in a college environment, but that the reverse did not apply, was allowed to persist. It was as though schoolteachers had diplomatic passports that allowed them to breeze through the queues, skip customs and be in the hotel sipping martinis before others had even got off the plane.

Meanwhile, FE lecturers may have felt as if they had a red flag against their name with the security services as they had to undergo the full bags-open, rubber-gloves-on treatment if they were bold enough to cross the border.

The disadvantages of QTLS compared with Qualified Teacher Status in schools are significant. FE lecturers can only teach in schools on a lower, unqualified pay scale unless they retrain. In effect, that means they have access to a smaller job market compared with teachers, who can switch effortlessly between schools and colleges.

And for those taking a PGCE route, there is a question mark over whether they are adequately informed before embarking on teacher training that taking an FE-specific qualification might limit their options in the future. It is not uncommon to meet newly qualified teachers who are shocked to find that their PGCE (FE) is regarded like a Guernsey pound note.

Such a disparity is one of the reasons why those working for colleges and training providers often feel hard done by: their training is scarcely less stringent, so why should they be treated like a second-class citizen?

But there are good reasons why it might not be a good idea to allow the border controls between schools and colleges to melt away altogether.

Dealing with children requires some different skills and specific knowledge, and it is reasonable for schools to want to assess staff from colleges in order to make sure they can adapt.

But the Institute for Learning (IfL) is also right that FE has its own ethos and demands, which can be alien to those who have come from schools. The quid pro quo is that schoolteachers wishing to cross the divide should brush up their knowledge of vocational qualifications, apprenticeships and the particular requirements of teaching adults.

So while absolute fairness might have required a rewrite of legislation to put schoolteachers and FE lecturers on an equal footing, a pragmatic fudge of the kind which typifies further education's adaptable, on-the-hoof style may be for the best. A fast-track assessment programme could, at any rate, be implemented more quickly than a legislative change.

IfL and the General Teaching Council appear to be entering into their talks in the right spirit. For the sake of FE teachers everywhere - and for the sake of fairness - it is to be hoped that they work up a viable proposal that they can both get behind to win over the Training and Development Agency for Schools.

Then, even if their passports are being issued by different authorities with different crests on the front, FE teachers and schoolteachers will at last be able to move freely in a common market.

Joseph Lee, Reporter, FE Focus E joseph.lee@tes.co.uk.

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