The dispute that has raged for more than a year over the compulsory fees for FE's professional body, the Institute for Learning (IfL), was resolved this week in a comprehensive victory for the boycotters. What they did not expect was that the resolution would be accompanied by the abolition of a decade-old requirement for colleges and training providers to ensure that their staff are qualified teachers.
Lord Lingfield's review of FE professionalism called for the IfL to become a voluntary body once again, and to offer refunds to those who have already paid fees. The University and College Union (UCU) hailed this as a triumph for its boycott, which restricted the numbers renewing their registration from 200,000 in 2010 to 85,000 last year.
The review took those numbers as evidence that the IfL had failed to earn the support of FE staff and employers. "With the benefit of nearly five years of state funding and regulatory backing, the IfL has not won the confidence of those organisations which should be its partners," it said. "The main response by the IfL to an end to government funding has been to seek to pass its costs on to FE staff, who are compelled to register with it . The IfL has made no other substantial changes, for example in the services it offers, which might have convinced lecturers that their subscription represented good value for money."
However, the Lingfield report did not stop with the IfL in its overhaul of the 2007 regulations on FE teaching. It also proposed to upend the entire system for teacher training in FE and make it possible for unqualified staff to work indefinitely in colleges and publicly funded training providers.
UCU said it "categorically" supported the requirement for staff to be qualified, and pointed out that the inquiry had only issued an interim report. "What we have had today is clarification that the IfL, which we said was not fit for purpose and was boycotted by our members, can no longer compel hard-working staff to join and hand over a fee," a spokesman said. "UCU, like others involved in FE, wants the best teachers in our colleges delivering high-quality education with the appropriate qualifications and access to further training and personal development."
The IfL has accepted its own fate, confirming that it will revert to being a voluntary organisation as it was before 2007. But the professional body and its supporters warned that ending regulated teacher training could have dire consequences for standards and the status of FE teaching.
"We had made some progress towards parity of esteem with schoolteachers in recent years. You can forget about that - no one will be able to claim that now," said James Noble Rogers, executive director of the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers and an IfL board member.
The Lingfield review's recommendation to remove the legal requirement for staff to achieve teaching qualifications in favour of "discretionary advice" seems at odds with its emphasis on quality. It proposes an end to the "associate teacher" role, which allowed for a lower grade of teaching qualification, because it said that it "is meaningless when viewed from the standpoint of learners (who deserve equally good teaching whatever the employment status of the lecturer)".
To this end, the review proposes scrapping the lower-grade level 3 and 4 teaching qualifications and removing the naming system of PTLLS, CTLLS and DTLLS, criticising the nicknames of "petals, kettles and dettles" as unhelpful and confusing. There would remain a basic induction qualification, followed by a level 5 certificate in further education for most, with the option of a master's-level diploma for elite teachers.
The review panel justified abolishing the requirement for qualifications by citing the situation in higher education, where a voluntary approach to training does not appear to harm standards. But it also indicated that government priorities were an influence. The 2007 statute, it said, "is certainly contrary to the deregulatory policies of the present government, which are based on a conviction that the achievement of excellence is inextricably connected with local autonomy".
The panel said that Ofsted had delivered a killing blow to regulation by telling the panel that "no sound, causal link" could be found between the regulatory enforcement of qualifications and improvements in teaching. Evidence from colleges that shows inspection assessments have improved since 2007 was rejected because it was said to be merely "common sense" that investing in improving teachers' capabilities would bring results, but it proved nothing about regulation.
Despite the inspection body's own doubts about any connection between regulating FE qualifications and the quality of teaching, Ofsted would be made responsible for ensuring that FE teachers were appropriately qualified through inspections. The panel called Ofsted "the single regulator remaining".
Meanwhile, FE's supporters of the statutory teacher training requirement face a seemingly impossible standard of proof: to show that the regulation had an impact that can be separated from its sole purpose - that of increasing the investment in teachers' capabilities.
THEN AND NOW
All new entrants to FE teaching must take the Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector (PTLLS) qualification.
Within five years of starting teaching, those with level 3 or 4 qualifications must complete the Certificate in Teaching in the Lifelong Learning Sector (CTLLS) and show good professional practice to gain Associate Teacher Learning and Skills status.
Those with higher-level qualifications must complete a Diploma in Teaching in the Lifelong Learning Sector (DTLLS) and, in the same time frame, show good professional practice to gain Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills status.
All entrants to FE teaching must take an induction course.
Qualifications required will be at the discretion of employers.
The Learning and Skills Improvement Service should reform teaching qualifications to offer a certificate in further education at level 5 and an MA-level diploma in further education.
Ofsted will inspect providers to ensure that their training and continuing professional development is adequate.
Original headline: FE professionalism gets its most radical shake-up in a decade