A new professional membership body for people working in the further education and skills sector is being launched today.
The Society for Education and Training (Set), run by the Education and Training Foundation (ETF), aims to promote the professionalism of FE staff and make sure they are recognised for their expertise. Joining the new body - described by the ETF as the "professional home" of FE staff - will be voluntary, but the aim is to gain 35,000 members within the next three years. A recruitment drive will take place this summer.
However, with only 9,000 members of the former Institute for Learning (IfL) left on the ETF's books, the new society will have its work cut out. The IfL closed last October amid fears that it would run out of money, and passed its legacy on to the ETF.
One of the main aims of Set is to provide "high-quality, relevant" CPD at "reasonable cost". It also wants to create "communities of practice" in which members can learn from each other face-to-face and online.
In a strategy document published today, the ETF says: "By joining Set, members are choosing to invest in their own immediate and long-term career but also to invest in the collective strength and future of our profession."
The body aims to increase the number of staff with qualified teacher learning and skills (QTLS) status to more than 20,000 in the next three years. The document states: "We wish to see QTLS sought-after by managers when they recruit; we wish to see it acknowledged by employers when setting remuneration. This culture change will enhance the status of our profession."
The annual membership fee for the new society will be pound;63. A spokeswoman for the ETF told TES there were no plans to increase the fee. "We understand affordability is important, which is why there are various payment options, including to spread the cost over direct debit or whole-organisation membership," she said.
The IfL endured a turbulent final few years: in 2011 it was forced to raise its compulsory annual membership fee from pound;30 to pound;68 after its pound;5 million government funding was cut.
This led to a furious backlash from the University and College Union (UCU), with tens of thousands of its members boycotting the institute. In 2012, after a critical report said the IfL had not won the backing of organisations that should be its partners, the institute reverted to its original status as a voluntary professional membership body.
At the IfL's peak, membership numbered more than 180,000, but this had fallen to just 18,500 by the time it closed.
Andrew Harden, national officer for FE at the UCU, said the union could find "no fault" with the aims of the new body.
"The whole professionalism agenda got caught up in the debacle with IfL's compulsory membership fee, so it's good to see that rising to the fore again," he said. "Our members will determine the success of Set by whether or not they want to join.
"We will leave it up to them to make their own decision. They will make a value judgement about what the offer is and whether it's worth it."
Mr Harden said the only point of difference between UCU and Set was that the union believed QTLS should be free - as QTS (qualified teacher status) is for teachers. However, Set's CPD offer could appeal to staff, he added. "If Set can create a quality offering, it will make it more attractive to the profession," he said.
Tim Weiss, director for strategy, quality and research at the ETF, said: "We want the society to bring members clear added value to their practice, so that being a member speaks for itself in terms of a commitment to professionalism, to ongoing development and to the sector."
Details of new benefits would follow in the coming months, he added, and the ETF would continue to talk to members to find out what they want to see in the future development of the society.
Voices from the profession
Last year the ETF carried out a consultation on the future of professional membership, receiving about 3,000 responses. Here's what the FE sector had to say:
"Please keep costs down to members - monthly payments are lighter to the pocket. Concentrate on benefits for members such as CPD opportunities and networking at local levels."
Trainer at employer provider
"Keep it simple: focus on resources that are useful and accessible to all rather than glossies or resources that cost or require face-toface attendance. Many of us are paying for this ourselves and do not have the money and can't get the time off for anything else."
"Please, please, please keep the membership fee as low as possible. I just need QTLS - it is a shame I have to pay every year for this when QTS [for teachers] is free for life."
"Now that membership is voluntary again it would be good to rebuild bridges with UCU, who were discouraging my staff from joining IfL even when the college was paying their membership."
Senior manager, adult and community learning