A major adult education provider has become the first organisation of its kind to defy the Government and back a boycott against the Institute for Learning's (IfL) fee hike.
Staff at the Workers' Educational Association (WEA) have been told that the requirement to register with the IfL, whose fees will rise from pound;30 to pound;68 a year on 1 April, has been "suspended", despite it being a legal obligation on teachers and publicly funded FE providers.
WEA general secretary Richard Bolsin said it was a necessary step for the adult education provider, which has a large proportion of part-time workers and lecturers on hourly-paid contracts whom the rise in fees will hit particularly hard.
He said: "We've decided to suspend until further notice the requirement that they prove IfL registration and we are not going to ask for evidence of renewal.
"If we are not careful, we are going to lose a significant number of the workforce. This is something which our tutors have raised with us in greater numbers than they have ever raised anything before."
The decision gives a boost to opponents of the fee increase, thousands of whom have signed a petition against it. Unions are advising members not to pay the fee and have raised the possibility of a formal boycott.
Mr Bolsin said the Government needed to address its inconsistency in axing the schoolteachers' equivalent of the IfL, the General Teaching Council for England, while increasing the regulatory burden and cost on FE teachers.
He said the decision to fund the IfL through membership fees rather than a grant may need to be reconsidered and implied that the WEA may not back down even in the face of a threat to end its contracts. "If they did say that we were in breach of the regulations then we would have a very difficult decision to make. We'd have to look seriously at our options," Mr Bolsin said.
But so far, the Government has been reluctant to intervene. Last week, FE Focus reported that skills minister John Hayes said he could not prevent the IfL from setting its own fees.
While college staff have a statutory obligation to join the IfL, the requirements are extended to providers like the WEA through their contracts with the Skills Funding Agency, part of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
The Skills Funding Agency said it had no role in enforcement, however. "The agency is not responsible for ensuring staff are registered with IfL nor monitoring teaching standards. Whilst our contracts require providers to adhere to legal requirements relating to teaching standards, the role of making judgments about the adequacy of teaching within a provider rests with Ofsted," a spokeswoman said.
Ofsted said that, while it assessed the skills and expertise of staff, it was not required to monitor whether providers ensured that their teachers were registered with the IfL.