With the IfL, FE can rebuild ailing economy

19th August 2011 at 01:00

With nearly one million young people not in employment, education or training, and the economy still in a fragile state, teachers and trainers in FE and skills are key to helping millions of young people into work and adults to change jobs or build their workplace skills.

The difference that teachers and trainers make to economic regeneration is complemented by their vital work in strengthening communities and the nation's social capital. The case is irresistible that qualified teachers and trainers who stay up to date in their subject and in teaching methods deserve proper high status.

I had the privilege last week of meeting 40 expert FE teachers and teacher trainers as they rigorously moderated the assessments of evidence from some 1,000 teachers wanting to gain the professional status of qualified teacher learning and skills (QTLS) or associate teacher learning and skills (ATLS), conferred by the Institute for Learning (IfL). I heard excellent exchanges about standards and promoting excellence in teaching practice. More than 4,000 teachers and trainers already hold QTLS or ATLS professional status, and teachers have told us that the process of gaining professional status helps them improve their practice, as well as giving them recognition.

Individual learners investing their own money and time in learning expect teachers to be up to date in their vocational or subject area and in teaching methods - dual professionals. That is why teachers and trainers in our sector need to be members of their professional body, the IfL, and carry out at least 30 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) each year. This gives members of the public assurance that they are being taught and trained by skilled and trusted professionals.

IfL is working to support teachers and trainers in their practice. Members say they want more CPD from the IfL, and we are responding. Every year, the IfL reviews the range of professional development of teachers and trainers in the sector and its impact on teaching and learning. This year, throughout September, members will be invited to a series of regional focus groups to share their experiences of CPD, make recommendations for the kind of support they need, and identify good practice in CPD, which the IfL will disseminate.

New developments include the IfL's subject-based online communities for teachers and trainers. The online community for teachers of hospitality and catering, for example, features a series of short films of four catering teachers and trainers visiting kitchens at the Ritz to learn about the latest practice in high-end catering. The IfL's support for CPD and subject-based communities is cost-effective for the sector.

Over the next few months, the IfL will be talking to members about vocational pedagogy and seeking views on good practice. We will explore the distinctive features of effective teaching and training in different vocational areas. Research is thin on the ground, and the IfL will help to build a shared understanding and stronger evidence base to celebrate the passion and brilliance of vocational teaching in the further education sector and to share what works best with teachers and trainers.

The IfL's membership stands at nearly 72,000, and hundreds more are renewing each day. We will continue to work with members, employers, unions and sector agencies to build the reputation and status of teachers and trainers in our sector.

If FE has for too long been seen as the poor relation in the education sector, the perspective of teachers and trainers has been conspicuous by its absence in the media and in research journals. As a relatively young professional body, the IfL still has a lot of work to do, but we have already succeeded in putting teaching on the agenda, and with thousands of members giving their views to the IfL, this is starting to address a vacuum in policy debate on FE pedagogy and professionalism.

Toni Fazaeli is the IfL's chief executive.

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