Disagreement between the Government and General Teaching Council about the training of further education lecturers (page 31) raises issues of principle. The Government wants some initial training to be outwith higher education. The GTC, which is anxious for as many lecturers as possible to register with it, is concerned that diversity of provision would prevent it exercising its statutory duty of approving initial teacher education courses.
The context is the changing world of FE. In a parliamentary answer Raymond Robertson, Education Minister, last week praised the success and adaptability of the sector. Since incorporation the traditional requirement of lecturers to respond quickly and constructively to new conditions has become more insistent. That suggests a need for training and, in many cases, retraining. But while much has changed in FE, two things have not. The Government has resisted compulsory GTC registration, and preparation for the initial teaching qualification has remained a monopoly of the Scottish School of Further Education.
There are several principles at stake. Why should the perceived need for a General Teaching Council for all schoolteachers not apply in FE, especially since with developments like Higher Still the distinction between secondary schools and colleges is being blurred? Why, too, should this Government protect a public-service monopoly when colleges are willing to undertake areas of training still reserved to the SSFE? Can only institutions of higher education properly undertake FE training, as the GTC claims?
It seems odd that mechanisms devised for a previous era have survived when colleges of FE and teacher education have changed beyond recognition. The Anderson report four years ago, among whose recommendations was abolition of the SSFE monopoly, remains only partly implemented.
Increased flexibility of provision and maintenance of standards should not be incompatible objectives. There is a parallel with schools, though perhaps a sensitive one. Amid controversy, attempts are being made to involve schools more in the training of new teachers. Everyone agrees that any arrangements for increasing the role of serving teachers as guides and assessors must retain the ultimate higher-education responsibility for teacher training. Alongside, the GTC has a key supervisory role.
Surely a similar system could be devised for FE. The contents and standards of the initial teaching qualification need to be protected. That could be done by validating courses offered in colleges or elsewhere. The SSFE would have to meet competition but would still have the expertise to attract students. The GTC's interest is in uniformity of standards, not monopoly of provision. The Government might come to appreciate the merit in universal registration.