The old 'tick-box' approach to training is being ousted in favour of a focus on professionalism and ethics. Ian Nash and Elaine Carlton report.
Government-appointed teacher training specialists are close to completing a set of core standards which will shape initial and in-service teacher training for every further education lecturer in England and Wales.
The standards will abandon the old check-list and tick-box approach to skills training that has dominated much of the traditional work in FE. "They will reflect and support the very best standards in the profession," Ian Spencer, chair of the teacher training project for the Further Education Staff Development Forum, said this week.
"The new standards will address professionalism, ethics and values not the bland occupational standards that can be addressed with a tick-box mentality," he added.
The forum is close to completing the biggest consultation exercise on training carried out in the FE sector. The second phase - 11 focus groups in colleges - finished this week.
The project has already involved 107 FE, sixth form and specialist colleges, seven universities, four adult education centres and 14 national organisations. Six regional events are planned for London, Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle at the end of the month to carry out small-scale trials.
Qualified teacher status for all in FE is the medium-term goal of the Government. It was an election pledge and flagged-up in the recent Green Paper on lifelong learning, The Learning Age.
The Government is, however, riding on a rising tide of interest in teacher training in FE, according to Ian McNay, professor of higher education and management at the University of Greenwich school of post-compulsory education and training. "We take 2,500 students a year and are the biggest provider of initial and in-service lecturer training in the country. It is not just from the FE colleges that we find people wanting post-compulsory teacher training."
Greenwich provides courses for people in a wide range of education and training places from colleges, adult education institutions and higher education to the voluntary services, private training providers and the armed forces.
There were many factors behind the recent surge in demand for teacher training, he said. Increasing casualisation of FE, the expansion of the sector and rapidly changing patterns of work had all contributed.
But the main thrust has been a realisation among people in industry and FE that that they would not get far in their careers without a formally-recognised qualification.
"The need for nationally agreed standards is clear. But what I do not want to see is a prescribed national curriculum as is being considered for schools," he said.
Professor McNay's staff has been a major provider of advice to the Further Education Development Forum, since it has a range of innovative schemes such as partnership arrangements with 16 colleges to provide training and work experience on site. "This allows college staff to be involved in the delivery and assessment of training - something that is not possible when a university course is remote from the college."
Under the college partnership scheme, Professor McNay said: "Trainees are immersed in the college culture from week one and they are dealing with real students face to face. We have a much closer relationship between the university and college than might otherwise be possible."
Ian Spencer of the Forum recognises the difficulties providing a qualification which is unique to FE and yet provides the necessary links with both higher education and schools. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has been extraordinarily helpful here, he said.
The sector is in a unique position. FE teachers work in an environment where they must promote flexibility and adaptability - much more than in schools. In colleges, learners have much greater autonomy."
The focus of the forum is not of the specifics of subjects but on developing standards to help lecturers in activities such as supporting professional development, assessing individual needs, managing learning and assessing the outcomes and achievements.
The new standards will also assist those training lecturers in FE and industry to deal with problems such as supporting students with learning difficulties, giving pastoral support and handling information technology.