One body to rule them all: council may take on FE
In England, the attempt to bring college lecturers under the watchful eye of the Institute for Learning prompted howls of protest about compulsory membership and fees. But similar moves in Wales to compel lecturers to be part of a professional body have met with the opposite reaction.
Currently, there is no organisation to register and regulate FE lecturers in Wales, prompting government plans to expand the remit of the General Teaching Council for Wales (GTCW) to take on responsibility for the wider education workforce, including school and college staff. Given the difficulties in England, it is with some surprise that the proposals have met with the approval of much of the FE sector.
Welsh government statistics show that, in 2008-09, colleges employed 13,565 members of staff, with 9,055 contracts for teaching staff. Under the government's Learning Pathways 14-19 programme, college lecturers are also increasingly teaching school pupils.
ColegauCymru, which represents all FE colleges in Wales, said in response to the consultation on expanding the GTCW's reach that registration must be extended to include lecturers and the work-based learning workforce.
It also said that the new registration body, which it suggests could be called the "Education Council for Wales", should include all those involved in the delivery of learning, including trainers, supervisors and assessors.
ColegauCymru also believes that the new body could address a number of inconsistencies and issues in the FE sector, such as qualifications, training and the use of data.
Unlike England, there is currently no mandatory qualifications framework for lecturers in Wales and no requirement for them to undergo continuing professional development. And because the Welsh government has suspended the collection of data on FE college staff, it is often difficult to identify trends.
The ATL Cymru education union is also in favour of the GTCW expanding its remit, but said that the move will need to be "carefully planned and phased".
"Since the inauguration of the GTCW, the workforce in schools and colleges has become far more diverse and it is timely that the issue of extension is now addressed," its response said. "We are convinced that the extension of registration will raise the status and profile of all those working in education. We think that wider registration will help consolidate the process of FE lecturers gaining greater parity and equality with school teachers."
ATL Cymru said that an additional professional council for FE would be expensive and unsustainable, whereas the GTCW has an "excellent track record" in keeping a register of teachers and expertise in dealing with disciplinary cases.
But it added that FE staff will want to ensure that their voices are not "swamped" by those of teachers in any new body, and that they are judged by their peers in disciplinary cases.
However, not everyone supports the move. The NASUWT Cymru teaching union, which has campaigned to abolish the GTCW, said that it would have "serious concerns" about an all- encompassing body. Its Wales organiser Rex Phillips said: "We would want any new registration body to be sector-specific. It would be a matter for FE lecturers to decide whether they want their own body like the Institute for Learning."
The Welsh government is set to publish the responses it has received and its own position in the next few months.
ColegauCymru said that it is opposed to any new registration body having direct involvement in college disciplinary cases.
Staff discipline is currently the responsibility of individual FE colleges, and procedures are carried out internally. ColegauCymru wants cases referred to the new registration body only if lecturers have been dismissed, so that it can be decided whether they should be barred from the profession.
ColegauCymru also has concerns over the way General Teaching Council for Wales hearings have been covered by the media.
"Some media have chosen to cover disciplinary cases of teachers in a way that acts to the detriment of the public perception of the teaching profession as a whole," it said.