Professional chaos

27th April 2012 at 01:00

Lord Lingfield is a man of many accomplishments, not least the most elegant signature in the land. At the end of the foreword to his review of professionalism in the FE sector, it looks in its gothic majesty as though it could have come from a letter to Henry VIII. And his report was fastidious in its concern for consistency.

Yet perhaps such a refined soul is not suited to the mess and sprawl of the FE world, because in his search for order, he has left us with even more of a mess. And in resolving the crisis over compulsory membership of the Institute for Learning, he has created another crisis where before there was none.

In recommending that compulsory teaching qualifications be scrapped, the review pretends that the regulations were already under some sort of existential threat as a result of FE's diversity. But this isn't true. There is little evidence that staff resented teachers who were exempt because their courses were all in HE, or that sixth-form colleges struggled with staff being regulated under two systems, as the review suggests.

Meanwhile, the Association of Colleges' submission that Ofsted judgements had improved since qualifications were made mandatory was dismissed with bizarre logic: that this only proved it was the qualifications that were beneficial, not the regulations that guaranteed them.

Ofsted's role in this is troubling. The inspection body provided the intellectual cover to argue that there was no connection between regulation of teaching qualifications and better teaching, but only by conflating absence of evidence with evidence of absence. And its reward is a proposed expansion of its responsibilities to judge levels of qualification.

There is nothing wrong in having Ofsted examine teachers' credentials. But if the universal standards for teaching qualifications are scrapped, on what basis will Ofsted be inspecting them? Its hands will be tied in a world where qualifications are officially at the employer's discretion.

By this point, the Lingfield report is already tangled in knots, having argued that the scrapping of various quangos made it impractical to enforce the regulation FE teaching qualifications - just before appointing Ofsted as an enforcer.

But if the government was really consistent, it wouldn't worry too much about how enforceable the regulations were. After all, it has left the raising of the age of participation on the statute books, although it has no intention of enforcing the provision. This is because no government wants to be seen to be failing to support young people staying in education. But what does it say about this government if it is happy to be seen to be failing to support a fully qualified FE workforce?

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