Effective training of new staff is vital if we are to raise standards of skills, says Monica Deasy
It will not have come as a major surprise to teacher trainers to discover that inspectors from the Office for Standards in Education believe new staff in the learning and skills sector need more practical support.
Further education has always relied heavily on colleges to train their own staff, with many new lecturers gaining teacher training qualifications after taking up their first post. This situation is also increasingly true of work-based and adult and community learning, as other providers seek to improve their staff's skills and ensure they are fully qualified.
Ofsted's recent report on initial teacher training (ITT) in FE repeated previous findings that the taught and practical elements of the courses are not sufficiently well integrated.
While few would question the primacy of on-the-job training and support in developing new teachers, it must be recognised that its provision has a major impact on experienced staff. It is they who are required to act as coaches or mentors. This places demands on the organisation as a whole.
Colleges and other providers operate in an environment of already overstretched capacity, under increasing pressure to attract and retain students within tight financial constraints.
Most teachers have an extremely heavy workload. It is difficult for them to find the time to help new staff. Many organisations, and the experienced staff within them, do, however, recognise the importance of developing the workforce of the future and individuals often offer support to colleagues on a voluntary basis.
That is why Lifelong Learning UK is eagerly awaiting the results of pilot projects on coaching and mentoring being carried out by the Department for Education and Skills. At the same time LLUK is currently consulting on the development of Centres for Excellence in Teacher Training (CETT) which will provide a support service to colleges and other learning providers for both initial training and continuing professional development. Learning providers will be encouraged to join forces with excellent providers of initial teacher education to set up these new centres before September 2007.
The Ofsted report found that higher education institutions delivering the taught element of ITT courses generally prepare trainees well for work in a college or elsewhere. But it is impossible for them to provide specific training on how to teach the near-infinite number of subjects and vocational specialisms taught within the learning and skills sector.
It is crucial, therefore, that a central role for specialist coaches and mentors (as well as other forms of workplace support) is clearly stated in the new framework for teacher education that will lead to the award of Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills status from September 2007.
It is not yet certain how many CETTs will be established, but all English regions should have at least one and it is possible that some will have more. What is clear is that the centres will be expected to ensure there is better training and support for new and more experienced staff - especially in the workplace.
The new professional standards for teachers, trainers and tutors, currently being developed by LLUK, will place due emphasis on the importance of vocational and subject specialism within teacher training. One of the roles of CETTs will be to broker arrangements for coaches and mentors so that trainees can access appropriate support when they require guidance or assistance.
CETTs will also encourage innovation and creativity, as well as highlighting good practice, so that teacher training becomes fully integrated in institutional staff development planning, and is clearly established as the beginning of a professional development continuum. It is therefore crucial that colleges and other providers recognise the importance of supporting their staff, both when undertaking ITT and in CPD.
There is also a need for better dialogue between human resources and teacher training departments within institutions.
Five years ago, further education took a major step forward by requiring all new lecturers to gain teaching qualifications. A study carried out last year by LLUK suggested that more than 90 per cent of full-time and 60 per cent of part-time teachers could have the qualifications they require by next year - thus meeting government targets for further education.
But it is not enough to simply talk about the numbers who are gaining qualifications. In working towards a fully qualified and more professional workforce in FE and the wider learning and skills sector, we must ensure that all training and development for staff aspires to the same quality and that the importance of learning and support in the workplace is not overlooked in helping people to achieve their full potential.
This will create new challenges for providers and increase the demand for resources. But nobody has ever suggested that quality training is cheap.
If we aspire to a more highly skilled economy, we must be committed to effective training for the teachers and trainers who are expected to raise skills standards among the rest of the UK workforce.
Monica Deasy is director of standards, qualifications and research at Lifelong Learning UK