Review succeeds in taking the heat out of IfL conflict

9th September 2011 at 01:00
Promised examination of development for FE teachers prompts union to suspend threatened action

An independent review of professional development for FE teachers will be launched to head off the dispute between the lecturers' union and the Institute for Learning (IfL).

The IfL's role and the fees it charges to lecturers in FE is one of the subjects that the review, ordered by skills minister John Hayes, will be expected to address - but it is also due to examine other aspects of the workforce's professionalisation.

The move has prompted the University and College Union (UCU) to suspend threatened legal action. The union claimed it would be unlawful to terminate the membership of lecturers taking part in the fee boycott without offering them an opportunity to plead their case at a disciplinary committee.

In return, the IfL is expected to put on hold its efforts to pressure members to end their boycott and pay the registration fees until the review reports in December.

Colleges have also been asked by the minister not to discipline staff who refuse to pay the fees - although the Association of Colleges said it was not aware of any institution that has done so yet.

The UCU welcomed the decision, which its members are likely to view as a vindication of their decision to boycott the IfL after it proposed to double its annual compulsory fee. An offer to compromise on the charges by the IfL was rebuffed as concerns grew among UCU members about the benefits of membership.

Opponents of the IfL's compulsory fees were further boosted this week by news that the replacement for schoolteachers' body the General Teaching Council for England will not charge.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: "As the result from our recent ballot made abundantly clear, the current arrangements are not up to scratch. Boycotting the IfL has not been a decision our members have taken lightly, but to be effective as a professional body it must enjoy the confidence of the majority of practitioners. This is something the IfL does not have.

"It is essential that the forthcoming review does not shy away from asking awkward questions and that it hears directly from staff."

The review is likely to prevent what could have been a lengthy stalemate between the union and the institute, which has sufficient reserves to hold out for more than six months of members withholding fees.

A spokeswoman for the IfL, which has stressed that most of its members are not represented by the UCU, said: "IfL welcomes an independent review of workforce professionalisation to assess and acknowledge the contributions already being made by IfL and to recommend ways of building on what has been achieved.

"In particular, IfL looks to the review to promote the professional interests of teachers and trainers."

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