Sector needs to put itself in the career spotlight

12th June 2009 at 01:00

There can be fewer pernicious sayings about education than "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach". It reflects and reinforces the views of many that the business of passing on knowledge and skills is secondary to the process of using those skills.

This much is evident from research done for Lifelong Learning UK (page 1), which found an attitude among some towards the employment opportunities offered by further education that borders on contempt.

The findings are all the more surprising because a large number of the skilled employees surveyed will have been trained in an FE environment, either at a college or through some form of work-based learning.

It is as if many cannot help but see educationists as a breed apart. While this may once have been a reasonable opinion to hold of many university academics, it has never been an accurate or fair picture of further education teachers. The boundaries between colleges and the outside world have always been porous: colleges have only ever been as strong, or as weak, as the people they employ and the currency and relevance of the knowledge they bring.

As the LLUK research suggests, the picture is complicated. For a builder, the perceived lack of an opportunity to rack up overtime pay is a deterrent to a career in FE. For those in finance or information technology, the sector may simply not be on their professional radar. There are other reasons for not teaching, not least that people may not always realise the extent of the knowledge and expertise they have accumulated, let alone think they have the pedagogic know-how to pass it on to others.

The Institute for Learning has a key role to play here in professionalising teaching in FE (page 3) and ensuring that everyone, regardless of their previous jobs, can become a qualified learning and skills teacher.

Like all of education, FE faces two ways: attracting people who want to learn and those who want to teach. It seems that the sector is markedly more successful at the former than the latter. Left unchecked, this may begin to affect student recruitment.

As Alan Clarke of LLUK says, the sector is hiding its light under the proverbial bushel. Both the schools and university sectors are marketed hard as good career choices. This has paid dividends, particularly for schools. LLUK's Catalyst programme is a step in the right direction for FE recruitment. But raising the sector's overall public profile requires something altogether more ambitious.

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