'Sorry if our service isn't what it could be'

28th November 2008 at 00:00

Considering how new it is as a large-scale membership body, the Institute for Learning (Ifl) is doing pretty well - but members also say there is room for doing better.

Findings from our recent survey show that IfL is reaching a tipping point, where members are going beyond feeling they had to join, to seeing the value of having their own professional body and beginning to appreciate the services on offer. Other professionals, such as lawyers, accountants and doctors, have had their own bodies for decades. The time has come for FE and skills to be widely recognised as driven by truly professional practitioners.

Listening to members "tell it like it is" is an important part of being a member-led organisation, and conducting the survey was a top priority for me when I joined IfL in June.

I consider it a powerful endorsement that many members said they were impressed with what they had seen of IfL so far, and commented on the positive benefits of membership. Some have already used the materials received to support their teaching practice. I was particularly interested and encouraged to see that our members would prefer membership benefits, such as any discounts, to be associated with their professional development. For me this highlights the extent to which our dedicated teaching and training workforce puts learners first.

Nearly 6,500 members gave their time to complete the survey during the summer. Not surprisingly, the responses highlighted aspects of our service that are working - and some that clearly need further work. Our exponential growth as an organisation over the past year has created a number of challenges, not least in terms of having the infrastructure to support 173,000 members instead of a few thousand a year or so ago.

We received a huge number of phone calls and emails during peak periods in March and September, and I know that our service to members was not always as fast or as good as we wanted it to be. I am sorry about that.

IfL is governed by a council of elected members and stakeholder representatives, with teachers and trainers being in the majority. As readers would expect, we take members' feedback seriously. We have already made improvements in a number of areas - call handling, the website and members' packs, for example.

The findings of the survey also are informing our policy and advisory work, and are feeding into our five-year strategic plan. It is vital that we understand the opinions and needs of our members and how we can best serve them. The survey showed what matters to practitioners, including concerns about time pressures, paperwork, qualification changes and curriculum development. IfL will exert its influence on other bodies to support our members in focusing on their core role and passion for teaching, training and learning to the highest standards.

IfL is determined to offer membership benefits that our members value. We want to help raise the status of teaching practitioners across FE and skills, and we want their voice to influence policy. The scale of our membership means that together we have a powerful voice.

I acknowledge the many criticisms and suggestions made by members in their responses to the survey. It was also heartening, however, to note the widespread backing for our commitment to enhancing members' professional status and standing. Further membership surveys follow-up meetings will help determine IfL's priorities and monitor our progress.

Members' views will help us on our journey to becoming an invaluable and influential professional body of which all our members can be truly proud. Who would oppose the case for FE and skills to have the world-class professional body its practitioners deserve?

Toni Fazaeli, Chief Executive, Institute for Learning.

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