Geraldine Abrahams looks at the likely outcome of plans to widen the delivery of staff training in further education
PROPOSALS for staff training in further education repeatedly come up against the problem that the curriculum is so far reaching that finding a common teaching qualification is bound to be difficult.
Attempts to make progress date back to the recommendations of the Robertson Report in the 1960s, but it is still not mandatory for FE teachers to be trained. This raises issues of quality assurance.
Robertson considered that they should be trained and that such training should be carried out by a single institution. For many years the Scottish School of Further Education at Jordanhill carried out that function, but the Scottish Office has decided to end the monopolistic arrangement.
All five teacher education institutions (TEIs), the former colleges of education which are now or shortly will be part of universities, will be eligible to make proposals for a teaching qualification in FE.
The exclusion of those universities without teacher-training facilities has been cause for concern in some areas, particularly when on two occasions they had been led to believe that the franchise would be opened up to other higher education institutions in collaboration with FE colleges.
The nature of staff development itself has changed considerably. Previously, all training was in-service, lasting around 18 months, while today the course is more flexible with more outreach and personal study. That has helped to appease critics of the monopolistic nature of the training.
At the moment, preparing candidates for the Teaching Qualification Further Education (TQFE) gives employment to 13 staff, all working within the SSFE. If delivery by a single institution was considered over-concentrated, future effectiveness might be diluted if the training were shared.
Maintaining acceptable standards is another problem. Five years ago, the Anderson Report suggested national standards for FE lecturers and wider options for training. Since some of the biggest FE colleges have not used TQFE training for staff for several years, it is hard to see how, with non-compulsory training, a national standard can be achieved. And there is the obvious danger of "dumbing down" to instructor level.
Partnerships are desirable, especially with the advent of Higher Still, which is designed to be offered in FE as well as schools. There are also growing links between FE and higher education, with more students likely to start degree-level courses in a college. But finding an acceptable standard whereby school teachers, FE lecturers and university lecturers could cross over to teach in other sectors is almost inconceivable.
There is further concern about serving the country "from Shetland to Shettleston" if training is more widely dispersed.
Change has been followed by the creation of a Scottish FE forum which meets for the first time this month. It is supposed to be a curriculum-control mechanism, approving courses in staff development, and should offer colleges a collective voice.
HMI recently reported favourably on the quality of teaching in further education. However, there is a contradiction between a monopolistic model and a sector that seeks to be both competitive and collaborative, and it is unrealistic to expect provision devised for local-authority colleges to continue now that they are self-governing.
So there is ample justification for change, but there are also mutterings about hidden agendas. The FE forum so far looks as geographically biased towards the east coast as was the Anderson committee. There are three vacancies to be filled. Watch this space.