Teacher qualification requirements will remain
While academies have been told that they can recruit unqualified staff without restriction, FE minister John Hayes has rejected plans to scrap the rules requiring college and training providers to ensure their teachers are trained.
Responding to widespread opposition from FE bodies to the proposals by Lord Lingfield, Mr Hayes said he would retain the 2007 regulations, which require staff to take an initial pre-entry qualification and to become fully qualified within five years.
In the prospectus for a proposed "FE Guild", an employer-led body responsible for professional standards, Mr Hayes writes: "The existing requirements for minimum qualifications will be retained for the time being." He adds that over the next year he wants to work with colleges, training providers and teachers in FE to develop "an alternative approach based on consensus and a shared aspiration to promote the highest standards".
Building that consensus will depend on finding common ground between colleges and unions, which support some form of regulation on teaching qualifications, and the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, which believes that providers should have the freedom to set their own requirements.
All sides are likely to want to see some reform to give employers more flexibility and to account for the differing circumstances of the range of FE provision, from colleges to community learning and work-based learning.
But Mr Hayes' decision united the two bodies whose dispute had brought about a rethink of FE professional standards: the Institute for Learning (IfL) and the University and College Union (UCU), whose members boycotted IfL in protest at the decision to force them to pay for membership.
"It's really good news that the minister has seen the scale of the response from the sector about keeping the initial teacher training regulations," said Jean Kelly, director of professional development at IfL. "That's been really powerful in changing the minister's and the government's minds."
Barry Lovejoy, head of FE at UCU, said: "It's certainly welcome news. Most of the submissions to Lingfield said that teaching qualifications should be required."
One of the Association of Colleges' main concerns was the risk to institutions' reputations if parents and students could not be sure that teachers were qualified. With academies losing their equivalent requirements, FE will have some of the strictest regulations on teaching qualifications in education, which may prove useful as colleges battle negative perceptions from Ofsted about the quality of teaching.
Mr Hayes made the announcement as he sought bids to operate a guild for FE which will be responsible for professional standards, offering membership to both institutions and individuals.
Dr Kelly said that IfL is considering a bid, but that it would need to form a consortium with another organisation as it was set up as a membership body for teachers rather than institutional members. "We are very interested in the idea and eager to explore it," she said.
It is not clear how the proposed guild will be funded, although the prospectus says that the eligibility criteria will be the same as for the Growth and Innovation Fund. This has supported, among other projects, the Hospitality Guild, an umbrella body promoting skills in the catering industry and the first of the modern guilds promoted by the FE minister.
The FE guild will be expected to raise the reputation and status of the sector by being a "custodian of excellence" and providing a focus for raising professional standards. Colleges and providers will be able to obtain "chartered" status as a public mark of recognition if they meet the requirements.
It will also act as an employer-led partnership with representatives from the body of teachers to develop standards of professional development and qualifications.