There's a whole world outside of HE

19th March 2004 at 00:00
WORKING IN POST-COMPULSORY EDUCATION. John Lea, Dennis Hayes, Andy Armitage, Laurie Lomas and Sharon Markless. Published by Open University Press. ISBN 0-335-21105-4. pound;19.99.

Working in post-compulsory education is written primarily for practitioners who are taking post-compulsory teaching qualifications, higher education degrees or other forms of professional development. It is a companion to the popular Teaching and training in post-compulsory education, edited by Andy Armitage who contributes a chapter to this book.

The intention here, though, is to focus on issues outside the immediate classroom context. There are three sections: the first looks at factors which have influenced changes in post-compulsory education through the past 25 years; the second considers some issues engendered by these changes; whilst the final section provides an introduction to educational research.

The book's value and relevance, though, is diminished for its intended audience by the barely submerged anxieties, the "existential intellectual angst" of its authors in relation to their professional identities as teacher educators working in higher education.

Consequently, instead of offering a wide-ranging consideration of current issues across this fascinating post-compulsory sector, much of the book is self-referential, never moving far from its HE roots in the issues discussed and the examples chosen.

This is particularly apparent in section two where the debate around managerialism and professionalism is an HE-focused debate; and, in the preceding chapter, where work to build students' confidence and self-esteem - so often the starting point for returning adults - is dismissed as "therapeutic education", characterised here as being static, dull and devoid of risks and creativity.

The exception is Andy Armitage's vigorous defence of vocationalism; successfully challenging the conventional view that the competence-based approach is based on the attainment of behavioural outcomes rather than the process of learning itself.

Armitage takes the competence-based model by the scruff of the neck and relocates it in a humanistic tradition where, entirely relevant for adult educators, knowledge and truth are constructed by learners from their experience.

I work in post-compulsory education. As an inspector with the Adult Learning Inspectorate I get to visit an astonishing range of organisations across the breadth of the sector. I get to meet interesting staff and learners, and to observe their practice.

They show me the work they're doing and talk to me about it. Life's never easy and we all recognise the underpinning paradoxes - practical, theoretical, economic - yet this is a time of extraordinary energy and creativity in post-compulsory teaching and learning.

The Common Inspection Framework - not mentioned throughout the book - is successfully focusing providers on the needs and achievements of learners.

Levels of funding which would have been unimaginable 15 years ago are available to widen participation, tackle social exclusion, improve the weaker providers and share the work of the best. It is disappointing that none of this is reflected here.

Would-be teachers need to hear the tough questions and to debate the difficult issues, but they also need writing which is stimulating and, particularly, current.

Working in post-compulsory education lingers too long in the past, with its tired and over-rehearsed debates. Guys, you need to get out more.

WL

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