What price professional independence?

16th October 2009 at 01:00
Comment: Alan Thomson

The problem with many professionals is that while they demand respect, they are less happy justifying why they deserve such deference. In this, further-education teachers are no different from lawyers, architects, pharmacists or the members of any other profession that requires its practitioners to prove they meet and maintain the required standards by engaging in continuing professional development (CPD).

While many professional organisations report some inertia initially, the Institute for Learning's (IfL) problem is that there appears to be an awful lot of inertia to overcome in FE, with 78,000 members still to declare their CPD for 200809 (page 1). It means that two out of every five IfL members have so far failed to comply with the mandatory requirements for professional teaching practice in FE. If they were pharmacists, we'd all go homeopathic over night.

Of course, these are early days for the IfL as this is the first year in which members are required to declare their CPD. The institute's declaration deadline of August 31 may not have been the best date, falling as it does at the end of the summer and just before the hectic start to the new academic year. And others report finding REfLECT, the online IfL tool used to declare CPD, tricky to use.

Some of these have more than a whiff of the "dog ate my homework" about them, and the IfL is right to redouble its efforts to encourage people to declare their CPD between now and Christmas. But there is a lot at stake and the institute must consider carefully how it moves from a softly, softly approach to sanctions against recalcitrants.

An independent professional body is crucial to underpinning the authority of FE and the people who work in it. But here, perhaps, is a greater problem for the IfL.

Almost all of its income comes from the Government, which pays the equivalent of pound;30 per member. This means the IfL can operate cheaply and efficiently since, instead of spending time and money chasing members for fees, it simply cashes a big cheque each year from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

If the IfL was not subsidised, it would have to charge far higher fees. While not directly comparable, it is worth noting that Law Society fees are more than pound;1,000 a year.

But what price independence? Perhaps this has something to do with the apparent reluctance among many to embrace the IfL and its laudable goals.


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