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Time to embrace a brave new professionalism

ONE OF the biggest questions facing colleges and lecturers now is whether occupational standards are about qualifications. The answer is yes, in part.

For some time the further education sector has demanded more and more of its staff with the effect that, in some cases, they have felt they have lost their professionalism. This issue tended to be overlooked.

I believe the Further Education National Training Organisation (FENTO) has now identified the factors which will allow FE staff to regain their professionalism.

Occupational standards form the basis of all qualifications and should form the basis of new qualifications that will recognise FE lecturers as professionals.

In addition, and some may say more importantly, occupational standards allow for recognising peoples' strengths and weaknesses, effective appraisal systems, effective recruitment policies and clear professional development.

Without standards we cannot have a qualifications framework, nor other features that help individuals and colleges to be more professional.

Currently FENTO has two sets of standards, one for teachers and those who support learning and the other for managers in FE colleges. These should represent the basis for development in the areas I have indicated but should also be the basis for further debate as we move into the new world of the Learning and Skills Council.

Issues of leadership and freedom to manage are major ones for principals, in developing relationships with the LSC both locally and nationally.

Lecturers will have the challnge of a potential qualification requirement - not the same as for schools but, for the first time, a qualification that represents FE nationally and sets a minimum standard for all our staff.

That means full and part-time lecturers and support staff. Even then these definitions are not adequate for those who work in FE and maybe we should define staff by roles they play and leave the notion of full and part time behind.

This would certainly enable us properly to support a member of staff so that he or she can be at their most effective. FENTO recently carried out some work with part-time staff and it is clear they want the same level of support and the same status as full-timers.

Why is it that we expect all staff in schools to be qualified and not in FE? We undervalue a vast number of people, which is indefensible.

In the short term we need to build bridges between colleges and workplace training, via a common set of standards. This should fit in with the common inspection framework for the new post-16 sector.

Surely the Office for Standards in Education and the Adult Learning Inspectorate will be less able to judge staff if the occupational standards and the expectations from staff varies?

We must consider the LSC world, and what standards it will expect. FENTO was always clear on having occupational standards as applicable to workplace as to college.

Occupational standards are crucial to professional development.

Geoff Terry is chief executive of the Further

Education National Training Organisation

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