Why the doomed IfL's work must continue

Need for an independent professional body is `crucial', sector says

The further education sector in England has insisted it is "crucial" that staff continue to have an independent professional body to boost their status and lobby on their behalf, after the downfall of the Institute for Learning.

Last week, the IfL announced that it was set to close because of financial concerns and would pass its legacy to the Education and Training Foundation (ETF). The IfL shed tens of thousands of members in recent years after the government withdrew funding, forcing it to increase its membership fee.

Many in the FE sector are now keen to make sure that the good work of the IfL continues, despite their opposition to its fee hike.

The ATL teaching union said that FE lecturers needed an independent body to put them on an equal footing with other professions. Norman Crowther, the ATL's national official for post-16 education, added: "It is crucial we have a body independent of government that is able to voice the concerns of practitioners and enhance the status of the profession.

"Unfortunately, the ideal scenario has come and gone: we had a professional body in place but it didn't have an impact on the ground. It didn't get the support of government or employers."

Even the University and College Union, which urged its members to boycott the IfL over the fee increase, wants its work to continue. Andrew Harden, the UCU's national official for FE, said: "It is critical that the very strong professional voice in the sector is retained, and we would like reassurance that the ETF will do that.

"We haven't thought through what form that could take, and there is more than one way that can be achieved, but it is important that the ETF behaves independently and we certainly wouldn't be in favour of a fee requirement."

Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said a professional body was needed to help FE staff to improve their skills. "We are very keen to support professionalism in the sector, to help staff improve their practice and have a means to learn from one another," he added. "It's important that there is a distinctive voice about what it means to teach in an FE setting."

Mr Doel said it should be up to staff to decide whether they wanted a membership body, like the IfL, or another form of representation.

The IfL's elected advisory council will vote on the proposal to close the body next Thursday (17 July). If the plan is approved, the institute will begin the process of closing its operations and transferring key functions to the ETF by the autumn.

The IfL refused to make any further comment before the vote, but its chief executive, Jean Kelly, said in a statement that it was "vital" that IfL members who had made a commitment to their professional practice by joining the body were supported and continued to have access to recognition, professional status and support.

Those who had renewed their membership until 31 March 2015 would become part of the ETF's professional membership and would continue to receive access to CPD opportunities and support, Dr Kelly added.

The ETF also refused to comment on its plans if the vote were to pass, but chief executive David Russell said: "We have entered into discussions with IfL with great optimism, and I am confident we will agree a transition plan that allows the foundation to uphold and build upon IfL's legacy in the years to come."

The government has praised the "key role" that the IfL played in supporting the professionalisation of FE teachers and its "significant contribution" to the sector.

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: "The ETF is at the forefront of improving standards of teachers and teaching in FE.

"We therefore fully support the recommendation to transfer IfL's legacy to the ETF, so that they can continue IfL's work for the benefit of learners, teachers, tutors and trainers across FE."

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