Why we need to recognise teacher expertise in colleges

FE is brilliant at training people to teach, but not at encouraging them to develop their craft, writes this principal

Sam Parrett

FE teacher status: Why we need to recognises FE expertise

Colleges are full of dedicated, talented and highly skilled tutors. The diverse nature of FE provision ensures an equally diverse community of teaching professionals from a wide range of backgrounds and industries.   

Yet while we are, as a sector, very good at training people to teach, we are not as good at encouraging FE teachers to continue building and developing their vocational skills, while also supporting their professional development in terms of teaching ability.  

This concept of "dual professionalism" – advocating tutors to be vocational/subject specialists and teaching experts, committed to maintaining and developing expertise in both areas – is not a new one. In fact, it has been at the heart of two significant reviews within the past decade and remains as crucial as ever to the delivery of high-quality FE provision.  

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In 2012, following Lord Lingfield’s review, regulations requiring all college tutors to be qualified teachers were revoked. This was a move that, on the whole, the sector supported: reducing unnecessary regulation and bureaucracy and empowering colleges to take responsibility for their own staff’s professionalism.   

Following on from this, the Commission on Adult Vocational Teaching and Learning (CAVTL) developed recommendations to help raise the status of vocational education and training. Key themes that emerged from this included the importance of aligning colleges with employers’ needs and, once again, the idea of dual professionalism.  

Recognising the expertise of FE 

Yet despite these significant reports and recommendations (which were widely supported by the sector), we remain in a position where we do not have an adequate system in place to recognise the expertise of our FE professionals.

We do have the Society for Education and Training (SET) via the Education and Training Foundation (which focuses on equivalency with school teachers and enables transfer between schools and colleges) but much more is needed to differentiate and recognise the unique skills and experience of an FE teacher.  

Aristotle’s praxis thinking illustrates the model that we need to establish – combining the seemingly paradoxical concepts of practice and reflection. In terms of education, this is a cyclical process of experiential learning, analysing the effects of an action and continuing to alter and revise it to achieve the best results.   

So how to achieve this? As set out in the CAVTL review, employer involvement is crucial. FE colleges are generally very good at developing relationships with industry and creating opportunities for students. This needs to extend further with mechanisms in place to allow for the sharing of staff and constant CPD opportunities, enabling tutors to not only "keep their foot in the door" of their craft but also to expand and develop it continuously.   

An example of this is the Taking Teaching Further initiative, which our college has been involved in for some years, providing for regular reciprocal training with industry partners. This is a vital way to ensure that colleagues gain first-hand industry updates, but the issue still remains in that this crucial activity has no place in which to be formally recognised.  

The unique skills of college teachers

For our HE colleagues, the Advanced HE framework enables the recognition of research and scholarly activity – encouraging professional skills development. The concept of a fellowship demonstrates a well understood personal and, indeed, institutional commitment to professionalism within the sector; exactly what is needed in FE.  

The unique combination of vocational skill and teaching ability should be celebrated on a much higher level, with a respected custodian to oversee this recognition process. The Chartered Institution for Further Education was set up to highlight excellence in the sector, making it the ideal body to oversee the development of a professional recognition model for FE. In fact, the Chartered Institution is already working towards associate fellowship status.    

An ambitious future for the FE sector must include recognising the professional status of our master practitioners and industry specialists – valuing the skills, knowledge, expertise, diversity and contribution of our staff to the emerging national strategies is essential. 

With the government’s White Paper expected soon, this is an ideal time to focus on not only the future of FE and the importance of employer integration with college curricula – but to revisit what the sector has been calling for over the past decade.

We must ensure that our uniquely talented teachers have a framework in which to develop and improve, as well as inspiring the next generation of FE professionals, which will be so important as our sector helps to lead the way to economic recovery.  

Dr Sam Parrett is the principal and chief executive at London South East Colleges

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