Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Call for a more effective developmental framework for Scotland’s FE practitioners:

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2013 edition of InTuition - the professional journal for IfL members :


It should be noted that Government funding figures have changed since publication. A recent announcement on funding can be seen at:


Call for a more effective developmental framework for Scotland’s FE practitioners:

an international perspective by Kenneth Allen, IfL Member

Further education provision in Scotland is undergoing major change, but with change should come improvement. Care should be taken to ensure that learners benefit from teaching and learning based on an ethos of continuous improvement

The landscape of further education (FE) provision in Scotland is changing, just as it is for our counterparts in England. Change, whether planned or imposed, offers a combination of challenges and opportunities for the FE professional. In order to fully appreciate where we find ourselves, it is important to examine the nature of Scotland’s FE sector and be conscious of what lies ahead.

Since 1993, Scottish colleges have enjoyed incorporated status, removing them from local authority funding and control. Boards of management took over strategic and financial accountability for individual colleges, and a newly formed body, The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) now allocates funds to the 43 colleges on the basis of their measured share of student activity. The funding is based on Student Units of Measurement, which equate to approximately 40 hours of study, weighted to reflect the different costs of running a variety of courses.

However, funding cuts, which the whole UK has experienced, have forced the Scottish government to exercise its devolved educational powers and introduce reform. A recent controversial stand-off in the Scottish Parliament eventually confirmed that the SFC revenue budget for colleges will continue to fall by 1.5 per cent from financial year 2012/13 to 2013/14 and a further 11.6 per cent the year after.

Michael Russell, cabinet secretary for education and lifelong learning, wants to introduce what he believes is much needed reform. He indicated that he wanted to see improvement in:

• how our colleges are funded

• how the sector is structured

• the type of educational and training opportunities colleges provide

• the quality of that provision

• colleges’ accountability

Thus, we are now faced with radical change that, in many ways, is specifically designed to deal with the aforementioned fiscal situation. But will this really improve our FE provision? And, most importantly, will it really put our learners at the centre?

Colleges will, at the end of this academic year, shrink in number from 43 to approximately 13 regional structures. A further government consultation on college governance, the Griggs Report1, has recommended an overhaul of the way in which college management boards are appointed and a tightening up of their responsibility and accountability.

In broad terms, college boards will:

• enter into a regional outcome agreement with the SFC and decide how funding received within the region should be distributed and how efficiencies should be secured

• plan college provision strategically across the region

• provide a focal point for engagement with regional partners

• be held to account by the SFC for delivering the regional outcome agreement

Funding will be directly linked to agreed outcomes, with about 70 per cent targeted specifically at young people aged 16 to 24, which is in line with government policy.

The development of outcome agreements is a complex one, with colleges being asked to negotiate targets in several significant areas.

However, there are five strategic priority areas:

• Efficient regional structures: deliver efficient regional structures to meet the needs of the region

• Right learning in the right place: contribute to meeting the national guarantee for young people, the demands of the region and, where appropriate, the nation

• High quality and efficient learning: ensure that learners are qualified to progress through the system an efficient and flexible manner

• A developed workforce: ensure that learners are qualified and prepared for work, and improve and adapt the skills of the regional workforce

• Sustainable institutions: secure well-managed and financially and environmentally sustainable colleges

A measurement framework, intended as a tool to inform and support regional negotiations, includes many indicators that may have a potential impact on the FE professional. For example, although not necessarily unique to this reform, performance will be measured on aspects such as efficiency savings gained from regionalisation, opportunities for all (age demographic of learners), curriculum provision, retention and achievement, employer engagement, and so on.

Scotland’s inspectorate, Education Scotland, will continue to monitor the effectiveness of Scotland’s colleges through an oft-criticised inspection process. Regrettably, these cyclical reviews come with extensive notice and inspectors rarely see a realistic reflection of the quality of teaching and learning taking place in the classroom. Full reviews and subject specific reviews have tended to be seen as perfunctory and very little actual change takes place.


Learning and teaching for the future

When such far-reaching changes are made to our structures – management and, most significantly, our funding – the teaching professional and, ultimately, the learner, are often regarded as subordinate in favour of the more pressing fiscal imperative. There is no doubt that these new outcome agreements focus on important economic and social priorities. However, can FE practitioners have confidence that they, at the chalk face, will be equipped with the requisite skills and organisational support to deliver on such aspirations? Ambitions for improvement in the quality of provision are laudable, but without proper investment and planning, success in this regard would appear unlikely.

There is no mandatory requirement for FE professionals to be appropriately pedagogically qualified, although most (75 per cent in 2010/11 data: source Scottish Funding Council) hold the Teaching Qualification in Further Education (TQFE) which is a Scottish Qualifications Framework level 9 qualification, namely degree level. The qualification conforms to the Professional Standards for Lecturers in Scotland’s Colleges2. These standards, refreshed through consultation in 2012, highlighted four common themes that emerged in response to the question: what do lecturers, teachers and tutors need to do to prepare for their role in 2020?

These themes were:

• Learners

• ICT • Professional standards and CPD

• Teaching practice and reflection Recommendations have been made that these themes should be given due consideration when planning courses and continuing professional development (CPD) for college lecturers in the future. Particular emphasis is placed on the need for lecturers to be ‘digital practitioners’.


Colleges Scotland and the College Development Network

Colleges Scotland, formerly Scotland’s Colleges, has recently re-branded and now has two distinct roles:

• ‘Colleges Scotland’ will support the FE sector by attempting to influence policy, funding and media representation;

• ‘College Development Network’ will support the sector by providing CPD opportunities, developing learning networks, sharing resources and recognising achievement.

A major concern is that, despite this rebranding exercise, this body is providing nothing new to the sector and, until now, is widely believed to have failed as a support mechanism for the practitioner. One reason for this perceived failure stems from weak college interaction with this body. If colleges did not recognise quality CPD as part of their strategic and cultural identity, then staff simply did not benefit from the opportunities on offer.

Furthermore, many argue that endless seminars, network events and similar initiatives offered to the sector as CPD, do little to improve our practice. Moreover, the Scottish Qualifications Authority, Scotland’s monopolistic awarding body, provides support for the delivery and assessment of its products and this often conflicts with more pedagogical offerings that may be available.

Many staff (myself included) who recognise the importance of CPD, rely on their own personal learning networks (PLNs) such as Twitter, and have joined up with other like-minded teachers to further their development needs. Networks such as have enabled practitioners to share good practice, openly discuss contemporary issues, and develop relationships to promote professional enquiry. In many ways such networks are an indictment of what surely should be ingrained into the fabric of our schools and colleges.

Scotland has retained a General Teaching Council (GTCS3) and further education professionals holding the TQFE are entitled to register on a voluntary basis. A consultation on the need for a professional body for staff in Scotland’s colleges (2004)4 stated that: “it is difficult avoid the implication (from the responses) that there is a general willingness in the sector to explore the idea of a professional body further”.

Additionally, there was support for a mandatory, recorded CPD process. Unfortunately, further exploration did not occur and resistance to mandatory registration mainly emanated from college principals who were anxious that registration would interfere with their freedom to employ and deploy staff in a way that they deemed appropriate. However, this reluctance to standardise professional competence and conduct has led to learners being taught by unqualified and/or inappropriately qualified staff.

The council continues to encourage registration and is currently reviewing the support that is offered to the FE professional. But while the GTCS operates a mandatory register for the compulsory education sector, registration remains voluntary for those teaching in post-compulsory education and training. The GTCS does ensure that all those registered are appropriately qualified, fit to teach and adhere to their standards of conduct.

Additionally, as set out in Public Services Reform (GTC Scotland) Order 20115 and subsequently endorsed by the Donaldson report, Teaching Scotland’s Future: a review of teacher education in Scotland 6, there is a mandatory requirement for registered teachers to record and declare their CPD through a system called ‘Professional Update’ on a five-year cycle. In 2013, there will be participation by the college sector in the piloting of this scheme.

But too many colleges have failed to ensure that their learners are taught by teachers who conform to the rightly demanding standards set by the GTCS. Although no empirical evidence exists, anecdotally, social science graduates teach English, learners with special educational needs (SEN) are taught by unqualified mainstream teachers and accountants teach geography, for example. Colleges have, therefore, sometimes been guilty of putting their commercial and structural priorities before the needs of their learners.

In England, the abolition of its General Teaching Council and a reversal of policy on the mandatory registration for FE professionals with IfL will only serve to diminish public confidence in England’s schools and colleges. Recent developments in both Ireland and Wales will require FE professionals to be registered with their respective teaching councils and it is this consistency in standards across sectors that should influence the future direction for Scotland.

Change should offer the prospect of improvement and, in such a process, care should be taken to address the core purpose of our endeavours: exercising our professional practice in such a way that our learners acquire a desire for knowledge and appreciate the benefits that a quality education has to offer.

Ultimately, engagement is the key to the future of our learning and teaching approaches. Such engagement can only become a reality if our colleges truly embrace development in the way that we continually press our learners to do so. The desire for pedagogical improvement must be manifestly at the centre of everything we do, driven by our values, and led assiduously by senior staff.

I feel I am in danger of providing the reader with nothing more than an educational polemic, and to avoid such allegations I would like to proffer some suggestions for a more effective developmental framework for Scotland’s FE practitioners.

Registration with the GTCS should become mandatory and, with the cooperation of the College Development Network and the Scottish Qualifications Authority, a uniform and non-fragmented strategy should be devised to ensure that our learners benefit from teaching and learning predicated on an ethos of continuous improvement.

I am convinced that building quality into a process will achieve the results that we, as a nation, are so passionately committed to. 


Kenneth Allen

Kenneth has worked in Scotland’s FE sector since 1998. He is employed in a substantive post with James Watt College as a business education lecturer. In his wider professional role, he is the elected FE representative with the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS), and an experienced external verifier and development consultant with Scotland’s awarding body, the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA). He is an IfL Member. 



1 Education/UniversitiesColleges/17135/ CollegeGovernanceReview/ FEGovernanceReport

2 03/6519


4 2638-The-Need-for-a- Professional-Body.html

5 contents/made

6 2011/01/13092132/0

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