Saturday, 2 November 2013

Further Education in Scotland: Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

It may come as a surprise to many that teachers in further education have a set of professional standards that form the basis of initial teacher education, as well as outlining the process for continuous professional development throughout their careers. More troubling, however, is the fact that teachers working within the sector have no relationship with the aforementioned standards and their subsequent professional development is limited to say the least.

The regionalisation of the college sector was preceded by two significant reviews; one that looked into Post-16 Education and Vocational Training in Scotland conducted by Willy Roe, the other a Review of Further Education Governance in Scotland, conducted by Professor Russel Griggs OBE. These publications proposed ambitious plans for the future of the sector. Unfortunately, the Roe Report ignored the opportunity to advocate a pedagogical solution for the development of the FE workforce, failed to mention our professional standards and instead suggested that FE teachers spend half the year working in industry and half the year teaching in colleges. I agree that industry experience can be invaluable to teachers in their quest to offer a contemporary experience for Scotland’s future workforce, however, Roe’s idea of a 50/50 year for FE practitioners may be taking ‘blue sky’ thinking too far.

In contrast, Graham Donaldson’s report into teacher education in Scotland supplied primary and secondary teachers, and those wishing to work in schools, with a clear vision of teacher development for their respective sectors. With mandatory General Teaching Council registration required for all school teachers, bringing with it a robust and rightly demanding set of standards together with a requirement for reaccreditation through ‘Professional Update’, teachers continue to be central to our education system. Why then, do teachers in further education continue to be on the periphery when it comes to post-16 education? Furthermore, Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) aims to provide a more coherent and enriched curriculum for our learners aged 3-18, wherever they are being educated. A learner choosing to transfer from school to college at the age of 16 is unlikely to experience a seamless transition if they enter an environment that fails to offer equal teacher status to that of our primary and secondary peers.  

Regionalisation has also resulted in colleges being forced to employ less qualified staff to meet their curricular needs as many qualified and experienced teachers have simply left the field. Furthermore, teaching staff employed post-regionalisation are only being offered temporary posts. With no security of tenure, how can this impact positively on our learners? The sector requires stability and investment in its workforce. As I mentioned earlier, our professional standards exist and must, therefore, form an integral part of our practice. FE teachers holding the Teacher Qualification in Further Education (TQFE) can, and should, register with the General Teaching Council for Scotland, comply with the GTCS code of conduct, and be subject to ‘Professional Update’. Both Northern Ireland and Wales have chosen to bring further education under the wing of their respective Teaching Councils and Scotland, the vanguard for educational foresight finds itself lagging behind.

Colleges now have ‘outcome agreements’ and such agreements are ostensibly founded on colleges being more efficient. Efficiency in itself is no bad thing; however, it must be linked to the ‘core’ purpose of education-the transformation of lives through learning. If we continue, through a preoccupation with outcomes, with inspecting quality out, rather than building quality into our teaching and learning processes, then we are ignoring the empirical evidence that consigned the former to the wastebasket long ago.

Teaching and learning must be led; therefore, leadership is crucial in developing our pedagogical evolution. Mechanistic structures that offer little in the way of pedagogical career development-instead rewarding commitment and passion with positions predicated on administrative and fiscal order are contrary to the vocational foundation that our profession advocates If we accept the premise that great teachers inspire learners, then we must also accept that great teachers can inspire and develop other teachers.

The Professional Standards for FE lecturers in Scotland’s colleges can be found at:


1 comment:

  1. Interesting view of teacher professionalism and one which I share. FE colleagues who engage with young people in a teaching capacity should be held to the same high standards of professionalism and conduct as those working in the primary and secondary sectors. FE teachers should have, and be expected to engage with, the current pedagogies which underpin learning and teaching and have access to the highest quality professional development opportunities. Anything less does a disservice to the young people (and adult learners) they work with. As you rightly point out, CfE is a 3-18 curriculum and shouldn't be curtailed at 16 simply because the learner has moved from a school to a college environment. The only way, in my view, to ensure this level of engagement of FE colleagues in professional development and standards is through registration with the GTCS and it has always perplexed me that registration is not mandatory as it is with primary and secondary colleagues. You're the expert in FE in terms of the regionalisation and funding you discuss, so I won't comment on that! As I said, a very interesting and well articulated discussion. Food for thought.