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Invisible educators or connecting professionals? Post-compulsory teacher educators

Jim Crawley

Overall, teacher educators generally tend to be seen as ‘an ill-defined, under researched and sometimes beleaguered occupational group’ (Menter, Hulme, Elliott, & Lewin, 2010: 11). BERA and the RSA have also argued that, ‘In England, the nature of teaching is contested, while the value of research in teacher education has arguably diminished over time’ (2014: 6). Research from a range of countries, including the UK, Australia, the Netherlands and the European Commission evidence the low status of vocational education and training, post-school work, and that of the associated field of teacher education (Al-Saaideh & Tareef, 2011; Misra, 2011; Skills Commission, 2010; UNESCO & International Reading Association, 2008). The UK post-compulsory education (PCE) sector and its community of teacher educators (TEds) has experienced particularly difficult times over the recent period of austerity, even though the mainly workplace-based partnership model of PCE teacher education resonates well with key thinking and current developments in the broader field of teacher education and has been shown to be effective at connecting and supporting PCE teaching professionals.

Here are a few interesting facts about PCE you may not know.

  • There are 712,000 16–18-year-olds who study in colleges in England, compared with 424,000 in state-funded schools. A further 77,500 16-to-18-year-olds undertake apprenticeships through colleges, and 2.2 million people are educated and trained in English colleges (AoC, 2017).
  • Even with the impact of austerity measures and budget cuts, over 28,000 PCE teachers completed an ITE (initial teacher education) course in 2015/16 (ETF, 2018a).
  • The quality of (FE) ITE provision is good. All higher education institutions and further education (FE) colleges that had their education and teaching programmes inspected achieved a good (grade 2) or outstanding (grade 1) inspection grade (ETF, 2018b: 4).
  • The 2015 changes that switched skills and FE to the Department for Education represent the 11th time that this policy area has changed between, or has been newly shared between, government departments since the 1980s. There have been 65 secretaries of state responsible for skills and employment policy over the same period (compared with 19 for schools policy and 19 for higher education). This has raised fears that the current system is too disjointed to ensure a consolidated and coherent approach to policy (City and Guilds, 2016: 5).

‘Teacher educators in the post-compulsory education sector are more “invisible” than many other professionals working in the “Cinderella sector”, despite the fact that they train a significant number of England’s teachers.’

The fourth of these ‘interesting things’ really emphasises the incredible volatility and change that the PCE sector experiences. You would be forgiven for wondering how the other three were ever achieved. The ‘Cinderella sector’ is rightly proud of its achievements, but is often almost invisible to governments and much of the public at large. PCE therefore finds it difficult to get its voice heard. Within this professional invisibility, one group of professionals is even more invisible than many of the others, and that is post-compulsory TEds. The volume of teachers trained in the sector is significant, and between 2010 and 2013, when a teaching qualification was mandatory in PCE, it was not unusual for more PCE teachers to be trained each year than the combined total in primary and secondary initial teacher education.

Since May 2011 a voluntary and self-organised research network of post-compulsory teacher educators (Teacher Education in Lifelong Learning, or TELL) has been working to:

  • capture the passion and distinctive vision of post-compulsory teacher education
  • celebrate its achievements and raise its profile
  • build capacity and support practitioner PCE TEd researchers
  • connect researchers; debate the challenges; connect and inform members; curate and publish research information, updates and results activities and news from members.

TELL now has over 300 members across the sector, is self-managed and works without funding. Members host four or more free meetings each year, and we join with other networks to share meetings. Over 200 people attend these meetings each year. Members usually receive around five email updates each year, featuring research, publications and events. As part of the work of the network, the first ever book by PCE TEds about PCE teacher education was produced in 2016. Jim Crawley (the editor), Carol Azumah Dennis, Vicky Duckworth, Rebecca Eliahoo, Lynn Machin, Kevin Orr, Denise Robinson and Nena Skrbic are all well-known and well-respected practitioners in PCE, and the timely book draws together research and thinking about PCE, and PCE teacher education in particular. It carries a positive, forward-looking message that PCE transforms the lives of many in the UK, and that teachers in the sector are well supported by their own teacher educators.

The book, Post compulsory teacher educators: Connecting professionals, Critical guides for teacher educators, is available from Critical Publishing.

To find out more about TELL, visit

To join TELL, email Jim Crawley at


Al-Saaideh, M. & Tareef, A. (2011). Vocational teacher education research: Issues to address and obstacles to face. Education, 131(4), pp.715–731.

Association of Colleges [AoC] (2018) College Key Facts 2017/18. London.

British Educational Research Association [BERA] & Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce [RSA] (2014). The Role of Research in Teacher Education: Reviewing the Evidence: Interim Report of the BERA-RSA Inquiry. London: British Educational Research Association.

City and Guilds (2016) Sense and Instability 2016. London.

Crawley, J. (Ed.) (2016). Post compulsory teacher educators: Connecting professionals. St Albans: Critical Publishing.

Education and Training Foundation [ETF] (2018a). Further Education Workforce Data or England: Analysis of the 2016-2017 Staff Individualised Record (SIR) data. London.

Education and Training Foundation [ETF] (2018b). Initial Teacher Education in FE – 2015/16. London.

Menter, I., Hulme, M., Elliott, D., & Lewin, J. (2010). Literature Review on Teacher education in the 21st Century. Edinburgh: Education Analytical Services, Schools Research, Scottish Government

Misra, P. K. (2011). VET teachers in Europe: Policies, practices and challenges. Journal of Vocational Education & Training, 63(1), 27–45.

Skills Commission (2010) Teacher Training in Vocational Education. London.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization [UNESCO] & International Reading Association (2008) State of Teacher Education in the Asia-Pacific Region. Newark, NJ.

Dr Jim Crawley is a senior lecturer in education studies at Bath Spa. Prior to joining Bath Spa in September 2002, he spent 25 years as an active teacher, head of department and researcher in further education. His main research specialism is teacher education, particularly the professional situation of teacher educators in the post-compulsory sector. He also has a research interest in technology-enhanced learning and its impact on teachers, teaching and learning. He is undertaking doctoral research investigating the professional situation of teacher educators in the post-compulsory sector. For more about Jim and his work click here.