Further education (FE) colleges – how they work, what happens in them, who studies in them, who works in them – always seem to get shunted to the margins. They are under-funded, relatively under-researched, and tinkered with rather than seriously discussed by policy makers of all political persuasions. And yet the breadth of the work that they do, not withstanding the delivery of the ‘core’ technical and vocational curriculum that characterises much FE provision, is staggering, and ranges from literacy classes for adult learners to higher education (almost ten per cent of all HE provision is located within FE colleges).
Not without reason has the sector been characterised as undergoing endless change
So who teaches on all of these courses? The FE college workforce has begun to emerge as a serious area of research interest, a process that has gathered pace during the last fifteen years or so as successive governments have sought to reform and regulate the workforce in different ways. During this period, FE teacher training has been reformed, made compulsory and then returned to a voluntary activity. And FE teachers have been ‘professionalised’ and ‘re-professionalised’. Over the last fifteen years, three entirely new sets of professional standards for teachers and trainers in the sector have in turn been consulted on, published, and mapped onto teacher-training curricula and staff appraisal systems. Continuing professional development has been mandated and then discarded. Mentoring and coaching have been introduced, although provision is uneven. One professional body – the Institute for Learning – came, briefly and rather unimpressively stayed, and then left, and a new professional organisation – the Society for Education and Training – has recently emerged instead. Not without reason has the sector been characterised as undergoing endless change.
During the constant changes of the last fifteen years or so, the issue of teacher professionalism has remained persistently troublesome. Different models or philosophies of professionalism jostle for space amongst contradictory policy discourses and initiatives. Do we want a qualified workforce or not? Do we want compulsory CPD? Should FE teaching also be a graduate – or equivalent – profession? Should part-time staff be required to have the same professional qualifications as full-time staff? Are professional standards or benchmarks a tool for professional development or for quality assurance, audit and performance management?
is it any wonder that meaningful discussions about what it means to be a professional teacher in FE remain difficult to pin down?
Questions such as these persist but are arguably absent from much of the day-to-day experience of teachers in the sector, perhaps pushed sideways by teaching and assessment requirements (it is not uncommon for a full-time FE teacher to deliver over 850 contact hours each year) and employment conditions (almost two-thirds of teachers in FE are on part-time contracts and the staff turnover rate for teachers is almost one in five (Education and Training Foundation, 2014)). In a sector characterised by relatively high staff turnover, diversity in teacher profiles, backgrounds and experience, variable working conditions and constant changes to policy, is it any wonder that meaningful discussions about what it means to be a professional teacher in FE remain difficult to pin down?
The Post-Compulsory and Lifelong Learning SIG seeks to encourage research into not only questions such as these relating to teacher preparation and professionalism, but also into other areas relating to further education, adult and community education and work-based learning more generally, including the curriculum, the students and the organisations involved. Come and talk to us at the 2015 conference, or get in touch online.
Education and Training Foundation (2014). Further Education Workforce Data for England. Retrieved from: http://www.et-foundation.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/SIR-Report.pdf (date accessed, 17 June 2015).
Lucas, N. (2004). The ‘FENTO Fandango’: national standards, compulsory teaching qualifications and the growing regulation of FE teachers. Journal of Further and Higher Education 28(1) 35-51.
Lucas, N., Nasta, T. and Rogers, L. (2012). From fragmentation to chaos? The regulation of initial teacher training in further education. British Educational Research Journal 38(4) 677-695.
Robson, J. and Bailey, B. (2009). ‘Bowing from the heart’: an investigation into discourses of professionalism and the work of caring for students in further education. British Educational Research Journal 35(1) 99-117
Tummons, J. (2014a). The textual representation of professionalism: problematising professional standards for teachers in the UK lifelong learning sector. Research in Post-Compulsory Education 19(1): 33-44.
Tummons, J. (2014b). Professional standards in teacher education: tracing discourses of professionalism through the analysis of textbooks Research in Post-Compulsory Education 19(4): 417-432.