Feature - Can FE afford the return of the 'lay teacher'?

Government may see teaching as a non-profession, reports Alan Thomson, but evidence says educational success is built on initial qualifications and professional development

“Further education is in flux.” Five words that introduced a paper written by a senior teacher trainer in 1949 and which could have been applied to FE in every one of the following 64 years.

JA Lawton’s paper, The Need for a New Approach in Technical Education, went on to talk about the typical FE teacher of the time, describing him [in the language of the time] as a ‘lay teacher’ drawn from industry whose practical knowledge and skills make technical education possible.

Mr Lawton, a senior lecturer at the then Huddersfield Technical Training College (a college for training FE teachers eventually subsumed by Huddersfield Polytechnic, now the University of Huddersfield), continued: “It has at last been recognised that his potentialities will be increased by giving him training as a teacher but the task will be a long one and, while the bulk of lay teachers remain untrained, an untouched teaching problem will continue to exist.”

What would Mr Lawton make of recent events in further education? Certainly, he would recognise that FE is in almost continual flux.

And would he also be baffled and dismayed that FE teachers, having gained the statutory right to be trained and recognised as professional teachers – leading to long-sought parity with qualified school teachers – suddenly, earlier this year, had that right taken from them?

The language is different but Mr Lawton was talking about the need for a dual professionalism in FE, educators qualified in their subjects or vocations and also as teachers. His paper has been followed by a considerable amount of research which helped build a consensus across FE and among policymakers about the need for dual professionalism underpinned by teacher training and qualifications for teachers, lecturers, tutors and trainers.

A mere 58 years after Mr Lawton warned of the length of the task ahead, the FE Teachers’ Qualifications (England) Regulations 2007 realised the sector’s ambition for improved professional recognition, reward and status and enshrined initial teacher education and qualification followed by Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills as a requirement for teaching in FE.

Just six years later, in September this year, the 2007 regulations were revoked in what, for many educationists, was a poorly evidenced attack on the professional recognition to which FE teachers and trainers continue to aspire.

As the debates continue to rage around the deregulation of FE teaching, it is clear that many of the same issues, uncertainties and misconceptions addressed in earlier policy and research, are resurfacing.

For instance, a core claim of deregulators is that teacher training (either pre- or in-service) leading to a qualification does not guarantee improved teaching practice or better outcomes for learners.

Some, like education secretary Michael Gove, certainly challenge what they see as assumptions about the benefits of teaching qualifications.

Responding to shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt in a recent Opposition Day debate in the House of Commons on the need for training and qualifications for school teachers, Mr Gove said: “As far as he and those on his front bench are concerned, the only way in which someone can be a good teacher is if a single piece of paper is conferred on them.”

“He got to Cambridge with the help of men and women who did not have QTS, but who had a great degree and a passion for learning, and now he wants to deny that same opportunity to poor children.”

Certainly, FE principals have long been able to recruit promising people into teaching who lack teaching qualifications on the proviso that they will work towards a qualification while in post.

It appears that the government’s position – following the revocation of the 2007 FE regulations and the announcement that Qualified Teacher Status is no longer required for teachers in academies and free schools – is that because some exceptional individuals without teaching qualifications can be good and even brilliant teachers; no-one requires a teaching qualification.

As Beatrix Groves, IfL’s immediate past president, said recently in InTuition (issue 14): “Rules should be able to accommodate the exceptional, but exceptions should not determine the rules.”

In fact, there is evidence that a teaching qualification does make a difference to professional practice and learners’ attitudes towards their teachers and their education. A 2003 paper for the Learning and Skills Development Agency, Recollected in tranquillity? FE Teachers’ perceptions of their Initial Teacher Training, found that a majority of teachers surveyed rated their ITT highly.

They gave a range of positive reasons including: helping them develop and practise different learning strategies and techniques; helping in lesson planning and time management; the benefits of observation and receiving feedback; the value of observing others teach.

Teachers reported that teacher trainers were powerful role models of good practice. They also valued greatly being taught the importance of reflection upon their practice. In fact, for some teachers, reflection was the most important aspect of ITT.

A 2002 paper examined the relationship between professional training and how students in northern European countries evaluated their teachers.

The paper, by Tor Aase Johannessen, Joe Harkin and Oyvind Mikalsen, reported that students felt that the most important factor in enhancing the learning process was professional teaching. Researchers explained that the term ‘professional teaching’ included teachers’ preparation to teach, clarity of explanations and variation of teaching method. In 1999, the Further Education Funding.

Council (FEFC) published a report, Professional Development in Further Education, based on 108 English colleges achieving the highest grades for quality assurance. The FEFC identified a number of factors common to effective professional development in colleges including “the high proportion of staff with teaching qualifications, in a sector where they are not a requirement”.

Much has been made by the government and others arguing for the deregulation of teaching in FE, about the need to give providers the autonomy to employ the best people, qualified or not, as teachers. Universities, which have traditionally employed lecturers without teaching qualifications, are held up as exemplars for FE.

Apart from the fact that the 2007 teaching regulations did not prevent FE employers hiring lecturers and trainers without a teaching qualification, such arguments ignore a changing culture towards teaching qualifications in higher education (HE).

A 2010 paper, Dimensions of Quality, written by Professor Graham Gibbs for the Higher Education Academy (HEA), drew on a number of international studies which showed that HE teachers with teaching qualifications were more highly rated by their students than teachers without qualifications.

The changed relationship between UK based HE students, who now pay fees of up to £9,000 a year, and HE providers has focused attention on the quality of tuition offered and the teaching credentials of the lecturers delivering that tuition.

In response to this, the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa) is gathering information on the teaching qualifications held by all HE lecturers and the intention is that it will be published in due course.

Institutions such as the University of Huddersfield, whose pro vice-chancellor Tim Thornton writes on page eight of this issue, already boast full recognition of lecturing staff , through the HEA, against the revised UK professional standards framework for HE.

The Association of Colleges, representing FE employers, confirms that course fees have remained relatively stable in the sector over the past 20 years. However, HE’s experience shows that if market forces cause FE fees to rise significantly, learners may begin to demand greater transparency from providers regarding the qualifications held by their teaching staff.

The Institute for Learning and the National Union of Students, with which it is working to establish a pledge celebrating FE employers who are dedicated to professional excellence in teaching, believe all who teach in FE should be qualified to do so.

While continuing to lobby for the right to professional training and qualifications for all FE teachers, IfL hopes that providers will use their greater autonomy to continue to support progress toward a fully qualified teaching workforce. Structural changes across schools and

FE for young people and linked to vocational learning include the development of university technical colleges (UTCs), studio schools and the new “career colleges”. The idea is that these will enjoy a great connectivity with local FE providers, where there is vast expertise in vocational teaching and training.

As in FE generally, as well as academies and free schools, teaching qualifications are not required by UTCs or career colleges and, on the face of it, their growth could further undermine the professional recognition of teaching.

However, Peter Mitchell, director of education for the Baker Dearing Trust, which initiates and promotes UTCs, said that talks were ongoing regarding the development of a possible teacher training programme for some or all of the 42 UTCs currently in development.

Mr Mitchell, a qualified teacher and a head teacher for many years, said: “The majority of teachers being appointed are qualified school teachers. But it is also important that UTCs recruit people from industry and they are unlikely to be qualified teachers.

“So, we are looking at how training can be tailored to individual UTCs. This is about getting industry to talk to teaching.”

Anne Constantine, principal of Cambridge Regional College which is part of a consortium developing the Cambridge UTC scheduled to open in 2014, offers further hope for continued support for teaching qualifications.

“My position, as part of the UTC’s governing body, is that all teachers that are responsible for designing the curriculum and delivering qualifications will be qualified. In Cambridge, learners and parents expect to see qualified staff leading teaching,” Ms Constantine said.

“I would be worried if FE became a superficially unqualified profession.” FE remains in flux and, while it is used to and can even thrive on continual change, it must decide whether it accepts - as the evidence suggests - that trained and qualified teachers are of fundamental importance to the quality of further education and its reputation going forwards.

As Mr Lawton might have put it, can FE afford the return of the “lay teacher”?

Alan Thomson is publishing and editorial advisor to IfL

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