In little over a year, professionalism in further education is resurgent, thanks in no small part to the Society for Education and Training. InTuition editor Alan Thomson has witnessed this remarkable transformation first hand.
It has been my privilege, as a journalist, to have reported on the further education sector for more than 25 years, the past four as editor of InTuition.
From the incorporation of colleges in 1992-93, through the franchising scandals of the 1990s, different funding bodies and models, ill-fated individual learning accounts, the demise of education maintenance allowances and, of course, the perennial squeeze on funding – the history of further education is nothing if not colourful, and more changeable than the British weather.
Yet what impresses me most is the ability of FE, in the face of constant challenge, to keep doing what it does, day in day out: providing education, training and, above all, opportunities for millions of people, from all walks of life but, especially, to those for whom opportunity was previously in short supply.
Having met many FE leaders, managers, teachers, trainers, lecturers, assessors and students over the years, I know that the sector’s great resilience and its supreme adaptability is due largely to the professionalism, dedication and sheer humanity of the people who work in it.
I studied at Stevenson College, now Edinburgh College, to take more qualifications after I, shall we say, ‘outgrew’ my old comprehensive.
Stevenson was a revelation. Tutors spoke to me as an adult, inspired me to learn, got me through my exams and made the seemingly impossible, possible. I went to university and returned to FE after graduating to do my National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) pre-entry course at Darlington College under the wonderful Jon Smith.
As members of the Society for Education and Training, you create opportunity for your students and apprentices every day.
I edited InTuition under the former Institute for Learning and I witnessed IfL’s closure first-hand, amid fears that a deregulated FE sector, in which teachers and trainers are not required to hold a professional teaching qualification, would set professionalism in the sector back by a number of years.
Yet, in little over a year, professionalism in FE is resurgent. Membership of SET, a voluntary and independent professional services body, has almost doubled in its first year.
I would argue that this is not in spite of deregulation in FE, but because of it. Free from statutory obligation, you – as FE teachers, trainers, lecturers, tutors, assessors, managers and leaders – are steadily reclaiming ownership of your professional practice.
Journalists are accused of preferring the bad news to good news. Between us, this is occasionally true; but not in this case. Your success as professional educators is SET’s success. Your success is the success of the FE sector and, ultimately, that of the people you teach. FE was part of my success, such that it is.
To mark SET’s first anniversary we have collected a range of comments, many from members, which we hope will chime with some of your own experiences and which you will enjoy reading.
Alan Thomson is editor of InTuition
I completed my PGCE in 2010 and joined what was then the Institute for Learning. But then I had a serious health problem and was in recovery for nearly two years.
I returned to teaching but was conscious that, after two years, my professional development had suffered and I needed to assess where I was.
I looked into SET and saw there was lots of useful information, advice and guidance as well as subsidised training, which was useful to someone like me on sessional contracts.
I then decided to do my QTLS and I’m so glad I did. It made me think about why I was teaching and how I could move forward professionally.
QTLS made me look for development opportunities in a systematic way. I realised I hadn’t been challenging myself enough up to that point. QTLS really boosted my confidence after having had my career disrupted due to ill health.
I had previously gone for jobs against candidates who had QTLS. Now I’m hoping to benefit from QTLS in my next career move.
Anette Hiley is academic mentor to students with disabilities at Edge Hill University and a sessional Functional Skills English teacher at Bolton College
I became a member of the Institute for Learning and gained QTLS. I think if you want to get on in the sector then you should have a professional teaching award. I would look for QTLS in anyone I was employing.
It’s all about professional standards and, as a teacher, you want to promote your own professionalism to your learners when they come in.
I went to a SET event in Bristol on Functional Skills recently and there was a very good session on apprenticeship trailblazers and the speaker was very impressive. It’s not that often you come away from training events and think “that was totally worth the drive”.
There were always phrases in FE like ‘action research’ that meant very little to me but thanks to SET they now mean a lot.
SET has given me that ability to challenge myself and it has allowed me to change my practice. It is all about support for ongoing development. Having a professional body like SET is extremely important to the sector. I’m lucky in that my employer reimburses my membership fee. But even if they didn’t, I’d think SET worth paying for.
Michelle Pointer is a senior training consultant at Focus Training Group
As I had just become responsible for teaching teachers in my job I went online for information and came across SET.
It offered courses and information online and I joined straight away and quickly discovered that the webinars are brilliant.
I love all SET’s online material and the fact that there are regular courses that I can book myself on to. It feels like I’m part of a strong professional network. I share a lot of what I’ve learned with colleagues in my work and am in touch with fellow members in the Greater Manchester area.
I’ve just done my QTLS. Even though I had long done continuing professional development, it tended to be in management and coaching and, to be honest, I had got a bit stale in my teaching and learning strategies.
QTLS forced me to find out where I was professionally and what I needed to work on. I think it’s very important that we have a professional body in FE and professional standards for teaching. If people got involved with professional standards and SET then they would come on as teachers.
Gillian Mattocks is an organisational quality development manager at ProCo Training, Wigan
Further education is a diverse sector that provides hope, opportunity and, crucially, the skills needed to allow students to progress into higher education, employment or to re-skill.
Because of this, we in FE have a big responsibly to ensure that the work we do is delivered to a professional standard and that it delivers the quality of teaching and learning that our students expect and deserve.
The Society for Education and Training offers an excellent range of tools to support the professional development of the teaching profession, including the opportunity to gain a recognised and transferable teaching award through QTLS.
As an aspiring principal, I think it’s vital that we work to and within professional standards in order to enrich the practice of teachers and senior managers at an individual level and to help us improve as a sector overall.
FE is often misunderstood, unrecognised, under-valued and it is always changing. As FE’s professional body, SET not only benefits its members but it raises the profile and the status of the whole of FE.
Shakira Martin is vice-president (further education) of the National Union of Students and is a member of the board of the Education and Training Foundation.
The Society for Education and Training plays a vital role in supporting professionalism within further education so that students receive high quality teaching and training. I wish SET well as it continues its hard work to drive positive change within the FE sector.
Nick Boles is minister for skills
I was a teacher in Nigeria where I also did my first degree in applied chemistry. I did my second degree, in accounting and finance, at Manchester Metropolitan University.
I decided to teach in the UK because one of my lecturers at Manchester Met thought I would make a good teacher. I did a Certificate in Education from University of Chester and finished in 2015 and I became a member of SET in January 2016. I have since applied to do my QTLS.
SET is helping me in my development and my confidence as a teacher. I would love SET to run even more programmes.
Opeoluwa Alli is a maths teacher at Bolton College
Speaking as a manager in further eduction, SET has delivered many benefits in its first year. There’s a great network of support through SET events and activities. This has helped me to realise that the challenges I and other managers face aren’t necessarily unique and ours alone.
There are opportunities to collectively overcome issues like ungraded observations, Area Reviews and the challenges in delivering English and mathematics. These are very helpful as we can borrow what’s working elsewhere, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel every time.
My main hope for SET in the coming year is that it will help develop more members so that they can play an active role in determining the Society’s future direction of travel and development.
Ken Merry chaired the SET Management Board and is head of business enterprise at RNN Group
For me, the essence of professionalism in our sector is high quality teaching skills that facilitate student learning.
What SET has done well in its first year is to keep a clear focus on the things that matter to practitioners as they seek to improve their practice.
This is not an easy task as there so many issues facing the sector that it is easy to become distracted, and this is particularly true of principals and their senior teams, and often this melee of concerns pervades a college and teachers can take their eye off the ball as a result.
What a really good professional organisation does is to keep learning and teaching at the centre of the debate and SET is beginning to do this.
SET is helping teachers do their job better, which after all is its raison d’etre. It is championing teachers, providing them with ideas, resources, CPD and importantly networks. It is upholding the values enshrined in excellent teaching and is ensuring that hard working staff don’t feel alone. My hope for the future is that SET, supported by ETF, continues to plough this particular furrow.
Ed Sallis has been a Fellow of SET, and IfL before it, since 2003. He chaired the Education and Training Foundation review ‘Making maths and English work for all’. Ed is a former principal, a consultant on improving the delivery of maths and English, and a Visiting Professor at Plymouth University.
I am very proud of the progress SET has made in its first year.
When we launched our new professional body in May 2015, we were excited to be able to start delivering our strategy for a new membership organisation, with the benefits and improvements that members told us they wanted to see during our consultation phase.
We were hoping that SET would strike a chord with the further education and skills sector and would make a positive start in growing our membership base. But I am thrilled that we have exceeded our first year ambitions and had reached 14,000 members by the end of the membership year in March 2016.
We have had many highlights along the way.
- Setting up our new Practitioner Advisory Group and Management Board, and meeting with these colleagues several times since September, with the constructive, ambitious and exciting discussions about potential future directions for SET and QTLS.
- Running our first 10 dedicated SET continuing professional development events across the country, and seeing the audience and participation for our monthly webinars steadily grow in size.
- Awarding QTLS professional formation status to nearly 2,000 practitioners.
- Redesigning and improving many core parts of membership – from the SET website, to our membership enquiries line, to the coming changes this year to InTuition.
- Hearing inspiring feedback from members on the difference membership makes – which is why we are here in the first place.
Tim Weiss is director of the Society for Education and Training