Adult Education, Tutors and ‘FE Professionalism’ | Pete Caldwell
Adult Education, Tutors and ‘FE Professionalism’
What will be the effect of the government’s review into Further Education (FE) professionalism? Certainly, the interim report, published recently, has been criticised for de-regulating an important area of professional work. But how effective was that structure of professionalism going to be? And what is the likely impact of an alternative approach?
As far as adult education is concerned I can’t see how the the 2007 Regulations, with required qualifications, Institute for Learning (IfL) membership and reporting annually on Continuing Professional Development (CPD), were ever going to happen. Whilst there is a ‘core work-force’ of managers, organisers and some teachers, the majority of those working as adult education tutors are part-time (often very part-time) and many are pursuing ‘portfolio careers’ . The notion of the ‘license to practice’ contained in the regulations was too costly, time consuming and complex for many current tutors and acted as a deterrent to those tempted to join us. Yet the development of ‘home grown’ tutors has been one of adult education’s major achievements. The notion of the ‘associate teaching role’ as a sort of half way house was always (as the interim review recognised) a non-starter. In fact most adult tutors have a high degree of autonomy and are responsible for planning their courses, classroom management etc.
What’s happened in practice is that, whilst the preparatory course (PTLLS) has proved popular, many tutors then get by ‘working towards’ a full qualification whilst others decamp into freelance work. It’s increasingly common for tutors to set up on their own (sometimes taking their class with them!) charging a fee (often on a per-class basis) to provide some income and pay for accommodation. Many village halls, for example, advertise courses such as yoga, pilates, ICT, painting and drawing; usually provided on a freelance basis. Thus the drive for regulation actually leads to greater de-regulation.
Reducing or removing the regulatory framework doesn’t remove the problem but transfers it to the providing organisation. In fact I feel there are two aspects: the tenuous nature of many tutors’ employment and the cultural and organisational gap between many tutors and their employing organisation. The latter point was very well made in a piece of research I read some time ago that described part-time tutors as ‘ragged trousered philanphropists’; the reference to Tressell’s classic work has subsequently been used by others commenting on FE and Adult Education tutors. The researchers’ point was that tutors exist at the heart of teaching and learning but at the fringes of power and resources – hence ‘ragged trousered’. The philanphropy referred to them doing ‘over and above’ that which was required of them in order to meet the many and varied needs of their students. The outlook of many tutors was that they were the guardians of the students’ interests whilst the employing institutionwas driven by funding, audit and regulatory requirements. Their immediate managers or tutor organisers were viewed more sympathetically as, although hard pressed, they were primarily engaged in supporting tutors and enabling provision to happen.
Understanding this perspective (without necessarily entirely accepting it ) helps to explain the visceral reaction of many tutors to IfL membership especially after charges were introduced. It was widely seen by them as a ‘top-down’ requirement and bureaucratically driven rather than serving their needs as practising tutors. Certainly that was the gist of the many emails the WEA received on the subject from tutors.
One of the ways we plan to try to overcome this gap within the WEA is by introducing an employee development scheme for our tutors; this will provide small grants to undertake training or CPD activities of their own choice. This might be a contribution towards the cost of attending a conference or day school, or following a course. The idea is not new (it’s based on a successful scheme Fords introduced in the early 1990s) but it is a gesture of confidence in our tutoring staff and support for them in identifying and planning for their own CPD needs. It will also give us lots of ‘bottom up’ information about training needs and be better placed to plan to meet them.
There is also great scope via the web to engage with, and provide services for tutors. There is an active Twitter community of FE teachers(particularly ESOL ones); this is something from which the WEA and the wider adult adult education movement could learn. In addition we can use our website to promote debate and information sharing. I think the aim should be to address a wide tutor community, not simply WEA employees, as many move across and between a number of institutions.
Finally of course there is the continuing responsibility to ensure staff are appropriately trained and qualified. The experience of PTLLS has, I think, demonstrated the value of preparatory training particularly when it can be tweaked to meet the interest and subject specialism of the tutor and the mission of the organisation. At the other end of the scale, staff building a longer term career need to be encouraged and supported in studying for a diploma level qualification. My concern is that our staff training and CPD policies engage with, and address the diverse needs of our tutors (and other staff) rather than focus on complying with a regulatory system that is not fit for purpose.
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