Attempts to professionalise the Further, Adult, Community Education and Skills (FACES) sector have too often adopted a deficit analysis, with an assumption that tutors are not professional, and with a lack of a fully participatory, democratic, ethos.
In a forthcoming chapter to mark the centenary of Dewey’s Democracy and Education (1916), Frank Coffield argues that teacher professionalism has been undermined with the abolition of the General Teaching Council (GTC) and the collapse of the Institute for Learning (IfL):
“Right from the start the IfL failed to establish itself as an independent organisation, free from government influence. It could not even get its own name right. Its core function was to further the development of tutors in FE, so it should have been called the Institute for Tutors or Teaching. That said, it did much good work… It needs to be replaced, preferably by a body, established by FE tutors themselves, run on democratic lines and with the professional knowledge and expertise to stand up to both government and management. I offer as a working title: Tutors’ Voices…”
In his recent piece for FE News Frank further argues for the establishment of an independent, democratic association to promote Tutors’ Voices; a network that might become “a coalition of resistance to government bunglers and hectoring inspectors.”
We have taken up Frank’s challenge, and are seeking the views of FE colleagues about a new democratic professional association. The association is categorically not intended to replace any former FE professional bodies, or to encroach on the vital work around pay and conditions of sector trade unions, or to replicate the service functions of government funded sector bodies. Neither do we have any appetite for a role around issues such as professional regulation. It is intended that the association should become, in time, the collective voice of powerful, democratic professionalism for the FACES sector. Should there be any attempt in the future to compel lecturers into a fee-paying, mandatory professional body, we should be better placed to resist such a move.
Why is a professional association important?
- Voice of democratic professionalism: To enable FACES practitioners to have a strong, democratic, collective and autonomous professional voice on issues of practice and policy.
- Research and pedagogy: To encourage a network of practitioners and researchers committed to a culture of discussion, sharing, reflective inquiry and joint practice development informed by research and linked to policy.
- Influence policy: To defend and promote well-resourced vocational, academic and community-based education and comprehensive lifelong learning and education for democratic citizenship. To champion different types of knowledge (propositional, procedural, craft knowledge) and the three dimensions of professionalism (knowledge of subject; knowing how to teach it well and how students learn it; and involvement in local and national politics as they affect education as a whole).
Our proposed founding principles
1. Democratic (both as its fundamental operating ethos, and as an ethic of professional service to students: our professionalism should both promote expertise in teaching, learning and assessment and foster independent, critical thinkers who are also active citizens in our democracy)
2. Inclusive (open to all sector practitioners, and interested HE researchers, and HE FE teacher trainers)
3. Representative (decision making / elected posts in due course solely open to chalk face FE teachers)
4. Participatory (encourage engaged associates, and principally organised by lay activists)
5. Egalitarian (actively promote equality, and with no grades of membership, or “patrons”)
6. Transparent (establish electronic archives of all key association documents)
7. Independent (no government funding, and no formal links with any sector body, trade union etc.)
8. Collaborative (committed to a culture of discussion, sharing, reflective inquiry and development informed by research and linked to policy)
9. Campaigning (with the professional knowledge and expertise to challenge college managements, sector bodies, and government)
10. Non-mandatory (no cost to join, but in the long run the association may need to have a subscription basis to be sustainable)
Projected opening campaigns
There are two obvious initial campaigns we intend to pursue:
1. The powerful professional bodies in law and medicine have control over standards and practice. We need to assert our right to control teaching and learning, by demanding full statutory representation on all proposed sector educational reforms. This should be pressed after the forthcoming General Election.
2. The association should mobilise and lead the call for an end to all grading of teaching observations, instead promoting participatory and empowering forms of teacher development. Research in the sector suggests that this is an urgent priority
Joel Petrie teaches in the PCET sector in the NW and is the co-editor of Further Education and the Twelve Dancing Princesses, published last week by Trentham / IOE