Last April the registration of further education teachers with the Education Workforce Council (EWC) represented a quiet revolution in education in Wales. Registration placed the professionalism of the further education sector on an equal footing to school teachers in Wales. So far so good. But if registration was purely about striking off rogue practitioners, one could argue that colleges, with their extensive HR expertise, were well-capable of sorting this out themselves and had been doing so effectively since the Incorporation Act of 1992. The wider implications of registration may be less headline grabbing than any potential hearings for unprofessional practice... but they’re actually far more interesting. Registration changes mark the first important step in shaping the future of professional development for the wider education workforce in Wales beyond school teachers.
The extent of this as a major ideological shift for education in Wales should not be under-estimated. For over 20 years further education colleges have paddled their own canoes. They have not been bound by local or national government departments, and have largely shaped their workforce to their needs. Fento and LLUK standards loosely bound teachers to principles for practice, but there has been little detailed regulation as to how teachers in further education should be trained or developed as professionals either pre or post PGCE. As a result, (and speaking as one who came into FE from the school sector) for those of us not steeped in the world of further education, from the outside it can all appear a little confusing. If Wales gets this right though, the registration of the further education workforce could represent a real opportunity for a joined up system of professional development which encompasses all forms of teaching professionals, from teachers and instructors to assessors and learning support staff, creating for the first time coherent career pathways and structured professional development. However, as always, the devil will be in the detail.
The biggest hurdle that Wales now faces as it brings together the vision of a professional educational workforce pre and post 16, will be for all those involved to have a detailed understanding of the complex and diverse needs post-16 further education sector. Creating a New Deal for all teachers cannot be purely giving further education teachers a dollop of the same professional development diet as schools. Neither can it simply a case of pinning the tail on the donkey, and adding a post-16 dimension to professional development plans. There needs to be a clear mapping of what the workforce right across education looks like and how these different roles develop into leadership and management. This is currently being mapped out for schools, but for post 16 education, the map is more complex as it encompasses a more diverse range of roles.
A key part of any mapping of the workforce will be to illustrate how parity of registration can aid transferability for teachers across sectors. Many schools teach elements of a vocational curriculum and most colleges offer A Levels and GCSE subjects also taught in schools. How can EWC registration help create better movement of professionals across sectors and how will teacher training and professional standards need to align to facilitate this? Will colleges in future need to implement NQT programmes for their newly qualified staff and mirror school practices? Will there be opportunities for new further education teachers to upskill and undertake the Masters programme in Educational Practice? All of these represent challenges in the alignment of a professional workforce in education, but also come with opportunities to create a joined-up education system with better understanding between sectors.
Professional accountability and development will no doubt bring benefits for teachers in further education. There is much the further education sector can learn from the intensive professional development undertaken by secondary school teachers on embedding literacy and numeracy. Schools in turn can learn much from further education about developing learners’ employability skills. And both sectors share the same passion for improving the quality of teaching and learning. Sharing professional practice across sectors would be of great benefit to Welsh learners and demonstrates exactly the personal ownership of professional development which the EWC are seeking to encourage. Hopefully, some of the current inequalities, such as the inability for further education teachers to log-in and access teacher communities in HWB will be quickly resolved, enabling the hundreds of teachers in colleges teaching GCSEs, A Levels and the Welsh Baccalaureate to have access to wider communities of practice.
There are, however, some fundamental pedagogical differences in vocational learning which need to be understood and explored by those exploring professional development post-16. In many respects the further education sector is frontier country. The best colleges are chimeras continuously moulding and reshaping their curriculum to the needs of the labour market and learners. This means that the post-16 workforce needs to be flexible to change and to frequently re-skill. Current demands from industry and the government are for more higher level apprentices. Colleges will need to use staff to teach flexibly across further education and work based learning and to deliver more modules at HE level. Vocational teachers and instructors need to undertake regular industry placements and training to keep up to date with latest industrial practice. These professional development needs are very different from those required in pre-16 education but are critical to the ongoing professional development of the sector and the future success of the Welsh economy.
The EWC registration, and its implementation of professional accountability is a massive opportunity which should not be missed. By looking at the professional needs of the post-16 workforce, the government has a once in a lifetime opportunity to shape vocational education career pathways and its workforce in a way done in the very best vocational education systems in the world, such as Finland. As the government embraces Donaldson’s ‘Successful Futures’ curriculum review and Furlong’s review of teacher training for school teachers, the review of education and workforce training must not stop at the school gate. If the government are serious about professional accountability and development for further education professionals, they also need also to consider what the very best vocational teacher training looks like and start exploring excellence in vocational pedagogy in the same depth as pre-16 education. With more and more learners undertaking higher level vocational routes and an economy dependent on highly skilled vocational learners, can we really afford not to?
Carys Davies began her career teaching English in secondary schools in Wales, then working as a curriculum leader a high school in New Zealand. Carys returned to Wales in 2005 and has worked in the further education sector since then, currently working as Director of Quality, Learning and Student Experience at Coleg Cambria. Her professional interests include teacher training, embedding literacy and educational leadership.