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Gavin Thomas article imageStaff who lead and teach in the further education (FE) and skills sector play a crucial role in serving learners and employers in their communities and thereby support economic development and social mobility. This demands the ability to inspire, educate and train a diverse range of young people and adults at all levels from entry and pre-entry levels to degree and professional levels.

Continuing professional development (CPD) has been subject to significant changes to regulatory requirements involving fundamentally different relationships with government over the decades. Colleges, work-based training organisations and other education providers including prisons, young offender institutions, adult and youth education services have increasingly been faced with differing levels of governmental control.

Prior to the passing of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, CPD in the FE sector was the responsibility of Local Authorities (LAs) and of individual institutions. During the 1970s and 1980s, the Welsh Joint Education Committee (WJEC), as the coordinating body for LAs and the body responsible for course approvals, organised a range of Wales-wide curriculum networks. But there was never a coherent or clear CPD strategy that met the complex and diverse needs of the post-16 sector. CPD was characterised by a simple set of one-day, in-house, training opportunities within organisations, complemented by annual curriculum conferences intended to keep staff up-to-date on developments. These awareness raising events were undoubtedly useful for the transfer of information but hardly likely to lead to the improvement of teaching and learning, the core business of the sector.

The 1990s saw in a huge change to the governance and status of FE colleges with the transfer of responsibility from LAs to individual FE corporations. But there was little change to the CPD model. INSET days remained the custom and practice of the sector, with fforwm (now ColegauCymru) replacing the role of the WJEC as the convenor of curriculum and other networks.

In the later 1990s National Training Organisations (NTOs) were established to help employers meet their education and training needs. The NTO development represented a significant intervention in the labour market by Government and the desire to:

  • be more strategic
  • encourage commitment to training by employers of all sizes
  • establish effective partnerships and
  • ensure that resources, staffing and structures were adequate to meet the future needs of the workforce.

The Further Education National Training Organisation (FENTO), in August 1999, became the body responsible for setting standards for the FE sector in the UK and for researching workforce development plans in relation to the forecast future skills needs of the sector.
One of the key roles of FENTO was the development of occupational standards based on the roles carried out in the sector such as teaching, management and governance. These standards were used widely in the sector to:

  • guide the recruitment of staff
  • set job descriptions
  • provide a framework for staff appraisals
  • establish a basis of CPD needs
  • provide coherence for the development of nationally recognised qualifications and for quality assurance purposes.

In 2000, through fforwm, FENTO appointed a national development manager for Wales. During the period 2000-05, based on research, a number of Wales-specific documents were published including:

  • A functional analysis of the characteristics, qualifications and skills of the teaching staff in FE colleges (2002)
  • Workforce Development Plan for FE Teachers in Wales (2004)
  • Staff Development in FE Colleges and the Needs of SMEs in Wales( 2001)
  • The Identification of Training Needs and the promotion of Good Practice in Engineering Learning in Wales (2004)

In 2005, the work of FENTO ceased and responsibility for CPD in the FE sector passed to Lifelong Learning UK (LLUK), an independent Sector Skills Council (SSC) for employers in the lifelong learning sector. It was responsible for the professional development of all staff working in community learning and development, FE, higher education (HE), libraries, archives and information services, and work-based learning across the UK.
LLUK had the specific tasks of:

  • increasing the demand for and investment in skills
  • amplifying the voice of employers
  • the provision of labour market intelligence to drive workforce development activities
  • developing solutions to meet the needs of employers
  • and facilitating the sharing of best practice in performance and quality control.

LLUK led the development of New Overarching Professional Standards for Teachers, Tutors and Trainers in the Lifelong Learning Sector in Wales (2007). This was followed in 2008 by advice submitted to Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) on the next steps that would be required to reform the qualification framework for the FE teacher/trainer/tutor/assessor workforce in Wales and to guide the development of a coherent Teacher Qualification Framework (TQFW).

The 2002 Statutory Regulations in force for Wales only covered FE tutors and required the achievement of PGCE/PCET within two years of appointment. There were no qualification frameworks for work-based learning and adult community learning providers.

The TQFW proposed by LLUK was framed to cover the needs of: initial teacher training; specialist teacher training; basic/essential skills tutors; Welsh-medium/bilingual tutors; education for sustainable development and global citizenship; information learning technology; and other CPD options for the workforce. Sadly no such framework has been developed hitherto.

In April 2015, the registration of FE teachers with the Education Workforce Council (EWC) represented a watershed in Wales. This development represents an important step towards shaping the professional development for the entire education workforce in Wales.

While both FENTO and LLUK standards provided broad principles for teaching and learning practice and development, there has been comparatively little regulation as to how teachers/trainers/tutors/assessors should be professionally trained or developed.

The “New Deal” for the education workforce now presented presents a real opportunity for the creation of a coherent system of professional development for all practitioners; teachers (in schools and colleges), instructors and assessors, learning support staff and managers. This should considerably enhance the deployment and transferability of staff across sectors.

Wales has the opportunity to develop a new vision for a professional education workforce pre- and post-16. There needs to be a careful mapping of the complex and diverse workforce and clear identification of progression opportunities into leadership and management. The prize would be a coherent system of professional development encompassing all aspects of teaching, learning and management of immense benefit to the people and economy of Wales. No factor has more impact on the performance, efficiency and effectiveness of education and training organisations than the expertise of the staff. It follows, as it has ever since the 1960s, that the greatest contribution that can be made to improving quality and raising standards is through the professional development of the workforce.

Gavin Thomas

Gavin Thomas MBE began his career teaching in further and higher education and secondary schools in England and Wales. For 20 years he was an HMI and for 10 years the senior HMI for post-16 education and training in Wales. Gavin is currently a part-time consultant in education and training with ColegauCymru and other organisations and in 2012 was awarded an MBE for services to education and training in Wales.

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