Education Workforce Council

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Dr Greg Walker - A Fresh Start for Professionalism in The Post-16 Education Workforce

GWalker article imageThe inception of the Education Workforce Council offers teaching and teaching support staff in the post-16 education sector a genuine opportunity to enhance their professional role and status.

ColegauCymru – the representative body for FE colleges and institutions in Wales – welcomes the birth of the EWC. It has long advocated for a body with the key functions of the new Council.

ColegauCymru has worked constructively over the years with the Welsh Government and the former General Teaching Council for Wales to ensure that the legislation required to establish the EWC was fit for purpose. We have also worked intensively with officers now employed by the Council over the past year to help ensure that the registration processes worked well for college staff.

I am delighted to see that a number of Council members of the EWC have extensive experience of the post-16 learning and skills sector. This is good sign, indicating that the EWC is a genuinely new body with a fresh mission which spans the pre- and post-16 education and skills sectors.

The first aim of the Council is to help “improve the standards of teaching and the quality of learning in Wales”. With a ‘New Deal’ for post-16 teachers and learning support assistants being trailed by the Welsh Government, the Education Workforce Council has arrived at just the right time.

There’s a great deal of change afoot.

In November 2012, the Welsh Government published a Review of Qualifications for 14-19 year olds in Wales. This has led to the establishment of a new regulatory body, Qualifications Wales; the Welsh Baccalaureate Qualification is being revised; the differences in the levels of vocational qualifications are to be made more clear in order that they are better understood; and there are new requirements on schools and colleges to focus on developing rounded individuals, rather than simply delivering individual qualifications. Then in February 2015, the Donaldson Review of Curriculum and Assessment Arrangements in Wales was published. The outcomes of this Review are also likely to have implications for post-16 teachers and trainers.

ColegauCymru is pleased that work is commencing on a set of common overarching principles for new professional standards for post-16 teaching staff ColegauCymru is looking forward to contributing to this work and hopes that an updated, relevant set of professional standards for post-16 teachers and trainers will be ready in the next year.
The professional development of teachers, lecturers and learning support staff will be aided by a fresh set of professional standards. These standards will also provide a basis for a Teaching Qualifications Framework for teacher education at the post-16 level: an overdue development.

Contrary to what is sometimes believed, college lecturers are generally qualified or are on a clear pathway to a formal teaching qualification. This matter is rightly subject to legal regulation - and has been for many years. The flexibility to appoint new teaching staff with relevant experience and expertise in technical and vocational areas, while fast-tracking them to an appropriate teaching qualification is crucial to ensuring that colleges can deliver vocational programmes effectively.

Vocational teaching and learning has its own distinctive style. There is some exciting new work that is being explored in Wales and the UK about the importance of a distinctive vocational pedagogy. But vocational and technical education is still viewed by too many people as not being the ‘first choice’ for learners in Wales. This perception needs to be addressed urgently as it distorts the learning pathways and life chances of those learners who may benefit from (earlier) exposure to vocational study and progression. This is a societal issue as much as an educational one, but it is not any less urgent or important because of that.

Post-16 teachers and trainers are professionals who are experienced in general teaching and learning methods and who also have vocational competencies and skills to pass on to their students. Colleges in Wales provide over 80% of funded vocational and technical education in Wales and are also major providers of work-based learning. Colleagues in these areas have job titles that reflect their role – often as ‘instructors’ or ‘demonstrators’. All of these staff members play a crucial role in ensuring students get maximum benefit from the learning experience. Bilingual teaching and learning is also a distinctive feature in colleges.

Our teachers and instructors also work in a sector that delivers both vocational education and academic programmes to a consistently high standard. In some areas of Wales, colleges are the key deliverers of general education (e.g. A-levels), and this role has significantly increased in recent years with new localities choosing to adopt this beneficial approach. The strength of college provision for the more able and talented has rightly been recognised in Paul Murphy’s Oxbridge Ambassador’s report (2014) and this strength is also clear from the exam results that are published each summer.

The Western Mail’s education correspondent, Gareth Evans, in his recent commentary on education in Wales A class apart... wrote that while the college sector “attracts fewer headlines, and its achievements often go unnoticed, this is testament to its success and the high esteem in which it is held”. The credit for this goes to the professionals currently working in colleges.

The FE sector looks forward to working closely with the Education Workforce Council to make the delivery of its mission a success for Wales’s teachers and learners. I hope that the good start that the Council has already made is maintained and that we look back on 2015 as a watershed year for the professional status of colleagues working in colleges in Wales.

Dr Greg Walker

Greg Walker was appointed Deputy Chief Executive of ColegauCymru in 2012 and assumed the role of Chief Executive in summer 2014.

Before then, he was Deputy Director of Higher Education Wales (now Universities Wales), which is part of Universities UK. At the turn of the millennium, he helped the Royal College of Nursing establish its successful Political Leadership Programme for nurses in Wales and prior to that he worked within the Welsh Government for a Home Office agency on youth justice matters. He currently serves as a member of the governing Council of the Open University. Raised in South Wales, Greg was educated in Caerphilly and Cardiff, and was awarded a doctorate in 2012.