The Annual Conference of the Association Colleges is a highlight for many of us in the FE sector. Debate and discussion on the big issues of the day, high profile keynote speakers, showcases of the very best in teaching and learning and, of course, silently judging exhibitors based on the quality of their freebies.

Ministerial speeches always provoke a reaction, and this year the speech by FE Minister John Hayes was true to form, offering us a round-up of progress made and of progress still to be made, in a fashion we’ve all come to know and expect.

He told us that FE is no longer the neglected middle child of education, that the sector is getting the freedoms it needs and that he wants “to abolish as much uncertainty for FE as I can.”

For me, the brilliance of FE lies in its adaptability, its flexibility, its ability to embrace change and respond to the challenge of the new.

When it comes to teaching and learning it is the unknowns of what the future holds that leads to curriculum innovation and vibrant provision meeting the needs of business and industry.

I suspect it is answers to the big questions that FE wants and this was true this week when the Institute for Learning questioned the Government’s direction on FE Initial Teacher Training.

I see one of our key responsibilities as a professional body as ensuring that future generations of learners benefit from highly qualified and dedicated teaching professionals.

To achieve this we must be able to attract and retain the very best professionals from industry and support them properly to become dual professionals; vocational experts and teaching experts.

This is something IfL is passionate about which is why we raised these issues in such detail through our responses to government consultations and directly with Ministers.

When it comes to teaching and learning it is the unknowns of what the future holds that leads to curriculum innovation and vibrant provision meeting the needs of business and industry.”

It was reassuring, therefore, that John Hayes announced in his speech at AoC Conference that this would be addressed by government through the introduction of new bursaries for new teachers and trainers undertaking teacher training.

“To ensure that our teachers are the best in the world and have access to HE I can announce today that we will introduce a bursary for initial teacher training” John Hayes MP, AoC Conference, November 15, 2011.

The Minister reinforced his vision in a series of interviews and his post-speech press conference, where he talked about how he wanted the system to be similar to the system for trainee school teachers because the status quo disadvantages FE in a way that “wouldn’t be compatible with the priority and status we are affording it.” The announcement was also welcomed strongly by Martin Doel, Chief Executive at the AoC.

As always, the devil will of course be in the detail and we will be hoping for equal support for those following the non-academic route in to teacher training – those from engineering, construction, hospitality, care, etc, who have taken vocational pathways – as well as graduates taking an academic route.

John Hayes has set out the challenge and IfL looks forward to working with the sector and the Department to ensure the new ITT bursaries featuring strongly in government’s new skills strategy ‘new challenges new chances’ due to be published shortly.

After six-and-a-half years at IfL, Lee Davies will be leaving in February 2012 to take on his new post as chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys. He began his 23-year career in further education as a part-time plumbing lecturer at Highbury College Portsmouth, and will continue to be an IfL Fellow.