Last year it was my great pleasure to be invited to the celebratory dinner held during WorldSkills; in my role as President of the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering, I was dressed in my finest presidential regalia. There were many professional bodies and institutes represented, each having its own rich history of supporting craft, vocational and professional learning. Our jaws dropped during a speech given by John Hayes when he announced that all the ills currently plaguing the economy could be fixed if he, yes he, introduced ‘guilds’, like we had back in the day.
Back in the day? Did we no longer exist? Were we all wasting our time? Many of us shook our heads with incredulity as he announced the areas benefiting from this great vision. FE Week has a wide readership, so I couldn’t possibly repeat the various responses to the terms ‘construction’ and ‘engineering’ from the six or so professional bodies on my table, all representing different aspects of the construction and engineering industries. We wrote to the Minister offering to meet with him and help shape his vision and offer a picture of what we had been doing for the last few centuries. He never replied.
Yesterday FE Week carried a story of a leaked ministerial report suggesting that all of the ills plaguing further education could be addressed through the introduction of a ‘guild’. Sound familiar? So here we go; having suffered the progressive dismantling of the professionalism agenda since the coalition came to power, we are to have a new guild charged with standard setting, qualifications, continuing professional development, etc. Membership, both individual and institutional, will be voluntary, except you will only be able to draw down funding related to ‘Chartered Community College’ status if you are in membership.
I am sure we will hear the usual players say what a wonderful idea this is and how they will help the Minister realise his vision. They did it before, with Equipping our Teachers for the Future. Until government (this one) withdrew financial support for professionalism in the form of subsidised IfL subscriptions, then they revolted. This time, however, it plays more to the employer perspective than that of the individual professional. So teachers and trainers go back to being part of a workforce where the status of the institution (Chartered Community College) matters more than the professional standing of individual teachers.
How much will this cost? Almost certainly more than the saving made by government when it pulled back from funding IfL membership. What difference will it make? Almost certainly none. You can not recreate the tradition and history of guilds and professional institutes through a policy such as this with its related funding strings. Guilds and institutes exist where there is a culture of shared professional identity and broad agreement on what professionalism looks like, this includes the need for professionals to be appropriately qualified and the will of employers to support this.
This is where the advances made since regulation first appeared in 2001 started to crumble; when the financial burden moved from the state to the individual; when unions cried this was unfair and that employers should pay; when employers said they saw no value in a professional institute if they had to fund it. Impasse. Lingfield Review. A review which addressed the mechanics of regulation but not the culture of professionalism. And here lies the problem. Until we turn around the culture of mangerialism and state influence over teaching and learning and foster instead a culture of shared professional identity and trust in the professionalism of teachers and trainers it simply doesn’t matter if we have a guild, institute, professional body or improvement service ….. as we don’t have a profession.
Lee Davies was formerly the Deputy Chief Executive of the Institute for Learning and is the Immediate Past President of the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering.