Do FE lecturers need central government-defined teaching qualifications? The government appears of the view they don’t and is doing away with the requirement. Ian Pryce puts the argument for self-determination.

In the last few weeks many well-respected leaders within our sector — all of whom I admire greatly — have expressed concern at the removal of the legislative requirement that colleges use only professionally-qualified teachers.

Professional qualifications are something to be proud of; they imply a degree of autonomy from one’s immediate employer and, even more so, from government. They also imply a salary-premium, but one easily offset by the real benefits such staff bring to an organisation — professionals are expensive because they’re worth it.

When FE colleges became independent, they quickly realised the importance of professionally qualified finance staff, but it was still common to find teachers or unqualified staff managing HR or Estates.

Twenty years on and the sector enjoys highly-qualified support staff in human resources, marketing, IT and estates. Professionalism has triumphed without legislation.

Here is the golden opportunity for our excellent FE teaching staff to demonstrate their true worth

Why do we therefore fear the reverse will apply with our core purpose of teaching and learning?

Many say it will happen due to cost pressures. They think principals who support professional qualifications would have to swallow their principles in the face of funding cuts and take on cheap unqualified labour to balance the books.

Others say some employers simply don’t value professional teachers, and employ them only because of the legal requirement.

If cost was an issue then we would not have seen the rise of expensive support professionals. Is it therefore the case that teachers feel they will not be able to persuade employers that the professional premium is more than offset by their quality and productivity?

If you have the crutch of legislation you never need to make that case, employers have no choice. Indeed, if there are employers who employ qualified teachers only for legal reasons, their teachers are likely to be resented as a financial burden, and unlikely to be supported or developed.

Surely, here is the golden opportunity for our excellent FE teaching staff to demonstrate their true worth.

Let’s begin a full debate about professionalism, professional qualifications and the benefits they bring. It will raise the quality of debate about resources.

As a principal, if I saw teaching as just a commodity, I would simply procure it at the cheapest rate, there would be no place for high-cost professionally-qualified staff.

But who sees teaching as a commodity? I want professional teachers because they need less supervision, can contribute to curriculum design and strategy, get better results etc.

My own experience is that unqualified staff are a false economy even though they may be equally enthusiastic and committed.

However, I also accept there may be minor parts of some programmes of study where the additional costs are not justified.

I have always wanted teachers to own their own profession, not employers, not government.

To organise ourselves in a cost-effective way is what an independent, mature FE sector should want

Organisations that are given the precious responsibility of teaching our young people are licensed and inspected, we have freedom but high accountability.

I find it hard to see how a teaching profession owned by teachers wouldn’t be able to persuade employers of their value.

We may even conclude certain activities are best not done by expensive qualified professionals, so increasing the premium that can be extracted for professional qualifications.

Professional accountants saw their salaries in the public and private sectors rocket as they decided to focus on high value activity and allowed an equally professional, but more supervised technician-qualified class to take care of the less high value work (and the technicians do that work better, too).

Freedom to determine what professionalism means, to define professional qualifications, and to organise ourselves in a cost-effective way is what an independent, mature FE sector should want.

It is the only feasible route (despite the risks that I agree exist) to a future where professionally-qualified teachers are properly and better rewarded for delivering high value to their employers, students and communities.

Ian Pryce, principal of Bedford College