Government legislation is doing away with the requirement that FE lecturers need centrally-defined teaching qualifications. Dr Matt O’Leary makes the case against the move.

Ian Pryce, principal of Bedford College, has argued that the de-regulation of teacher qualifications should be seen as a positive step in the development of teacher professionalism and a ‘golden opportunity for FE teaching staff to demonstrate their true worth’. I would like to respond to some of his claims and in so doing offer an alternative perspective.

Mr Pryce’s position is largely based on a laissez-faire philosophy, which believes that by opening teacher professionalism — and qualifications — up to the free market, things will take care of themselves and the ‘market’ will naturally ensure high levels of professionalism.

The fact that he thinks the removal of statutory qualifications is likely to have a positive impact on the quality of teaching and learning suggests a lack of understanding of the symbiotic relationship between teacher education and classroom practice.

He talks about wanting ‘professional teachers because they need less supervision’, but fails to recognise that a key platform to the creation of ‘professional teachers’ comes from them having undertaken a teacher education programme in the first place.

Every FE teacher would no doubt welcome the freedom to determine what it means to be a professional”

In a 2012 survey by the Institute for Learning of more than 5,000 members, 90 per cent of respondents emphasised the need to retain a minimum qualification requirement, arguing that it added to the status and standing of the profession, and to the status and standing of vocational, adult and further education overall.

It is quite ironic then that at a time when vocational pedagogy is at the forefront of the FE agenda nationally, and with it the importance of teacher education in shaping excellent vocational tutors, there are voices such as those of Mr Pryce calling into question this agenda and with it the progress made over the last decade in raising the professional profile and status of the profession.

One of the most perplexing statements he makes is: ‘I find it hard to see how a teaching profession owned by teachers wouldn’t be able to persuade employers of their value’.

It’s difficult to decide what is most perplexing about this statement. Is it the assertion that de-regulation is somehow tantamount to giving teachers more ownership of their profession, or the assumption that teachers actually operate in a bubble of professional autonomy?

Whichever of the two, this comment is either incredibly naïve or so far removed from reality that it suggests a lack of awareness of what it means to be a teacher in FE in 2013.

Mr Pryce goes on to say that ‘freedom to determine what professionalism means … is what an independent, mature FE sector should want’.

Every FE teacher would no doubt welcome the freedom to determine what it means to be a professional, but surely this is dependent on a reduction of some of the systemic constraints that currently limit their ability to express such ‘freedom’.

Contrary to what he would have us believe, it is not teacher qualifications that should be seen as a constraint, but performance management systems that require FE teachers to spend so much of their time manipulating and managing data than the very job they entered the profession to do.

Mr Pryce’s free-market vision will do little to help a sector that craves greater stability to continue to attract the very best teachers.

The move to de-regulation and leaving FE teacher qualifications to the whim of market forces is only likely to result in an increase in the transitory nature and casualization of the workforce, ultimately resulting in the continuation of this perpetual cycle of uncertainty and instability, which, let’s face it, is no good for teachers, learners or employers.