With the Education and Training Foundation (ETF) having recently launched the first new FE teaching standards in seven years, Andrew Morris looks at how they have been received and how they might best be embedded.

It is just as important to create the right conditions for teachers to learn as it is for their students — and new professional standards published by the ETF promise to give us the opportunity to achieve this.

Moreover, the standards should ensure that teachers and their institutions are very much in control of their own destiny.

The standards were launched at the LSRN workshop in London last month. The event brought together teachers, leaders, researchers, unions and the main sector bodies to consider professionalism and the new standards.

Tricia Odell from the ETF explained how the standards were developed in close consultation with the sector and by looking at the way standards operate in other professions.

Three vital areas are covered: values and attributes, knowledge and understanding and professional skills.

Small-scale studies at classroom level are crucial in adapting teaching approaches for particular learner groups and stimulating innovation

The standards are intended to set clear expectations of effective practice and enable teachers and trainers to identify areas for their own professional development as well as to inform teacher education.

The key message from expert discussion groups at the workshop was around creating the right conditions for teachers to learn.

We know that teacher professionalism is best developed through engaging with evidence in a safe and supportive environment.

As Sally Dicketts, chief executive of Activate Learning, a group of providers in Oxfordshire and Berkshire, put it: “Brain studies tell us it takes 10 years to become an expert, so we need to be kind to one another, to create good emotional environments for teachers to learn in, not fight-or-flight ones.”

Much is left open for organisations to interpret, so it is important that “the whole sector takes ownership of the standards” said John Lea, programme director for post-graduate teaching and learning at Canterbury Christ Church University.

Research evidence shows the importance of collaboration in professional development.

It’s not just an individual pursuit; communities of practice in which teachers, trainers and researchers work together to interpret public evidence and engage in systematic enquiries of their own, are proving effective.

Maggie Gregson, director of the Centre for Excellence in Teacher Training (SUNCETT) at the University of Sunderland, called for joint practice development — “an approach that takes account of existing practice and balances research evidence with local insight”.

How should providers respond to the new standards? Clear demand from all sides at the launch event was for two things.

First, people throughout the sector must be made aware of the standards and the opportunity they present for creating a sense of professional identity. Second, it is essential the profession takes ownership and control, rather than allowing other powerful forces to act on its behalf.

The workshop called for several parallel efforts to raise awareness of the standards.

A bottom-up approach through practitioner networks and organisations would have the greatest effect. For the speediest response a top-down approach via national representative bodies and leadership teams is required. For the widest take-up a sideways approach works best through peer-to-peer dialogue at the local level. All are needed.

A sector that prides itself on the rich diversity of its provision is well-placed to understand the diversity of evidence needed to support practice.

Small-scale studies at classroom level are crucial in adapting teaching approaches for particular learner groups and stimulating innovation.

Qualitative accounts that offer powerful stories and quantitative studies that provide data and track trends are both needed. So too are larger scale studies that attempt to measure effectiveness rigorously across a range of contexts.

The plea from the workshop is for an inclusive approach that galvanises the teachers and trainers, the academics, the unions and professional associations and national organisations in a combined effort to develop a self–determined professional culture in which collaboration and the use of evidence become the norm.

Let this be the rallying point for a sector that shakes off its deference to others and shapes its own concept of professional standards and use of evidence.

Andrew Morris, member of the Learning and Skills Research Network planning group and a member of the Policy Consortium