ETF pledges whole-sector movement to professionalise FE staff

A new strategy from the FE improvement body commits to better serve independent and adult learning organisations

A new strategy from the FE improvement body commits to better serve independent and adult learning organisations


The Education and Training Foundation (ETF) has pledged to better service independent and adult training organisations, as part of a new strategy.

The sector body also wants to boost its commercial and philanthropic income amid declining contracts from the Department for Education and work more closely with chartered bodies to award professional status to FE teachers.

“We recognised that we have struggled in the past to service the entire [FE and skills] sector well. But we are committed in this strategy to working across the sector and are clear that we need to adapt our language, programmes and thought leadership activity to facilitate this,” ETF chief executive Katerina Kolyva told FE Week.

The strategy, called Together We Transform, commits ETF to four overall goals: to drive professionalism, improve teaching and learning, champion inclusion, and enable sector change.

The strategy was launched on Monday with a video and a series of case studies on the ETF’s website but without a detailed official document.

Its headline aim, “to support everyone working in the sector by championing the vital role of educators and leaders in transforming the lives of learners aged 14 and over,” might already sound familiar to the sector.

“The core purpose of ETF as a charity has not changed. What is changing is the approach we are taking in engaging with all parts of the sector, ensuring we enable sector change while being inclusive,” Kolyva said.

The organisation’s relaunch comes after a turbulent few years involving a multi-million DfE clawback from its T Level professional development contract and declining income from government contracts.

It was first launched and funded by the then Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in 2013 but is co-owned by sector representative bodies the Association of Colleges (AoC), Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), and adult education network HOLEX.

In 2018, AELP ditched its ownership claiming ETF was not doing enough to support staff involved in delivering apprenticeships. AELP rejoined as co-owners in January. 

Starting a movement

Poor teacher recruitment and retention is weighing heavily on the FE and skills sector, with the FE Commissioner and Ofsted both recently saying the issue is causing some courses to close and damage the quality of others.

The 2019 Augar review of post-18 education and training called for a “greatly enlarged and professionalised FE workforce.” But while much of the attention since has been on attracting skilled industry professionals into teaching roles, ETF is making plans for those already working in the sector. 

Kolyva wants her new strategy to trigger a debate about professionalism in the sector, but is clear she doesn’t want to see a return to the past where teacher registration and CPD were regulated by law.

“I want this to be a movement that the entire sector talks about”

“What we are saying in the strategy is that being a professional is about being clear about a set of professional standards that the profession sets for itself. It’s not for us at ETF to dictate this, but to facilitate and encourage a debate around professionalism,” she said.

“I want this to be a movement. I want this to be a movement that the entire sector talks about.”

It’s been ten years since professionalising the FE workforce was last seriously put under the microscope. An independent review by Lord Lingfield, who now chairs the Chartered Institution for Further Education (CIFE), first proposed an “FE Guild” to lead on professionalism in the sector. The body was established and eventually became ETF

Around that time, the coalition government removed regulations requiring FE teachers to complete a set number of hours of CPD and join a compulsory professional body, the Institute for Learning. 

IfL eventually folded following major controversy over its membership fees. Its functions transferred to what is now the ETF’s Society for Education and Training (SET).

Kolyva wants to avoid a repeat of the “transactional” approach to professionalism.

“I recognise that perhaps in the past we may have gone down that transactional route, which hasn’t helped us. I want to flip that. I don’t want to call it membership. You don’t just pay a fee to get services. It’s not transactional in that way. It’s about ownership of your professional standards.

“I want people to be queuing up to be part of this professionalism journey with us rather than being forced to come to the party if you see what I mean. I want people to say, ‘I am part of this and this is how I have progressed as a result’.”

ETF already holds professional standards for teaching staff and leaders in the sector. Kolyva, who joined ETF in February, said she has heard “different ways” about how they’ve been used in colleges, “from building strategies and values to using the standards in appraisals and job descriptions”.

The new strategy commits ETF to “develop and enhance” those standards alongside a new CPD framework and new practitioner networks across the wider sector.

Kolyva said: “ITPs love it because they feel it’s what’s going to drive a community, to have something in common. I think this is something across adult, charity and local authority organisations. So we have to start rallying for that movement of professionalism.”

The sell

Kolyva admits her new strategy will require ETF to change “a lot,” helped by receiving less money from the government.

“There may be a shift in the type of CPD we focus on, but it will be sector-led and evidence-based. I would expect this shift to be about government continuing to support, but perhaps not fully.

“We expect our income to be more diversified including government funding but also through commercial and philanthropic activity.”

ETF’s “behaviour needs to change” too. Rather than telling the sector what it needs, Kolyva wants her organisation to “be very humble and very facilitative” with “a lot more engagement with the sector.”

According to the body, they have already begun talking to representative bodies in the ITP and adult learning sector to develop specific engagement action plans to improve its offer and take-up.

“It will be for those colleagues working in ITPs and adult education that ultimately will judge whether we deliver for them, and I am committed to working with them directly.”

One idea is to use other professional bodies to grant status to FE teaching and training professionals. 

Currently, teachers who achieve advanced teacher status (ATS) through ETF automatically also receive chartered teacher status from the Chartered College of Teaching.

“We will be developing communities of practice on a thematic basis. So, once you get to a point of excellence, we’ll collaborate with other bodies and the chartered organisations to support that. We can work a lot more towards that collaborative model in the future.”

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