FE Guild will make no difference without a culture of shared professional identity

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.

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  1. Well said Lee Davies:

    1. The Minister appears to decide policy based on some kind of strange sentimental myopic view of how the world should work (12 month Apprenticeships = quality anyone?)
    2. “Guild”?! The ‘Hospitality Guild’ cited as the model the Minister admires so much was set up, at the cost of taxpayer £millions – has had zero impact on the small Hospitality businesses I deal with – they don’t even know it exists. I suspect it will turn into a cosy club for large multinationals who will add the logo to their collection and will be aimed at chefs and luxury hotels.
    3. Teachers and trainers don’t need to be forced into another artificial Govt-created, irrelevant institution – having to pay for it showed just how much we valued it – we didn’t. Sorry Lee, the IfL didn’t add anything to the sum of my professional existence. And we don’t need a ‘Higher Apprenticeship’ for WBL trainers – craft, commercial and business experience is 100 times more important.
    4. The fundamental weakness of the current Apprenticeship programme is it was created by an unholy alliance of politicans, civil servants and educationalists…..”turn around the culture of mangerialism and state influence over teaching and learning ”

    couldn’t have put it better myself

  2. Lee Davies

    If college ‘leaders’ wanted to show any sense of leadership, they would speak out individually and collectively against another deconstruction and reconstruction by government, moving the furniture around when the foundations are crumbling and need underpinning. But they won’t. It is why I believe the term leadership is over-applied in FE. ‘Leading’ an organisation is one thing, but demonstrating real leadership by challenging pointless policy-making such as this is something of a much higher order and it would be good to see some real leadership right now.

    Left to its own devices, the IfL was and would have made a difference to the professional identity of teachers, respecting entirely your opinion that it didn’t for you Trudi. Sadly I was confronted by much the same mad policy making at every turn, leading to almost unworkable regulations, a disconnect between policy and the intent to make policy work and the failure to recognise (despite warnings) the consequences of policy (such as HE fees) on further education in areas such as teacher education. You’ll not believe the amount of times I found myself discussing critical policy issues, but being the only person in the room to have ever taught a vocational subject.

    This could be a great opportunity for IfL if, and I accept it is a big if, teachers want a professional body based on the real nature of individual professional identity, free from the intervention of the state. Regulation was the best thing to happen to IfL (it brought members on mass) and the worst thing to happen (it made regulation not professional representation and community the IfL’s perceived main purpose). The reality is that regulation is a force for good in a profession, ask those who have seen the regulatory role separated from the profession into stand-alone regulatory bodies. But for regulation to work you need first a shared sense of professional identity and, despite having come far, we are still a long way from having this in FE and may struggle to get there all the time it suits government, employers and unions for teachers to be seen as a workforce and not individual professionals.

    • Brian Butler

      Some of your thoughts I agree with. We do need regulation if we are to live by standards. However, the major problem appears to be that ‘government’, not those who really know about education and training, are the people setting the standards. We all know that Ofsted has been given its targets so we do need an independent organisation to help fight for the ‘reality’of what is happening in education today.
      A thought I often have is that targets are in conflict with standards. If government really wanted to raise standards in education it should should leave those who understand and believe in education to take the lead and not subject education to a political agenda.

  3. I accept, and agree, with every word you have just written.

    There is a problem with the “shared sense of professional identity” because I’m not sure that the FE Sector is yet willing to accept anyone who doesn’t look, act and walk like a College lecturer. Evidence of this is the resistance to employing people without PGCEs to run in-house courses.

    I, personally, baulk at being called a teacher – I’m not – I’m a trainer, a mentor and a coach. “Teaching” happens in classrooms on masse – that is not what I do. The skills required for each have some cross over but also have quite distinct skill sets, and those differences should be respected.

    Wherever this attitude came from it needs to be axed. The FE Sector will not survive in it’s current configuration. It has GOT to become more business-focussed, more industry-relevant and it has got to step into the breach between school and work. And one of the many sacrificial cows that will have to be slaughtered is the belief that you have to be a qualified teacher to be able to pass on knowledge effectively. Those qualifications have simply become a means for the vested interests to retain their closed shop and for the Govt to enforce their barking mad policies via contractual obligations supporting those vested interests.

  4. Lee Davies

    Hi Trudi – no time to reply now, other than briefly. I am a teacher – I have taught in classrooms, workshops, building sites, online, offline, one-to-one, one-to-many, on my own, as part of a team, under a swimming pool, in a pumping station – where I do it doesn’t define me and I’m really past the debates of teacher/trainer/lecturer/instructor/etc that have polluted FE for far too long. I am also of the unswayable opinion that that qualification (whatever that might look like) is important, but is only part of the story when it comes to professional identity. I never baulk at being called a trainer, coach, instructor or whatever a learner needs me to be to help them learn …..

  5. Lee Davies

    Preamble: I use the word ‘teacher’ as a global term for teachers, trainers, instructors, facilitators, coaches, etc. I really can’t be doing with false debates about the difference between teaching and training. They bored me in the 80s and they bore me now. It’s not surprising that society and (within society) government fails to recognise that there is anything professional about FE teaching when we spend big chunks of time arguing that we are not teachers. I do agree, however, that teaching takes many forms and that traditional Cert Ed and PGCE programmes fail those who are not cast in the historic ‘lecturer’ mould. It’s why we dismantled the qualifications framework in 2007 and brought all HE and Awarding Body qualifications under one umbrella, meaning the HE route was not the only way to full professional status.

    Let’s start with the myth that a college would not employ anyone without a PGCE. Nothing could be further from the truth. The vast majority of colleges and training provides recruit direct from business and industry, it has ever been thus. If you want someone to teach engineering, first and foremost you need a brilliant engineer. It was why we rejected absolutely the daft proposal in the run up to the 2007 regulations that a teaching qualification be a prerequisite for employment; that would have hamstrung the sector. It is also a fact that the majority of new teachers could not get a PGCE; they are not ‘graduates’ in the HE sense and universities need to move a long way before they will accept vocational qualifications and industry expertise alongside graduate entry.

    If you look at the IfL’s framework of equivalent qualifications you’ll see that pretty much every qualification you could take, however you came to work in the sector, is mapped to the professional standards. Here is a big problem if you take both standards and qualifications and make them the preserve of an ‘FE Guild’. It is quite clear that this government only really recognises colleges, hence the ‘Chartered Community College’ initiative. Such a guild would be driven by the larger FE colleges (think 157 at its core) and all of the work on professional standards and recognising the different routes taken to full professional status would be lost. That said it seems this ‘guild’ will work on the basis that qualification is not necessary, which is something of an oxymoron given why most professional bodies and institutes exist.

  6. I can give you examples of Colleges that, today, will only pay someone £6 an hour to deliver a Level 5 equivalent programme if they don’t have a PGCE! I have teaching qualifications but I only took ones that I knew were relevant – and no more.

    It’s irrelevant what bores you Lee – if the system is still stuck in the past………”traditional Cert Ed and PGCE programmes fail those who are not cast in the historic ‘lecturer’ mould” …..then the system needs a kicking.

    I can’t see what difference the change in name will make to any College I know – the problems are far far deeper than that. They include the merry go round of shifting inept Directors recruited from one College to another, the interim management industry only recruiting their own, ex-FE College colleagues, an inability to attract quality, fresh thinking individuals into the sector and College Principles either looking like rabbits in the headlights or scrabbling around for a dignified enough ejection from their jobs.

    Until the sea change in thinking starts to impact on every single College in the UK, throughout every single department, then the FE College will remain a weak, vulnerable whipping boy at the mercy of every Minister passing through on their career trajectory.

  7. Brian Butler

    Both Trudi and Lee make very important points but appear, based on what they have written, to be too close to their own perspectives. From my perspective it appears that a) the education reform acts have given too much political control over our educational system and b)society, in general, does not appear to value education/training.
    We (those engaged in education and training) are all, I hope, professional educators/trainers or whatever we are called. We seek to help people learn. This is why we are who we are. Our fight, I believe, is with those who do not value what we try to do but have their own agenda. We do need to work together to try to achieve what we hope is best for the next and future generations.