Toni Fazaeli, CEO, Institute for Learning

Friday has become Toni Fazaeli’s least favourite day of the week. Before boarding the train into London – where she commutes to the office from Leicester each day – she buys a strong coffee to help “brace herself” for opening the trade industry paper, the TES. It has been a bumpy few years for the […]

Friday has become Toni Fazaeli’s least favourite day of the week. Before boarding the train into London – where she commutes to the office from Leicester each day – she buys a strong coffee to help “brace herself” for opening the trade industry paper, the TES.

It has been a bumpy few years for the Institute for Learning, which has attracted a lot of press and social media coverage – and not all of it accurate – claims Fazaeli.

“Personally, it is tough,” she says. “There’s a sense of injustice when comments aren’t accurate and might be influencing others, but my belief is that there will always be a reason why people are angry and we respect that right to freedom of speech.”

It all started back in 2009, when the professional body for FE lecturers heard it was to likely lose its government subsidy, totalling around £5m a year.  As chief executive of the troubled organisation, Fazaeli had to take the difficult decision to set annual fees from £30 to £68 for 18 months.

This angered some members, who felt it was unfair to be asked to pay higher fees for an organisation with compulsory membership, particularly when school teachers were only paying £33 a year to belong to the General Teaching Council (which later became a casualty of the Coalition government’s quango bonfire).

Members also pointed out that many FE lecturers (many of whom also practise another skill, trade or profession) work on an occasional or part-time basis. Why should a practising plumber teaching a day a week at the local college or a dancer, teaching just a few classes in adult education, have to stump up the annual fee, they argued.

There is no reason for a member of the public or anyone else to insult colleagues in a personal way, individuals who are just doing their job.”

Since then, there have been boycotts and wrangles with unions to contend with. After the department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) stepped in last month and agreed to provide transitional funding for two years (funds were cut off as part of the last government’s Skills for Growth strategy, with the aim of the Ifl becoming self-funding in three years) an agreement was reached with trade unions, the Association of Colleges and employers.It stipulated that those who had already paid their £68 would get two years’ membership. Additionally, there would be an annual fee of £38 for everyone else and reduced fee levels for those earning £16,000 or less. But in a ballot held last month, UCU members voted overwhelmingly to reject the proposals.

Fazaeli’s 33-year career in the FE sector includes teaching in prisons, colleges and adult education, college inspection – and 4 years as a senior civil servant at BIS (then known as DIUS). Her move to Ifl in June 2008, was motivated by a desire to “start working more closely with teachers again,” she says. But she readily admits that this is her toughest career challenge to date.

“You develop the skin of a rhinocerous. Questions, criticism about the organisation, the service we offer to members, ideas and suggestions on what we can do better…that’s all legitimate and proper and we want to hear these.”

But not all of the feedback has been constructive, she says and what has really hurt has been the personal attacks on herself and colleagues on website, blogs and other forms of social media.

Fazaeli is characteristically careful and measured, with a tendency to lapse into jargon and management speak, but on this issue she is impassioned.

She recalls a cartoon of a naked body, with her head stuck on top that was posted on the internet and there have been hurtful nicknames, too, like ‘Toni Fazbelly.’

  “My name is Iranian, so playing light with that name sounds a bit different, inappropriate,” she says, angrily. “In the same way that people who work in public services – in hospitals or on trains or tubes – should be treated with respect, so should staff working for Ifl. There is no reason for a member of the public or anyone else to insult colleagues in a personal way, individuals who are just doing their job.”

What has kept her going during the last year or so is her unfailing passion for teaching. “I love the difference that teaching can make to young people and adults. I see it week in, week out with our members. Those small kindnesses, the positive words from teachers about the difference we are making can really give me the strength to carry on.”

Fazaeli identifies strongly with learners, because she knows what a struggle getting educated can be. After ‘A’ levels and a year out in Amsterdam, she started a degree in English and Sociology at Kent University, but left a year into the course, after falling pregnant unexpectedly, she ended up starting again at Leicester University, and while her eldest daughter was small she combined part-time study with teaching in a prison and waiting on tables in a restaurant in the evenings. “My experience mirrors the challenges facing many in the sector, many of whom have financial pressures and are having to juggle other jobs,” she says.

But when – as Fazaeli herself has pointed out on numerous occasions – other professions like nursing or midwifery have to pay hundreds of pounds per year out of their own pocket for membership of their professional bodies, why are lecturers so cheesed off about having to pay £68?

For some, it may simply be about principles. Because the fees have indirectly been paid by the government in the past, some members feel strongly that they shouldn’t have to foot the bill.

Timing also has a part to play, says Fazaeli who is keen to point out that “some, not all members” are upset about the hike in fees. With many in the public sector already concerned about budget cuts, pay freezes and pension changes – on top of the recent increase in VAT and rising cost of living – this may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. “I felt to an extent that it (the rise if Ifl fees) was a bit of a lightning rod, attracting frustration and anger about much bigger things that are happening.”

What also needs bearing in mind, she says, is that the Ifl is a relatively young organisation. “As a professional body it is quite new, compared with say the Law Society, which has centuries behind it, or the Royal Society of Midwives, which has decades. But in this sector, we have people who have only been members of a professional body for three years or so – so there is also the getting used to it (Ifl) being part of the fabric of the sector.”

As a result, some people – even its own members – can be unaware of the breadth of support the Ifl offers. And one of the most powerful aspects of the organisation’s role is influencing policy, says Fazaeli. The views of Ifl members contributed to the government’s agreement – following the recent Wolf review of further education – to introduce legislation that puts QTLS (the professional teacher status for FE lecturers that the ifl confers) on an equal footing with PGCEs and other qualifications held by school teachers. This means FE lecturers with QTLS should soon be able to teach in schools – something they have hankered after for years.

Fazaeli admits she has made mistakes during her time at Ifl, the biggest being not to offer professional development services and training directly to its members. But over the coming months, she is keen to develop some of the support services the organisation offers its members, particularly the thriving online communities for teachers in different subject areas. The Ifl has also asked the government to carry out an independent enquiry into what makes quality teaching and learning in vocational subject areas – an area that very little is known about at the moment. She is keen to point out that it is “some, not all” of members that are unhappy about the changes at Ifl, pointing out that of the 140,000 members estimated for the coming year, 54,000 have already renewed their subscriptions (the renewal deadline is 3 weeks away).

If she could achieve just one thing during her time at Ifl, it would be to see the first FE lecturer with QTLS get a job at a school. “When that finally happens, it will be of such great personal and professional satisfaction – a real day of celebration.”


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  1. Unbelievable nonsense. In my county, physical assaults on teachers have doubled in two years – to my knowledge none of those assualted have felt the need to bleat “poor old me” to a local or national publication. On a 130k a year ‘shoe-in’, leading a totally inept ‘professional’ body Toni should expect a certain amount of flak. The profession is outraged by the IfL’s lack of professionalism. She has totally misrepresented the image in question which was a play on the Emporer’s New Clothes, not a personal attack – a comment on the lack of substance in the IfL. If she finds criticism hurtful she should reflect on her and her colleagues failings and how their arrogant approach to members caused this; not blame the critics. From the outset the IfL has served its leadership rather than its members. Even people on the advisory council have no faith in the leadership and are angry that they are not listened to.

    Does she really think that “success” is one FE lecturer teaching in a school? What a waste of millions of pounds of taxpayers money and members fees. Perhaps the bar should be set a little bit higher? Our cleaners do more for FE and they get minimum wage.

  2. Smile_today

    The IFL is a complete waste of space. I have worked in FE for ten years and I have never met anyone who wants to be a member of the IFL. The IFL ignores emails and ignores criticism. Saying something critical about the IFL can actually get you into trouble as you will have breached their rules. The IFL has totally withdrawn from discussion in online forums, presumably because it has lost all of the arguments. The IFL charges a fortune in fees and offers nothing in the way of tangible benefits. There is nothing that the IFL does that affects what happens in my classroom. If Toni wants to work more closely with teachers she should resign immediately and try to get a job lecturing. Mind you, she will only earn about 30k rather than £130,000. Shame.

  3. John D'Purbrook

    An outrageously obvious damage limitation PR stunt from a normally arrogant and reclusive dictator. I can just imagine the interview:

    Is there anything you can tell them about what a hard life you lead Toni? – My life is far from hard; extremely easy actually. Although it is difficult sometimes having to open the paper on a Friday I suppose. Much less difficult opening my pay check every month though – £10,833 – makes it all worthwhile!

    Is there anything I can tell them about you to get their sympathy – Well I fell pregnant at age seventeen. I suppose that might strike a note with a lot of FE learners.

    Can we tell them how this whole affair started – Well yes, it all started after the government stopped giving us £30 a head, that’s £6,000,000 a year you know.

    So how did you handle that – I decided to put the fees up to £68, haven’t the foggiest why they caused such a fuss over it, such a piffling amount. It was such a distraction. My ex-colleagues from BIS were dragged into it as well as everyone else and we even included a special offer, for a limited period only, as a teaser but they still refused to cough up.

    And how do you deal with the criticisms – Like a rhinocerous. Being thick skinned I ignored them, they all bounced off.

    You’re not going to get away with saying that Toni. Can’t you hit back at them with some justification for your own actions to answer the criticisms – Justify, what does that mean?

    OK, how about the feminist card or the race card then, surely out of all the criticisms you’ve had, some of them must have been way over the top – No, not way over the top really and like I said I’m thick skinned….. but if you’re really pushing me I do recall they did do a lampoon about IFL as The Emperor With No Clothes, something like that, and they put my head on his body. I suppose I could leave the context out and just mention the head and the naked body, that’ll sound sexist won’t it? And they did call me silly names. I suppose I could make that out to be racist. Even though my name sounds Italian, it’s Iranian. Yes let’s have a couple of paragraphs on racism, that’ll scare them off!

    Can you say something about you passion for the teaching profession – Will one paragraph do?

    What benefits do you give members – Cheap fees and QTLS in schools, even though it will only create 175 full time jobs and only applies to those willing to teach age groups 11 to 16 in four GCSE subjects: Engineering, Health & Social Care, Leisure & Tourism and Construction. That’s about it really. We can’t tell them that’s all we offer though, but we could tell them that they are ‘unaware of the breadth of support the Ifl offers’, some of them might swallow that.

    Thanks Toni, I’ll get that written up and get back to you.

    Glad it was OK. I’m off back to my bunker now. Anyone seen my beautiful cloak? Oh I forgot, only those worthy enough can see it. There it is; I’ll put it on. Do you like it?

  4. Jonathan Russell

    Fazaeli now bleats about the UCU boycott, saying 68,000 IfL members had renewed by Monday 25 July 2011. What she SIGNALLY FAILS TO MENTION, sorry for shouting, is that only a few months ago the IfL’s estimate for membership was 208,000. She seems to have mislaid 140,000 members….

    How strange.

    The IfL cabal should go and get proper jobs, where they would find their preening self-regard gets short shrift in the real world.

    Jonathan Russell
    Deliberately lapsed member.

  5. Rosemary Williams

    The thousands and thousands of lost members were apparently ‘associate’ teachers and teachers working very few hours, who didn’t need to be in IfL in the first place, but were dragooned into it, like the rest of us, by the threat of losing what work they had if they didn’t obey. Pity IfL didn’t remember that when it was scooping up £ 30 of taxpayers’ money for each and every one of them every year. I’m no mathematicina, but say the ‘missing’ members number 60,000 (a conservative estimate), and say IfL collected on them for 2008, 2009 and 2010, I reckon that makes £ 5,400,000 in taxpeyers’ money that the IfL collected unduly. Isn’t it time it was paid back, plus interest at statutory, or possibly a penal, rate?

    • Mihail Vlasiu

      I find Toni’s story tragic. She should go straight to her bunker because once again her comments made me angry. I had enough of the IFL’S threats and Toni’s deluded and false comments. Ifl should be abolished and she should step down and live like I do on £7000,oo a year. I would very much like to see that happen to her
      Toni please step down, we will not pay!There are no benefits in being an IFL member, It’s all a pack of lies carefully disguised to make Toni and her team a lot of money

  6. As another “lapsed member” I totally support all the comments written here. Toni if your company “is for your members” where was my response to the personal letter I sent to you detailing my concerns over exactly why it was that I should belong to your organisation?? Ah that’s right you never sent me one along with many other members that sent something similar.
    Why should I belong to an organisation that doesn’t listen to it’s members, provides absolutely no benefits that I require whatsoever, keeps hyping on about QTLS which I have absolutely no need for whatsoever and whom I have not heard one positive word said about within the college I work for.
    If you are so “fabulous and worthwhile” why not make your membership and it’s benefits optional but allow all teachers to “register” with you for free? That way surely you will still keep all your really happy members that are willing to pay £38 for the wonderful benefits you offer. Or do you shudder at the thought and realise that no one in their right mind would join if they had the choice?
    From a happy-to-be lapsed member!

  7. Name Surname NTBMLA

    How ironic! I tried since 2007 to be a Member but was only classified as Affiliate. Your organisation did not replied to my letters and emails. When I sent you a copy of my 2 EUROPEAN degrees and UK contracts proving that I have been teaching in HE since 1992 and in FE since 2004, your organisation even LOST it and did not bother put the matter right.

    I do not need QTLS, I do not want QTLS so why should I bother with your shamble organisation? Because some meaning well politician woke up one morning and decided to make a law and get his mates on huge salaries as he was at it?

    I sugget MPs are made to adhere to an organisation that will impose a Politician Code of Conduct. Oh! by the way, they should all have a degree in Politics to be MPs otherwise they can only be APs and cannot use letters behind their names. Charge upwards of £68 for the privilege (with no sucking in special offers!)

    I am now a NeverToBEMember Lapsed Affiliate. So proud because I know I am so right.

  8. Jonathan Russell

    This article is as vacuous as the Policy TV debate. The IfL says and does nothing of substance.

    Fazaeli, how do you counter the recent analysis that the QTLS in schools “benefit” is likely to amount to about 175 full-time equivalent posts per annum. Not really enough to go round your 68,000 members, is it. And yet this is your flagship policy, touted as such a great achievement. Let’s use statistics to put that achievement in context – that’s a major IfL membership benefit of full time jobs for 0.0025% of the membership. Did you get that? 0.0025%!!! “When that finally happens, it will be of such great personal and professional satisfaction – a real day of celebration.” Why it’ll be a bloody miracle that anyone even bothers.

    How do you react to the fact that Professor Wolf still thinks that FE colleges remain the best-equipped venues to teach vocational courses?

    Ah, but I forgot – you’re a former New Labour crony, aren’t you? That’s why you’re so good at spin. There really is nothing of substance to the IfL and its core product QTLS/CPD. I’ve got a PGCE. I’m already “qualified”. Your rubber stamp adds nothing. A lightning rod for the bigger issues? Not really, because the bigger issues are all about jobs and pay and conditions which you won’t have anything to do with. That’s union stuff. No, let me explain what happened. The people who were being asked to pay had a look at what they were getting for their money and it was a big fat zero, so they fell to questioning why they should pay, regardless of the stupid New Labour legislation. And it quickly became apparent that the If£ was one big protection racket. It’s a shame the taxpayer didn’t know what had gone on before, otherwise this might have ended sooner.

  9. It’s NOT just about having to pay fees for goodness sake.

    It’s about:-
    Getting nasty letters.
    Being threatened.
    Subsidising mammoth wage bills.
    Being told what to do.
    Misguided policies.
    No consultation.
    No votes.
    No democracy.
    Paying money for nothing.
    Bad leadership.

    Even if the IfL continued to be subsidised by the tax payer it would still be a waste of money so would still object to it as strongly as I do now, I don’t care about the fees.

  10. Ms Fazael, I assume because you’re an executive you that travel first class. Leister/London daily first class return costs £175.50. Fortunately you can get a 12-month season ticket for £13,140.00. Do the IfL pay this as expenses?