Understanding Curriculum and Professional Issues

5 May 2016

This assignment will explore current views on professionalism in the Lifelong Learning Sector in the UK, and will make particular reference to the impact of professional status on teachers in the Further Education (FE) sector.

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The paper will examine current policy before going on to discuss; professionalism, continued professional development (CPD), the importance of reflective practice as a professional attribute and impact on teaching. The assignment will also discuss own personal development making reference to subject specialism. Finally professionalism in the sector will be evaluated.

Historically Further Education (FE) Colleges were once far removed from the terms ‘professional’ and ‘academic’ and as Spencely (2006 pg 292) reminds us, “student learning in FE was definitely positioned in the arena of practical skills based training rather than education, this emphasis on training, rather than education, has led a number of commentators to question the existence of the profession of ‘educator’ or ‘teacher’ in the further education sector”.

However, FE is now an integral part of the education system and plays a key role in supporting the professional development of teachers in the sector.

Even with the ongoing drive to up skill FE lecturers with teacher training qualifications, those in FE appear to be in a continuous flux where recognition of professional status is concerned. Katz, cited in Avis et al highlights this when he states “Few professionals talk as much about being professional as those whose professional stature is in doubt”. (2009 pg 75)

FE has struggled to be recognised as professional, this may be because the majority of teaching practitioners in FE are from a vocational rather than academic background. Currently FE teachers operate within a system of duel professionalism” (Davies 2006) meaning that they have vocational expertise and have gained teacher training qualifications in order to develop as a professional.

However, according to Gray and Griffin, “…professionalism of FE has never been homogeneous or particularly well formed in the FE sector…” and it lacks the professional culture found in the schools (2000 pg 238). It may be that what Gray fails to acknowledge is the FE sector is
not the school sector and it should therefore be different.

Since September 2001, it has been a requirement that all teachers in FE colleges should have, or be working towards, a nationally recognised teaching qualification.

The original national standards on which such qualification was based were drawn up by the Further Education National Training Organisation (FENTO). In order to receive FENTO endorsement, bodies such as the City and Guilds London Institute (CGLI), which at the time awarded a range of sector-specific teaching qualifications, were required to ensure that the content and outcomes of their teaching qualifications conformed to these national standards.

Only teachers with a FENTO endorsed qualification were deemed to meet the national requirement for the profession.

As the result of a government policy change, the national training organisations, including FENTO, were replaced by sector skills councils, and responsibility for managing the national standards and endorsing qualifications for teachers in the Lifelong Learning Sector (LLS) was taken over in January 2005 by Standards and Verification UK (SVUK), the standards and verification arm of Lifelong Learning UK (LLUK).

This body, which is also responsible for the professional development of teachers in work-based learning and higher education, brought out a revised set of national standards in 2007 following a lengthy period of consultation.

These are known as Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills (QTLS) standards; and it is now a requirement that all teachers in the sector, whether full-time or part-time, must have, or be working towards QTLS. This can be achieved by a number of routes, including SVUK-endorsed higher education programmes such as the Certificate of Education (Cert Ed), the Postgraduate or Professional Graduate Certificates in Education (PGCE)

The Institute for Learning (IFL) are the driving force behind seeking professional recognition for teachers in FE. The chief executive of the IFL recently announced a major development for the IFL, commenting on Professor Alison Wolf’s recommendation that FE teachers with QTLS should be recognised as qualified to teach in schools.

Secretary of state for education, Michael Gove, has accepted recommendations from the Wolf Report clarifying that there is a need to “allow qualified further education lecturers to teach in school classrooms on the same basis as qualified school teachers”. (Goodman, 2011) The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) supports the drive to professionalise FE lecturers and states that “The inescapable conclusion is that it is now time for the Qualified Lecturer Status (QLS) to be replaced by the qualified teacher status (QTS), as the benchmark of teacher professionalism in FE colleges.

It is time for lecturers to become teachers.” (ATL, 2011) Although this appears to be progression we could argue that this could be deemed more as compliance with an accepted view of what teacher professionalism is, whereas FE should be viewed as professional and the role of QLS should carry with it professional status.

However, when considering current thinking on professionalism in teaching Pollard summarises that good teaching “requires a large number of implicit and often instantaneous judgements and decisions” often shaped by the ‘community of practice’ to which we belong”.

(Pollard, 2010 pg 5) This takes account of classroom management, including relationships, positive learning environments and the ability to be creative and innovative. The ‘Teaching Learning Research Project’s’ ten principles of effective teaching, which form the basis of professionalism in the teaching sector, highlight a set of principles which are evident within the FE sector, clearly demonstrating (from my viewpoint) equity with the school sector.

There are a number of issues around the concept of professionalism and obviously meaning here can and will differ according to ones profession. In order to define professionalism we must also consider that interpretation will differ dependent on perspective.

Professionalism generally involves both characteristics of self and those of organisations. Professional organisations will have a set of values which will be reflected in working practices in line with ethical standards.

However, irrelevant of organisation teacher professionalism is a significant factor as it affects the role of the teacher and their pedagogy, which in turn affects student ability to learn effectively. Teacher professionalism should contain the essential characteristics of, competence, performance, and conduct, all of which should reflect the goals, abilities, and standards of the organisation for whom we work, and should impact on teaching through the development of these qualities.

External drivers such as government policy will and do impact on the status of FE lecturers and along with the recognition of ‘Qualified Teacher Status’ (QTS) will no doubt come even more rigorous inspection of both student and lecturer achievement.

The FE sector has continued to grow and in order to support; growth, the shift in education delivery from educators to Government control, and to meet the demands of Sector Skills Councils, the development of professionalism will continue to be a key focus. However, in order to develop this professionalism Hargreaves, reminds us that the existence of a top down education system with limited pay and over standardisation will result in a paradoxical profession.

Hagreaves states “The paradox in the professional life of teachers is illustrated by the co-existence of two seemingly contradictory trends in the development of the teaching profession: standardization of teaching and antipathy to teachers’ professionalization, on the one hand, and higher professional standards and greater professionalism, on the other”. (2000 pg 11)

In 2004 LLUK began the process of developing new professional teaching standards for the FE system, in line with the requirements of; Government, Sector Skills Councils, regulatory authorities, awarding organisations and providers. Bill Rammell, Minister of State for Lifelong Learning, emphasises the importance of professionalism in teaching, Rammel states, “I believe these standards will contribute greatly to improving quality in teaching, training and learning across the further education system, and provide a key part of the infrastructure that will support the professionalisation of the workforce”.

(LLUK, undated) However, this may also create a more rigorous evaluation of teaching standards, as teachers in FE become more qualified, as mentioned previously, expectations will also rise. The new professional teaching standards, with emphasis on specialist subject knowledge, will benefit FE in terms of quality, more importantly it will also provide a better learning experience for students, which when we consider professionalism must be our first concern .

However, Avis (2009 pg 76) makes the point that current thinking on developing professionalism, specifically when considering the detail and length of standards, that “… LLUK standards are in contrast to the equivalent single page of broad statements that cover higher education…” the same here applies to schools, it could therefore be suggested that the definition of professional in the FE sector is “more restricted and prescriptive than in other areas of education” (Avis, 2009 pg 77) This may also apply to continued professional development (CPD) in the FE sector.

CPD is increasingly seen as an essential driver in raising the standards of teaching and learning in post-16 education and training. Requirements and processes have been set in place by LLUK and IFL to ensure that every teacher engages in CPD, meaning any activity undertaken for the purpose of; updating knowledge of subjects or developing teaching skills.

However, CPD has also become a contentious subject, mainly due to interpretation at organisational level and the associated funding costs of ensuring CPD is beneficial to the lecturer. The IFL requires a commitment from all teachers to 30 hrs CPD per year, upon which teachers reflect, and draw on; learning which takes place, how this is shared and how it supports both one’s own development and outcomes for learners.

CPD has been under scrutiny of late with concerns raised over the quality of CPD and whether it is meeting the needs of the individual or organisations. Trorey (2002 pg 2) defines CPD as “institutional development” which is aimed at improving a whole organisation, often described as “staff development” and “professional development” which involves “pedagogic knowledge and subject expertise”.

It could be argued that CPD should encompass a whole organisation culture yet still support the development of pedagogic expertise, which defines the FE sector from the school sector, as the IFL remind us, “teaching practitioners engage in various forms of professional development throughout their careers, but that often this goes unrecorded”.

(Davies, 2006) Here again we can see the influence of the IFL in the drive to support the development of professionalism in the FE sector. However, irrelevant of contention, where CPD is concerned, a commitment to continually update both knowledge and skills of one’s subject specialism and teaching expertise is essential if we wish to viewed as professionals.

Teachers in FE have a great deal of autonomy in their teaching as they are deemed to be experts in their field, therefore professionalism is an essential attribute. CPD should support the development of that expertise. Gray et al (2000 pg 25) states that “the professional is someone who is continuously developing his or her underpinning knowledge through reflection on their own (and others’) practice”. Therefore the ability to reflect is imperative as without this essential tool we cannot be viewed as professional.

Reflection can be viewed as a process of thinking and improving your professional skills and it allows us to focus on positive aspects of practice and build on them. It also helps us to identify areas for improvement. Schon (1983) defines reflective practice as “thoughtfully considering your own experiences in applying knowledge to practice”. In essence reflective practice means learning from experience, it is therefore an essential element of teaching and supports CPD.

Boud et al (1985) defines reflective practice as “an activity in which people recapture their experience, think about it, mull it over and evaluate it”. As simplistic as this may sound, reflecting on experience in order to improve requires a level of objectivity in reference to your teaching practice.

Therefore unless we are willing to fully partake in reflective practice we may fail to grasp opportunities to improve both our own performance and the learning experience for our students. Clouder (2000) supports this view when he states “in its broadest sense, reflective practice involves critical analysis of everyday working practices to improve competence and professional development”.

Practitioners must ensure that time is set aside to think about our teaching practice in order to evaluate it and make changes where necessary. However, it could be argued here that this relies on a whole organisation culture, as without time set aside by your organisation this could result in even more unpaid work than is already expected. Reflection should therefore be an integral aspect of professional teaching practice.

The very nature of education requires teachers to be open to change, as the sector is under continuous pressure to improve outcomes for learners. This compounds the need for reflective practice for teachers, learners and whole organisations. Reflective practice encourages; the sharing of good practice, learning from the experience of others, it can support the planning process and overall encourages collaborative working to the benefit of all involved.

Barriers to change exist in all aspects of society and reflective practice is viewed by many as a ‘questioning of their practice’ and some teachers struggle with this concept. However, barriers are often self imposed or they may originate from the culture of organisations, who may themselves have pre-conceived ideas about reflection, which in itself is often a barrier.

In the drive to gain professional recognition in the FE sector we must embrace reflective practice as a tool for improvement and progression. Throughout the course we have been introduced to a number of models of reflection such as Schon’s (1983) “reflection in action” and “reflection on action”, Kolb’s (1984) learning cycle and Phil Race (2005) ‘ripples’ approach, all of which have been useful in supporting the development of reflective practice.

Races (2005) ‘ripples’ model is based on the assumption that the best way to learn is by doing. This is a principle which supports both my specialism and teaching practice, as I firmly believe that students require hands on experiences before moving on to more abstract learning. When reflecting on my own practice, specifically when working with 16-18year olds, this has become evident.

Reflective practice requires an open mind, hard work and deep understanding of the benefits in leading to improvements in practice and outcomes. It is only through undergoing a process of reflection and evaluation that we are able to make reasoned judgements about our teaching practice.

CPD should be viewed as an ongoing process that; improves capabilities, helps to determine own learning needs and helps us to acquire new skills and abilities. Education in its many forms is a big responsibility and teachers should maintain professional standards as required by the sector, as ultimately it will help us to gain professional credibility.

There are many types of CPD which can be accessed such as, formal training, research, in house training, mentoring and further academic study. Undertaking the ‘Certificate in Education’ has helped me to develop in my role as a teacher, and also to recognise the importance of teaching qualifications.

Having come into teaching from a subject specialism background I can clearly see the benefits of CPD in enhancing my teaching abilities and skills, therefore, in order to continue my professional journey my aim will be to achieve QTLS and possibly progress onto the BA in Education and Professional Development.

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