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Issues of Wider Professional Practice and Professionalism

By phillsar Feb 09, 2013 3005 Words
Issues of wider professional practice and professionalism

In this assignment I will be examining some of the main issues I believe impact on teachers’ professional practice and I will look at the way they impact on my employer Inclusive Access (IA). IA is a social enterprise independent specialist training organisation in the Post compulsory education and training (PCET) or Lifelong Learning Sector (LLS).

I will attempt to show how some of these issues impact on individual teachers in the organisation and the impact on a teacher’s professional image and status.

I will go on to state that the political and economic landscape make it very difficult for organisations like Inclusive Access and for freelance tutors to meet the professional standards required when compared to other PCET organisations in both FE (such as colleges) and HE (such as universities).

In conclusion to this assignment, using some of the current influences and changes in government direction and policy, I will reflect on the way I can improve my own wider professional practice and that of my team in my area of responsibility.

As Training Manager at a social enterprise there are wide reaching pressures on the organisation that impact on our practice as professional teachers in LLS and on the organisation as a professional training body. In fact these pressures are currently on the whole education system.

The political economic social technical, legal and environmental (pestle) factors impact greatly on the question posed for this assignment as we enter possibly one of the most challenging phases for education and particularly PCET in last few decades.

At IA there are recurring issues affecting the professionalism of the courses run, the professional nature of the teachers and support staff employed, and the values underpinning the company’s social aims. For example, funding is ever harder to source and the funding streams accessed are varied and fluctuating, originating from a number of sources. This can lead to inconsistency of provision and fitting the courses to the fund rather than the learners thereby impacting on our perceived professionalism. Another example would be the “rules” on pots of funds from the public sector creating demands for more learners on courses, impacting on class size, or selecting people for courses based on numbers - not suitability, which in turn impacts on drop out rates and dissatisfied learners, potentially affecting our perceived professionalism.

There is a move towards contracts being payment by results to drive value for the public purse. This could force smaller organisations like our own, who are less cash and asset rich out of the market. However, on the positive side, it does mean a culture of collaboration (that has not existed for some time) is being resurrected, which in my view is a good thing. In the long run this should raise standards of outcome and a more seamless journey for learners to experience through the LLS.

During the development of PCET from the 1980s until present, it is evident that teaching in post compulsory education had to keep up and look beyond today towards the future requirements of the skilled workforce of the future. Further and higher education has become more regulated and scrutinised in a bid for it become better placed to meet the needs of learners and employers. Indeed in the evolution of FE and the LLS during the 1990s saw great change driven politically with economics at its heart, FE teachers contracts were changed, strikes, funding centrally severed so the new regime shaping the way PCET is delivered today and the view of the professional status of teachers in this sector. Shain, 1999 in her research paper said then that “Teacher’s work in the UK Further Education (FE) sector is undergoing reconstruction through processes of “marketisation and managerial control”. I would agree with her and can see that this process is even more evident today, witnessed through competition for funding, student numbers, targets, league tables and scrutiny driving the ethos of the sector. I would ask how can the FE teacher be a true professional in their work with this culture around them?

Tedder;1994, defines professionalism from his experience of teaching in FE and says that the term professional can convey a range of meanings covering teaching practice, a set of vocational standards, values and a code of conduct for teachers plus a remit for continual monitoring and improvement.

This early view (was expressed in 1994) in my opinion has been the way that the sector has consequently developed from within, attempting to drive internally in response to the external pressures to conform to the pressurising pestle factors.

In 2007 the Institute for Learning (IfL) was set up in response to the XXX report, and (until recently) endorsed by the government to represent and act as a compulsory body for Lifelong Learning teachers of adult education defining the code of conduct and embedding as compulsory requirements membership to the professional body and requiring evidence of current competence to teach via 30 hours continuous professional development (CPD) per annum, submitted and vetted by the IfL.

By the IfL making teacher training and CPD compulsory this has overturned the reluctance of teachers to become dual professionals. Norman Lucas 1996 has argued that this duality of professionalism, i.e. that of being at one and the same time a teacher and an expert in a professional or craft/trade area has dogged the development of a statutory qualification structure. He says that historically lecturers in FE had seen their expertise as sufficient for teaching thereby putting their specialist knowledge above pedagogy. He says that by becoming professional teachers this will narrow their specialist expertise. I disagree with this view. Everyone can remember the good and bad teachers at college / univeristy, and those that not only knew the subject but knew how to teach got the respect and results from their students. Randle and Brady (1997) argue that although they believe teaching in FE has been deskilled and deprofessionalised professional teachers retain a commitment to ‘public service’ values of altruism and teacher autonomy that are fundamentally opposed to managerialism. They believe this is the essence in FE of professionalism and that its paramount to FE. Appendix xxx is an extract to depict the polarisation they described. I believe this point is important and is where individual personal professionalism collectively adds up to professionalism per se in the organisation or the LLS.

Elliott (1996) rejects the notion of professionalism in favour of a concept of the ‘reflective practitioner’ for understanding teacher’s work. I believe this is a vital factor in professionalism, but cannot be the only way that a professional improves their practice – what if the teacher is not as self aware or receptive to personal feedback – how can this improve teaching and learning in isolation?

Hodkinson (1995) argues for the retention of professionalism without accepting the exclusivity of a profession. He explores the uses and limitations of competence attributes towards a redefinition of professionalism based on notions of ‘personal effectiveness’, ‘critical autonomy’ and community. These to me are self actualisation goals re: Maslow – higher order. But I fear people need a structure, framework and a method to achieve these – why then is a professional body to belong to such a bad thing? The Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (ILTHE) was an established body that ceased to exist in 2004 and then in 2007 the IfL was set up, reinventing the wheel is a theme of politics I fear. Appendix xxx explains the history of the ILTHE and the HEA.

Successive governments and reports including Kennedy in 1998, Tomlinson 2004, Leitch date Wolf 2009, Lord Lingfield 2011/12 continue to change the way education is structured and delivered and depending on which political party is in power depends on the swing between regulation and market forces affecting the culture in lifelong learning. By the very nature of the way the PCET sector is being forced to be accountable it could be seen that it has become de-professionalised, de-characterised and education is becoming de-valued as the accountants take over the establishments to drive value for the public purse. Ofsted scrutiny and league tables shape the way education in FE is delivered as tutors “fear” for their grade and managers drive for results, where does this leave a professional tutor room to develop as a professional? Illustrating this polarisation of managerialism and professionalism – ref app xxx

Many authors reference this including John Lea.
John Lea observes that managers and scrutiny of teachers introduced to make them more professional and drive value for the taxpayer and the learner actually have led to teachers becoming de-professionalised per se. He states that by introducing accountability through layers of funding and scrutiny bodies that this has meant the sector has to adopt more of a business approach with colleges becoming more like retail outlets. P75: where learners choose their learning opportunity from a range of providers for the one that markets itself the best. On the negative side this could be students “consuming” education in the same way they purchase items from a discount shop demanding high quality low prices. He goes on to say: “of colleges come heavily under this sway we might expect them to seek to eliminate any downside to their students purchase – customer satisfaction or your money back. Will we see a time when students cannot fail a course?”

I would ask – is this de-valuing and watering down the status of PCET courses so that anyone can achieve OR does it widen participation and standards leading to a more highly skilled workforce which then reflects well on the professional standards and values of teachers and organisation in the sector? Whichever way it is seen, the reality is that it is happening and the future PCET organisations are moving in this direction.

Lord Lingfield in his review – the final report, amongst many recommendations, suggests that the future of PCET will not distinguish between further and higher education and it should merge. This trend is current and set to continue – a great example if here and now – West Cheshire college – my course – the awarding body is Chester University and progession for my cohort is clearly into HE. The simpler the learner journey the more professional it feels for learners too.

I believe that in the modern world, standardisation, comparability and the learner journey should be seen as crucial by decision makers and that it will drive development in the sector.

To be professional tutors rely on quality time to prepare to keep teaching practice current, incorporating new and innovative teaching methods. This is a difficult task, especially as many tutors are paid sessionally and planning is often not paid for by employers. Similarly professional development and CPD is expected but not often provided by employers. As professionals, tutors are expected to complete 30 hours per annum of continuous professional development (CPD) to reflect and choose the right development. Under the IfL this was implicit and required for membership; this requirement is now voluntary as membership of the IfL rules have changed following Lord Lingfields review of the sector. The best and most forward thinking providers will support their staff to improve; it cannot be left to individuals to choose entirely their own CPD.

Since the Institute for learning was set up in 2007 I believe it has not achieved what it set out to do and I concur with many elements in the Lingfield report. I think it little impact in raising the sectors professional status although it has had some impact in raising the standards of teaching. For example after 2007 Neighbourhood colleges were forced to employ only tutors with a preparing to teach in the lifelong learning sector (PTLLS) qualification to lead courses in these centres. Previously anyone could have taught a course in their local community or Neighbourhood College. Insisting on PTLLS has improved the quality of provision but on the downside has meant that local talent and enthusiasm has been lost from those who handed down skills and shared knowledge on a more universal basis. Taking a different view of core professional values that is not about OFSTED or anything other than the traditional role of a teacher - Sue Cross in her book Adult teaching and Learning talks about the professional character of the teacher means assuming the a specific set of obligations and standards but one within which an individuals background expertise and creativity are free to flourish. Sue Cross definition: “Professional teachers seek to communicate their field of knowledge to the learner with fidelity and accuracy, within the context of their professional ethics and in such a way that the learner is nurtured, supported and able to develop” p 161 She says that a professional teacher has three principal characteristics : that a teachers acts with professional agency, a teacher acts ethically and a teacher exercises professional judgement. And she believes that to be a teacher really means to be a learner yourself. Therein lays the crux of being a professional – exercising professional judgement and being allowed to. Society doesn’t allow mistakes nowadays, does being a professional suddenly make a person infallible?

Other definitions of professionalism and professional include Marian Wollhouse – teaching the post 16 learner. Marian suggests that there are seven key areas of teaching defined as underpinning the competence that supports and informs all other processes… and the learner is put at the centre of all that teachers do. In that way the context of the teacher as a professional is prescribed and this amongst other influenced the development of the Professional domains written by the sector skills council and published in 2007. In the foreword the Bill Rammell, the then Minister of State for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education, said that the new professional standards were a direct response to Ofsted’s plea for clearer standards. Accountability for teaching and learning and being a specialist in own area was paramount. This was a precursor to the IfL being launched in September of that year. And again more depth and scrutiny in a bid to make the profession of teaching accountabile in September 2012 another new set of Ofsted regulations were put into place this time as well as for all education a specific set for the FE sector.

As a direct consequence of Lingfield, Wolf etc and the drive from the government to make organisations more locally accountable this Ofsted framework now puts teaching and learning as the most important factor refocusing the Common Inspection standards. See appendix xxx CIF. Prue Huddleston and Lorna Unwin 3rd edition Teaching and Learning in Further education Diversity and change in chapter 8 talk about Professional development and here I believe is a central factor in the issues of professional conduct and accountability. To be an educator in the PCET sector I believe teachers should embrace all it is to be a teacher. The breadth of skills, the patience, the planning, the innovation and the ability to keep on a personal learning journey can mean it is difficult to fulfil this multi-faceted and demanding role. To do this teachers need to approach their work as “professionals” and undertake in depth and varied professional development. Without it teachers will become stale, one dimensional not just in their teaching but in their ability to fulfil this role and inspire their learners to achieve. The goals they set for their learners will become less stretching as do then the goals they set for themselves.

“every FE teacher has to make plans to ensure he or she has access to relevant and appropriate professional development opportunities” p 209.

Inclusive Access is an independent provider of adult training and education across a myriad of disciplines/ subjects. As my role is multi-faceted I project manage, line manage, develop new business, recruit tutors, in charge of quality for awarding bodies, teach myself. It is a role that I believe requires a hands-on approach and therefore still to teach to keep up my professionalism. This can be a challenge as the role moves towards sometimes more of a managerial overview role.

One of IA’s unique selling point is its people. The tutors, assessors and teaching support staff most of who are not directly employed. That relationship is an interesting one to manage; aiming to keep their individual professional values in tune with that of the company. In order to engender the ethos and professional standards required I do have to lead by example, share CPD knowledge and enthuse the teachers to try new teaching methods. IA does not have the IT resources and budgets for example that FE colleges can access. The courses must still be of high quality (or higher) than the competition. Often I think we achieve this through personality of the teachers, their in depth subject knowledge and the way we assist the learners on their journey with signposting and employability skills. Interestingly this is now a key factor that OFSTED will be seeking from FE so I will need to keep a step ahead and look for way to continue to improve our learner experience and our teacher support. I will need to ensure our literature and marketing is standardised with the LLS sector to maximise our visibility and professional image in a competitive environment. My own personal CPD journey will be the vital. I realise there is a lot at stake in the way I view professionalism and being a professional. Not only will these views affect my personal development but because of my role it affects the organisation and the teachers employed. Extrinsic factors that cannot be changed will continue to impact on teacher’s professionalism – pestle factors, ofsted, government papers and reports leading to changes in scrutiny, standards and regulation. But intrinsically the notion of being a consummate professional, loving being a teacher, being honest, reflecting and improving, sharing best practice, keeping always learner-centred and choosing challenging CPD as a lifelong earner yourself, in my view you won’t go far wrong!

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