“Infantilised and encumbered” no more: the future of FE according to Lingfield

I like reading interesting things. Best of all are those things that turn out to be interesting when you really didn’t expect them to be. So I mean it as a compliment when I say that the recently published Professionalism in Further Education: the Final Report of the Independent Review Panel falls into that category. It contains some genuinely interesting observations, insights and suggestions about what the future might hold for further education.  Its key conclusions are:

·         The FE sector has matured beyond the need for detailed government interventions, which with hindsight may have hampered the development of the very characteristics the interventions sought to encourage, such as good governance, continuous self-improvement and putting the interests of “customers” first. The future lies in self-regulation wherever possible.

·         Professionalism among lecturers is one area where greater sector autonomy is required. The report suggests the development of an “FE Covenant” (based on the concept of the Armed Forces Covenant”) which could include a code of professional conduct for FE.  The aim is to move obligations to undertake qualifications and CPD, and to support employees in doing these things away from the “arena of compulsion to that of consensus”.  The comparison with the Armed Forces Covenant is an unusual one. That covenant, which is not legally binding, was designed to reflect the extent of sacrifice required by the armed forces and to ensure that society recognised its moral obligation to look after armed forces personnel and their families as a result. The similarities with the lot of an FE lecturer are thus not immediately clear, and this approach, of a non-binding “moral” code of practice, is not common in other professions.

·         The report endorses the proposed FE Guild and highlights the importance of a Royal Charter for that body.  Given that Royal Charters are typically reserved for professional bodies or charities which have “a solid record of achievement and are financially sound” (source: Privy Council website), the Privy Council will have to be prepared to depart from its stated criteria for the Guild, at least as far as record of achievement is concerned.  There is nothing wrong with that; no public body is entitled to stick to its criteria slavishly without at least considering exceptional reasons to depart from those. However, the Privy Council is likely to want to be satisfied that the Guild has substance and durability, and isn’t just another policy “bubble”.  Chartered bodies, once created, are difficult to wind up and dissolve.

·         Assuming that a Royal Charter is secured for the Guild, the report anticipates that organizations will be able to seek membership of it and in this way acquire “chartered” status. It isn’t of course the case that this means that each member organization will become a chartered corporation. Constitutionally they will remain whatever they currently are, so for most FE providers statutory corporations or companies. Instead they will acquire the corporate version of the designation often conferred on members of professional bodies, i.e. chartered member. Although the report anticipates that this type of chartered status could be achieved by most providers, it also recognizes that financial resilience is a pre-requisite for such status, which may compromise the eligibility of some providers. The report also recognizes that if chartered status can be conferred by the Guild it follows that it should also be possible to remove it, something easily said but potentially much more complex and challenging in its execution.

·         Quality assurance of providers who secure this type of chartered status should take the form of self-assessment, perhaps with peer review, and independent verification by the Quality Assurance Agency. Ofsted’s remit should restricted to low achieving institutions.

The report regards the role of FE as primarily to deliver vocational and community FE (e.g. lifelong learning). It is more dismissive of what it describes as “remedial” FE, i.e. redressing the shortcomings of school. In the future, the report opines, FE should be a decisive step out of school into adult life. There has already been a certain amount of adverse reaction to this observation. The report also looks approvingly at the US model where FE is treated as part of the HE sector, creating better progression routes for students and improving professionalism among staff and  identifies factors in the UK such as  foundation degree-awarding powers, direct funding by HEFCE and review by the QAA, which are already blurring the divide.  It hopes for a time when further and higher education unites to create is a single post-compulsory education sector in the UK.

Smita Jamdar
Partner and Head of Education
For and on behalf of SGH Martineau LLP
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From → General Interest

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  1. Gravatar

    Just wanted to say that I enjoyed your comments about the Lingfield report and am interested in what else you have to say.
    My doctoral thesis relates to professionalism and the duality within FE, but also I have an interest in the support given to parents of adult children with MH issues as opposed to SEN. I am part of a MHFE and MHHE and have noticed that there is a problem in terms of access to information, funding as well as training in this area.
    I qualified as a solicitor in 1990 - teaching academic and vocational law since then also, and so am enjoying the input of a differently perceived profession in the FE/ HE sector.
    best wishes

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