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Tutor Qualifications, IfL and adult education

September 27, 2011

The Government’s decision to review qualifications for Further Education (FE) teachers and the Institute for Learning (IfL) is welcome news for adult educators. Hopefully it will give us the opportunity to unpick the current unwieldy arrangements and help construct something better and more suitable for adult education.

Adult tutors are a diverse occupational group. They bring a wide variety of expertise and backgrounds to their teaching and their employment status and career aims differ greatly. For many being a tutor is one way in which to share a specialism, interest or passion; the capacity of adult education to draw on the ‘renowned local expert’ is frequently recognised.  For the individual, tutoring may be a minor (albeit important) part of their work lives, it may be part of a wider portfolio or it may be the main source of income and career development.

At the same time the experience of adult tutoring has many common features. Employment is usually insecure, work is often isolated and considerable self sufficiency is needed. The dispersed nature of adult education provision means that for most learners the tutors ‘is the provider’. As the front line staff member, s/he has to respond to a range of operational and pastoral issues as well as academic ones.  Many adult tutors feel that although they are at the centre of the learners’ experience, they are at the edge of organisational policy making and priority setting.

Initial Teacher Training (ITT) and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) are essential in bridging this gap and building a work community in which the rich traditions and expertise within adult education are able to benefit adult learners and tutors.  Additionally the isolated nature of the work reinforces the value of professional networks and other opportunities to collaborate and share ideas and practices.

So what is the problem? My feeling is that whilst the drive to professionalise the FE workforce has given welcome recognition to the value and importance of the work and the need for consistently high standards, adult education has been swept up in a system designed for FE colleges that had in turn been modelled on school teaching. It is too rigid and top-down to address the needs, experience and ethos of adult education.

So what should we look for?

  • I would start by reaffirming the importance of effective ITT and CPD within adult education. We don’t want a collapse into a completely de-regulated adult community learning sector where everyone does their own thing. This would abandon the possibility of a large and vibrant community of adult educators that shared and developed professional practice.
  • We need to design an ITT and CPD system that builds upon research into the needs and experiences of adult tutors and is provided in ways that are appropriate to their work commitments and career intentions.
  • I think we must accept that any professional organisation needs to be built from the bottom up and  be based on collaboration, reciprocity and voluntary membership; something that is ‘owned’ by its members and articulates their interests. The compulsory nature of IfL membership underlies much of the hostility to it amongst many adult tutors.
  • Quite rightly, the main responsibility must lie with those that employ adult tutors to be real ‘learning organisations’. This means encouraging a learning culture and facilitating its growth as well as ensuring teaching staff take part and recording their participation. As organisations that specialise in adult learning, providers are well placed to promote teaching and learning methods – such as active and discussion-based learning – that are most appropriate both to their learners and for their educational missions.
  • Finally the provision of CDP needs to achieve a balance between organisational priorities on the one hand and facilitating tutors in identifying and meeting their own CDP needs on the other. It is right that CPD should promote the priorities and requirements of the providing organisation but it is also right that it should be used to encourage teaching staff to think about their own development and be supported in pursuing it.

By the way, whilst I am employed by the WEA, these views are my own. Hopefully others will join in with their thoughts.


From → Adult Education

  1. I am hoping that in all of this restructuring we keep the requirement to achieve (or hold) at least a PTLLS within a year of beginning to tutor with the WEA. The qualification provides a solid baseline standard from which we can operate.

  2. Tina Nay permalink

    I fully endorse Pete’s comments on the nature of our adult tutors and the need to recognise their needs as different from those in the FE sector.Generally isolated from each other they are the front line of the WEA. Many of our students in the east will travel miles to attend their courses and their lives are enriched in many various ways by their learning. We must do everything we can in the current challenging era to support them and provide appropriate training.
    Tina Nay Area Learning Manager- WEA Eastern Region- Cultural Studies Strand

  3. Rosemary Williams permalink

    As a WEA tutor of over twenty years’ standing I fully endorse these comments. Tutors come into the WEA from many different routes, and have many different (but valid) qualifications and many different strategies for delivering a huge variety of courses. They value contact and exchange of ideas with other tutors, are interested in alternative methods and approaches, and are eager to learn as well as teach. To that extent, well-planned ‘CPD’ occasions are useful. But tutors also value their autonomy and know that the real test of their effectiveness is the quality of the experience they provide (or share in) with their classes. A tutor who does not deliver an experience that is valued by his/her classes does not remain a tutor long.
    No rigid number of CPD hours and no set pattern of CPD provision can be of the slightest use to WEA tutors. Nor do the vast majority of tutors derive the slightest benefit from compulsory membership of an organisation that does not mention the WEA anywhere on its website and appears to be totally uninterested in the activities of this large group of people that have been indiscriminately swept into the IfL net.
    THe extortionate IfL fee is the last straw. WEA tutors are poorly paid. They know that funds are tight and put up with low pay because they love the work, but they will not consent to ransom that work by payment to an organisation which has no value to them except as an irritant.

  4. I fully agree with a lot of what has been said here, however, as someone who works in FE, I don’t think that the current regulations serve FE particularly well, and am not sure they take into account the diversity in FE colleges – let alone Adult and community learning.

    I think we need some real shifts away from a top down model of regulation and bring the regulatory aspects of the process back under democratic control of the sector and the reintegration of an activist model of professional identity into the sector – not just reflective navel gazing, but working towards a sector in which practitioners not only prepare people for the existing society, but preparing people to contribute to a change in society.

  5. Derek Metters, 43 yrs in the business permalink

    I think that most of us believe that training or support in teaching is vital and that it is not enough just to have subject knowledge. AE tutors range from the spare time, those who do it because they enjoy it and enjoy helping people learn, and may only teach 20 40 or 60 hrs p year through part time to full time. No single system fits all and the current system is too unwieldy and expensive for the spare time tutor, nor does it take account of a proper range of prior experience

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