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Adult Education, Tutors and ‘FE Professionalism’

June 5, 2012

What will be the effect of the government’s review into Further Education (FE) professionalism? Certainly, the interim report, published recently, has been criticised for de-regulating an important area of professional work. But how effective was that structure of professionalism going to be? And what is the likely impact of an alternative approach?

As far as adult education is concerned I can’t see how the the 2007 Regulations, with required qualifications, Institute for Learning (IfL) membership and reporting annually on Continuing Professional Development (CPD), were ever going to happen. Whilst there is a ‘core work-force’ of managers, organisers and some teachers, the majority of those working as adult education tutors are part-time (often very part-time) and many are pursuing ‘portfolio careers’ . The notion of the ‘license to practice’ contained in the regulations was too costly, time consuming and complex for many current tutors and acted as a deterrent to those tempted to join us. Yet the development of ‘home grown’ tutors has been one of adult education’s major achievements. The notion of the ‘associate teaching role’ as a sort of half way house was always (as the interim review recognised) a non-starter. In fact most adult tutors have a high degree of autonomy and are responsible for planning their courses, classroom management etc.

What’s happened in practice is that, whilst the preparatory course (PTLLS) has proved popular, many tutors then get by  ‘working towards’ a full qualification whilst others decamp into freelance work. It’s increasingly common for tutors to set up on their own (sometimes taking their class with them!) charging a fee (often on a per-class basis) to provide some income and pay for accommodation.  Many village halls, for example, advertise courses such as yoga, pilates, ICT, painting and drawing; usually provided on a freelance basis. Thus the drive for regulation actually leads to greater de-regulation.

Reducing or removing the regulatory framework doesn’t remove the problem but transfers it to the providing organisation. In fact I feel there are two aspects: the tenuous nature of many tutors’ employment and the cultural and organisational gap between many tutors and their employing organisation. The latter point was very well made in a piece of research I read some time ago that described part-time tutors as ‘ragged trousered philanphropists’; the reference to Tressell’s classic work has subsequently been used by others commenting on FE and Adult Education tutors. The researchers’ point was that tutors exist at the heart of  teaching and learning but at the fringes of power and resources – hence ‘ragged trousered’. The philanphropy referred to them doing ‘over and above’ that which was required of them in order to meet the many and varied needs of their students. The outlook of many tutors was that they were the guardians of the students’ interests whilst the employing institutionwas driven by funding, audit and regulatory requirements. Their immediate managers or tutor organisers were viewed more sympathetically as, although hard pressed, they were primarily engaged in  supporting  tutors and enabling provision to happen.

Understanding this perspective (without necessarily entirely accepting it ) helps to explain the visceral reaction of many tutors to IfL membership especially after charges were introduced. It was widely seen by them as a ‘top-down’ requirement and  bureaucratically driven rather than serving their needs as practising tutors. Certainly that was the gist of the many emails the WEA received on the subject from tutors.

One of the ways we plan to try to overcome this gap within the WEA is by introducing an employee development scheme for our tutors; this will provide small grants  to undertake training or CPD activities of their own choice. This might be a contribution towards the cost of attending a conference or day school, or following a course. The idea is not new (it’s based on a successful scheme Fords introduced in the early 1990s) but it is a gesture of confidence in our tutoring staff and support for them in identifying and planning for their own CPD needs. It will also give us lots of ‘bottom up’ information about training needs and be better placed to plan to meet them.

There is also great scope via the web to engage with, and provide services for tutors. There is an active Twitter community of FE teachers(particularly ESOL ones); this is something  from which the WEA and the wider adult adult education movement could learn. In addition we can use our website to promote debate and information sharing. I think the aim should be to address a wide tutor community, not simply WEA employees, as many move across and between a number of institutions.

Finally of course there is the continuing responsibility to ensure staff are appropriately trained and qualified. The experience of PTLLS has, I think, demonstrated the value of preparatory training particularly when it can be tweaked to meet the interest and subject specialism of the tutor and the mission of the organisation. At the other end of the scale, staff building a longer term career need to be encouraged and supported in studying for a diploma level qualification. My concern is that our staff training and CPD policies engage with, and address the diverse needs of our tutors (and other staff) rather than focus on complying with a regulatory system that is not fit for purpose.


From → Adult Education

  1. jmiskin permalink

    Can’t agree more Pete. Nicely summarised. I would hope that the WEA continues to offer PTTLS as it’s proven invaluable for many new and often young WEA tutors setting off on a ‘career’ in the field, often with much enthusiasm but without a lot of practice. It’s also been useful for those who might have been around a little longer but who never took/had the opportunity to develop their teaching/learning theory and practical application.
    In addition to WEA tutors many others have also benefited from WEA PTTLS courses, including a number of ‘home grown’ potential tutors as well as many community based activists.
    Along with the PTTLS course (whatever precisely the revised model ends up looking like) it would be useful for the WEA to endorse a short introductory course again both for internal and external use, perhaps WEA Certificated.
    The introduction of an Employee Development scheme would be a positive step forward. In the Yorkshire and Humber Region we’ve earmarked part of our annual training budget specifically to this end, enabling tutors to apply, with Organiser support, for funding to access externally provided training/educational courses. We’ve insisted that certain criteria – e.g. benefit to the WEA as well as the individual tutor – are met, and we’ve also capped the amount that can be claimed per applicant. So the issue, as ever, won’t be willingness to support tutors but rather the amount we are able to support them with.

    Jol Miskin

    • Hazel Richardson permalink

      I too agree with the points made. The system of top down certification was always going to be problematic with tutors. It is a more sensible approach to offer the CPD grants to staff, released from some of their teaching load where possible. Many experienced tutors fell into the trap of not being able to have any of their existing qualifications and experience taken into account, unlike many other professions, and so were forced to accept the title of “Associate Tutors”. It isn’t surprising that many of us had very little respect for the IfL!

      The other danger was that some of the new qualifications for Skills for Life tutors did not adequately prepare new tutors for their teaching roles, concentrating far more on the theoretical aspects of the subject. This devalued those quals, as employers could not always use them to help them assess the teaching ability of new staff, so it will be interesting to see what happens in the future.

      Hazel Richardson

  2. melanie evans permalink

    Jmiskin has touched on the question of “the amount [of money] we are able to support [tutors] with” but Pete, you’ve danced round the problem of tutors’ pay.

    The reason we’re ragged-trousered is because a sessional tutor’s pay isn’t enough to buy clothes with; we’re philanthropists because we’re not paid even for the work we’re required to do (course preparation, sourcing materials, paperwork and marking as well as teaching and lesson preparation), let alone the extra.

    This, as well as the requirement for certification, is a reason for tutors going freelance. They may not earn more but there’s less paperwork!

    A major problem with the requirement for professional qualification (which as a Basic/Functional Skills tutor I support) was that it did not result in professional pay though there was some increase in status. Those who qualified gave up a great deal of time for no material reward.

    I support the idea of tutor-specific training budgets, but it seems that the only route to professional status (ie input into policy) is currently through a PGCE, which is not necessarily a good match for small-group, activities-based, learner-led teaching.

    Mel Evans
    Functional Maths Tutor, WEA and Youth Education Service

  3. Howard Croft permalink

    I agree Pete. A well coordinated, managed and communicated employee development scheme for our tutors is long overdue. Working on the WEA’s Learning for Community Involvement (LfCI) project highlighted the need for better tutor engagement, curriculum development and production of quality teaching and learning materials. I look forward to the development of the scheme.

  4. janet henson permalink

    Hi Pete, I love your blogs and what a great way to let us know what you’re thinking & keeping in touch with us.
    I’m always a bit scared to reply, but here goes
    I like being a member of the IFL and I’m glad I went on to study for 2 years and get DTLLs and then my QTLS. I don’t mind paying to be an IFL member. It has helped me to be a better teacher. I also like the IFL newsletters they send and I think that CPD is important to everyone. As a tutor/organiser for the WEA, I never have enough time or enough hours in the day to prepare for sessions and find that my evening are working, trying to catch up.
    As with everyone I meet in the WEA we are all dedicated to the WEA and their aims and all want to do our best for our learners and communities. We are not driven by making money but a bit more would be good. I welcome a budget for us so that we can study and get up to date with CPD and keep interested in teaching.
    Janet Henson. Stoke on Trent health education & fitness

  5. Jane Trippett-Jones permalink

    Very interesting Pete. As a WEA Ptlls tutor it would be very nice to know what it going on with tutor training. In answer to Mel Evans, I will be even more ragged trousered since the reorganisation as have not been offered any work this or even next (Sept) term. As a tutor since 1987, only recently for the WEA 1999 (!!!) it’s rather worrying to say the least! I’ve always worked well over the allocated hours in the community sector and always sessional so feel it’s a strange way to treat the staff. I’m happy to travel by the way and that includes North Yorkshire!

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