Nearly two million people study in an FE college each year. In fact, more young people study in FE colleges than in school sixth forms (157 Group 2014) and FE Initial Teacher Education (ITE) courses train more teachers on average than primary and secondary schools together.
For instance, over 45,000 student teachers were registered on FE ITE courses each year between 2007 and 2010. In comparison, in 2010, there were just under 38,500 Primary and Secondary trainees (Crawley 2012; Smithers and Robinson, 2011).
The improvements and innovations within the part-time, in-service model of teacher training developed and refined in colleges, have been recognised, with Ofsted awarding Grade 1 to FE ITE providers including Canterbury Christ Church University, Edge Hill University and the Institute of Education/UCL.
As this week’s recent Teacher Education Lifelong Learning (TELL) research conference showed, FE teacher educators (TEDs) have considerable professional expertise and wisdom. TEDs possess a wide spectrum of teaching prowess as well as broad subject knowledge. They have to be able to teach trainees who work as vocational lecturers, adult and community teachers, nurse educators, armed forces trainers, as well as school and college teachers.
During interviews with HE and FE TEDs for my PhD, they related their observation experiences - including being kitted out in full scuba diving gear and using an adapted pencil to observe underwater navy training; watching future farmers being taught to handle animals and tramping across fields in wellies, tracking army recruits on a training exercise.
Many FE ITE courses are validated by Universities which are central to the development of good practice – for example, HEIs help provide networks for TEDs; lead research bids with colleges; and work collaboratively with teacher educators on curriculum design and assignment guidelines. But it’s a two-way relationship: FE colleges generally have expertise in vocational pedagogy, greater proficiency for managing challenging behaviour and a more enthusiastic embrace of e-technology and social media.
There is substantial cross-pollination of professional knowledge between experienced TEDs from both Universities and FE colleges - including collaboration in research. For instance, the City Literary Institute researched and developed innovative videos in British Sign Language for its deaf teacher trainees http://rebeccaeliahooteachered.blogspot.co.uk/p/resources-for-teacher-education.html. Another example is the East-West collaboration between language specialists at Newham College and Ealing Hammersmith and West London College (EHWL) who worked together to produce online resources for embedding literacy and language teaching into generic ITE http://supportingliteracyandesol.blogspot.co.uk/ ; or the work done by TEDs at the University of Westminster and West Thames College to produce online resources to help trainees and their learners with Academic Writing and Study Skills http://learning.west-thames.ac.uk/course/view.php?id=4049.
Universities provide time and space for TEDs to share their knowledge, research and expertise both formally and informally – last year, one of EHWL’s maths TEDs used origami and the Fibonacci sequence to share strategies for integrating numeracy into generic ITE.
Schools Direct is vaunted as a way to get practical hands-on training in schools. It also fits policy rhetoric, currently seeking to distance ITE from University-based training (in case trainees are tainted by the Blob). I asked a Head teacher, who was thinking of joining Schools Direct, if her school employed experienced teacher educators and mentors; did her staff have the expertise to train their colleagues (a whole order of difference from teaching pupils)? Did her staff possess the professional knowledge to teach curriculum design or assessment methodology? Could they model professional practice at all times and did they see themselves as dual professionals – teachers and teacher educators?
It takes time to build expertise; and trust to build collaborative networks. These already exist in college ITE.
Governments can build on the success of ITE in FE colleges by investing in college provision and preventing colleges’ death by a thousand cuts.
157 Group (2014) Future Colleges – Rising to the Skills Challenge, London: 157 Group
Crawley, J. (2012) ''On the brink' or 'designing the future'? Where next for Lifelong Learning Initial Teacher Education?'. Teaching in lifelong learning: a journal to inform and improve practice, Vol. 4 (1), pp. 1-12.
Smithers, A. and Robinson, P. (2011). The Good Teacher Training Guide. University of Buckingham.