Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Restricted movements

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Lack of transferability in qualifications and status is thwarting attempts to build partnerships between schools, sixth form colleges and general FE colleges and depriving professionals of valuable career opportunities. The barriers need to be tackled.

Most ASCL members, whether school or college leaders, will in some way be affected by 14-19 curriculum developments. Whether building a local partnership in order to deliver diplomas, devising programmes to support those not in education, employment or training (NEET) or preparing for the changes that local authority commissioning will make to the post-16 curriculum from 2010, mutual understanding and flexibility between school and college sectors has never been so necessary.

What a pity, then, that there are so many obstacles arising from legislation that stand in the way. While these issues are currently specific to England, the principles apply to members elsewhere and may well affect them in the future.

QTS or QTLS

Under recent legislation there is a requirement for FE teachers to achieve Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills Status (QTLS). In the case of sixth form colleges (SFCs), Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) is acceptable.

ASCL is very supportive of any moves towards further professionalisation of the college workforce. However, the anomaly that arises between QTS and QTLS has the potential to cause problems primarily for those delivering 14-19 provision.

Whereas school teachers with QTS or equivalent are able to top up this qualification in order to obtain QTLS if they wish to transfer to teach in a college, the reverse is not possible.

This is an inequitable situation. The return of sixth form colleges to the local authority family and the strategic relationship with local authorities that will now apply to general further education (GFE) colleges for 16-18 year old provision means staff are more likely to want to enhance their careers by transferring from school to college sector or vice versa. Indeed, it is in the best interests of both sectors that this should be encouraged.

Yet the current arrangements mean that only a one-way move - from schools to colleges - is possible.

A related anomaly concerns teachers in GFE colleges who teach only 16-18 year olds, perhaps in a sixth form centre. As GFE employees they are required to achieve QTLS, which is designed to support the teaching of post-19 students. Yet the nature of their work is the same as that of their school or sixth form college colleagues who teach younger students.

These teachers may well be teaching the same courses to very similar students, yet their QTLS qualification may not prepare them for teaching younger learners and does not qualify them to apply for a future promotion in the school sector.

This situation is plainly an unintended consequence of legislation which equates a particular qualification with a particular type of institution and not the specific needs of types of learners within those institutions. It is due to become even more complex with the establishment of the new separate sixth form college sector in 2010.

As 14-19 curriculum opportunities increase, there will be significantly more teachers with QTLS teaching 14-16 year olds in college or as outreach students in a school setting. The issues that arise here are twofold.

First, the teachers will be teaching the same students but on different pay scales. Second, there may be contractual problems in having QTLS teachers teaching 14-16s, given that teachers of that age range are expected to have QTS and not QTLS.

It would seem sensible that the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), which share responsibility for aspects of 14-19 education, should consider revising the QTS/QTLS arrangements so that teachers with QTLS can 'top up' their skills in the same way as QTS holders.

The difficulties arising from this situation will become more frequent, inequitable and inconvenient as the numbers of people acquiring QTLS increases over time and as national and local 14-19 and 16-19 arrangements mature.

GTC or IfL

Every teacher is now legally required to be a member of either the General Teaching Council(GTC) or the Institute for Learning (IfL) but the choice is not always straightforward, particularly for those in sixth form colleges.

They will have to decide which to register with depending on their career plans and whether they have QTS or QTLS status. Again, this discourages a flexible approach to teaching subjects, whether general or vocational, across sector partnerships.

Further inequities between the sectors exist regarding government payment of fees for members of the General Teaching Council for England (GTCE) and IfL.

School teachers joining GTCE and FE and sixth form college teachers joining IfL have their membership fee paid by the government. But the situation regarding GTCE fees for sixth form college staff is unresolved.

This anomaly has arisen because of the different responsibilities and funding streams of the DCSF and BIS. DCSF's focus on schools leads them to pay GTCE fees, though not those for sixth form college staff who are currently under BIS. BIS's focus on post-19 leads them to pay IfL fees but not those for sixth form college staff choosing GTCE for their professional registration. So sixth form colleges are in a piggy in the middle position, not for the first time.

The arguments for eligible sixth form college teachers to join the GTCE are the same as for the need to maintain a career path between school and sixth form colleges. And the arguments are likely to strengthen over time.

NPQH or PQP

Another barrier to future flexibility revolves around transferability between school leaders who gain the National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH) and college leaders who complete the Principals' Qualification Programme (PQP).

As things stand, those who achieve the NPQH (obtained before appointment as a headteacher) or the PQP (achieved after appointment as a college principal) cannot use their undoubtedly transferable skills in each other's sectors.

There is an obvious need for a substantial bridging course between the two qualifications in order to make them fit for purpose in the alternative sector and to attend to the differences between pre- and post-appointment qualification programmes.

However, these difficulties should not stand in the way of opportunities for some really effective and exciting transfer of experience and expertise between school and college leaders who may well wish to take advantage of developing 14-19 curriculum and management experience in the other sector and embed good practice.

ASCL is currently aware of a handful of leaders who intend to transfer to college from school and vice versa and hopes that these are the first of many.

Concerns have also been raised at the difficulties that arose for two newly-created 16-18 schools in recruiting their principals. Candidates with senior sixth form college experience were ineligible to apply for the posts as they did not have NPQH, even though their experience obviously matches that required for 16-18 specialist schools.

Whereas NPQH holders can be appointed as sixth form college principals, planning to follow the PQP in the first three years of their appointment, college leaders will have to find time (and funding) to acquire their NPQH while still employed in college - a solution that appears at best impractical and at worst very difficult.

There are encouraging noises coming out of both PQP and NPQH programmes about acknowledging each other's strengths. But there is a need for some fundamental rethinking of both programmes' approaches if we are to capitalise on what could be some excellent opportunities to transfer good practice across the 14-19 service within new 'local authority family' arrangements.

What next?

ASCL and the Sixth Form Colleges' Forum have raised these issues at high levels in both DCSF and BIS and there is general acknowledgement of the mismatches and a growing realisation that a concerted approach to qualifications for teachers and leaders of the overlapping sectors would benefit learners.

Representatives also take every opportunity to draw the anomalies to the attention of Lifelong Learning UK (the body responsible for professional development for staff in the lifelong learning sector), GTC and IfL officers.

ASCL General Secretary John Dunford was invited to be a member of the Skills Commission enquiry into teacher training in vocational education, chaired by Barry Sheerman MP. The commission is hearing evidence on most of the issues of concern, so the topics are being aired at policy-influencing level and our voice is heard. We have also been discussing the situation with Toni Fazaeli, chief executive of IfL and they are working together to find ways to resolve the problems.

ASCL will be seeking clear and sensible recommendations on future action from the Skills Commission, which it will then promote. Resolving the unintended consequences of a series of educational reform acts with different focuses is necessary for the benefit of both ASCL members and their students.

Chris Tyler is ASCL's colleges specialist.


New direction

Skills Commission: www.policyconnect.org.uk/content/skills/sc/aboutus

See also ASCL guidance paper 42, Regulations for FE teacher qualifications, CPD and principals' qualifications (updated July 2009) at www.ascl.org.uk

The colleges section of the ASCL website has an FAQ guide to sixth form colleges in their new sector. See www.ascl.org.uk/colleges

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