Tag Archives: Professionalism

Five burning issues: time to reimagine Further Education

By Suzanne Savage, Assistant Lecturer and Doctoral Researcher in the Faculty of Health, Education and Life Sciences. Full article on http://blogs.bcu.ac.uk/views/2016/05/19/five-burning-issues-time-to-reimagine-further-education/

As we eagerly await the first White Paper in a decade to address Further Education and Skills, I wanted to take a look at areas of concern for the sector. I asked facilitators of the upcoming Reimagining Further Education conference to be held on 29 June here at BCU, to share some of the burning issues they will explore.

  1. Leadership in Further Education: As we face a period of unprecedented change in the sector, do FE leaders need a new vision of their role? Dr Lynne Sedgmore, former leader of the 157 Group of Colleges, says: “Senior leaders and governors need to consider how they use their power and act on new ways of collaborative leadership in true partnership — beyond current formal hierarchy and tokenism — to liberate, engage, support and facilitate practitioners, and the professional power they bring, in much more innovative and radical ways.” What do you think? This and more will be discussed in the Leadership in FE strand of our conference.
  2. Accountability is often seen as the solution to quality in education, but Professor Ewart Keep of Oxford University warns that the current “low trust, high stakes inspection regime has a weak grasp of what vocational learning could and/or should look like. There is no widely accepted consensus about what the over-arching aims are that the FE system and individual institutions therein should be held accountable for.” This is compounded by new government initiatives towards local commissioning. Ann Hodgson of UCL Institute of Education asks “What are the respective roles of local, regional and national government in the governance of FE colleges and what should they be? What impact is the area review process having on the FE system in England?” If you would like to contribute towards answering these questions, join the Accountability, Governance and Area Reviews strand of our conference.
  3. Higher Education in FE: The release of the Higher Education White Paper this month has implications for colleges delivering HE courses because that provision will now be subject to the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). How will colleges juggle the requirements of both Ofsted and the TEF? Dr Karima Kadi-Hanifi, University of Worcester, says: “When evaluated from an exclusively HE perspective, FE is often seen as the inferior partner. But FE provision is very good, student-centred, inspiring and resilient.” To formulate the FE response to TEF requirements, sign up for the HE in FE strand of our conference.
  4. The introduction of the Apprenticeship levy in April 2017 creates unique dilemmas for colleges, and many of those who have historically focussed on classroom-based provision are not sure how to develop successful apprenticeship delivery. While fierce competition amongst potential providers is anticipated, can colleges harness some of the energy from the Area Review process to develop a more regional, coordinated approach to apprenticeship provision? Are employers ready for the introduction of the levy and resultant change to hiring practices, or do apprenticeship providers need to find new ways to work together with them? To join this discussion, sign up to the Apprenticeship strand of our conference, facilitated by Professor Chris Winch of King’s College London.
  5. Professionalism: In a deregulated sector, “how can we foster a more critical, dialogic and democratic professionalism at this time of great challenge?” asks Lou Mycroft, teacher educator at Northern College and co-founder of Tutor Voices. And despite deregulation, Tim Weiss, Membership Director for the Society of Education and Training Professionals, wonders “In a sector celebrated for diversity of delivery, subject area, learner and teaching staff alike, do we run the risk of losing this breadth and depth as we focus ever closer on “core metrics” such as maths and English, or does this underlying drive to improve the essentials enhance our diversity of delivery even further?” Help develop a vision by joining the Professionalism in FE strand of our conference.

    The Reimagining Further Education conference will be held on 29 June, 2016 in the Curzon Building of Birmingham City University. Join the discussion on Twitter using #ReimagineFE

    With an undergraduate degree in anthropology from the United States, Suzanne Savage has spent the last 30 years in a wide variety of teaching positions in Nicaragua, the Netherlands and the UK. Most recently she has been a teacher training manager and teaching/learning coach in UK Further Education colleges. She’s very interested in the relationship between education policy, teacher professional practice, and the lived experience of students in the classroom. Her current PhD research at Birmingham City University is on the use of video recordings in the observation of classroom practice.

Professionalism as a commitment to continual learning

Written by Phil Taylor, MA Education and Maters in Teaching and Learning Course Director, Education, Pedagogy and Professional Studies Co-ordinator

The newly-formed Practitioner Education Research Cluster within the Faculty of Health Education and Life Sciences has begun to share and discuss ideas on professionalism and professional identity. This is bringing together perspectives from across different disciplines and practices, drawing on experience in diverse healthcare and teaching roles. Our initial stimuli for re-thinking professionalism have come from two articles, by Hargreaves (2000) and Stronach et al (2002), which over a decade ago drew attention to debates that are still current and ongoing. While agreeing that notions of professionalism are multiple and difficult to pin-down, some common themes and interesting differences have started to emerge from our discussions. My reflections on this process so far, still in its early days, are written from an educational perspective, though the opportunity to listen to and learn from healthcare experiences has already been invigorating.

First, we have shared the notion that professions do not pre-exist as entities, but arise from occupational groups with common goals, experiences, expertise, qualifications and language. Professionalism entails the acquisition of knowledge and skills specific to an occupation or discipline, but further, application of this expertise to contexts and clients is of crucial importance. This has the potential to be a source of confidence to ourselves as professionals and also to those we care for or educate as our clients, patients, learners. Professionalism, as discussed by our research cluster, therefore becomes inextricably linked to ways of meeting the needs of others, providing public service or benefit and fulfilling a greater good, working with others ethically and responsibly. Commonly expressed values in building positive relationships with others were trust, partnership and empathy.


There are also emergent tensions in the ideas we have shared, between professionalism in a culture of openness and trust where problems are shared and resolved in teams, and professionalism as a set of standards to be complied with and used for accountability purposes. One member of our cluster spoke of expectations of ‘being professional’, seemingly important to members of professions, used as both stick and carrot. Also mentioned were political interference and hyper-accountability as eroding professionalism and leading to more entrepreneurial and instrumental professional identities. We began to explore the possibility that professionalism can create barriers or boundaries as well as forge relationships, perhaps exemplified by expressions such as ‘overstepping the mark’, or ‘beyond my pay grade’. This connects to experiences of some occupational or practitioner groups not always being considered as ‘professionals’ in the same way or with the same status as others with whom they work, for example teachers, early years practitioners and teaching assistants in schools.

Some of these tensions resonate with Stronach et al’s (2002, p.131) characterisation of the professional situation of teachers and nurses as ‘unstable’, with particular emphasis on the potentially negative impact on professional motivation brought about by audit cultures. For Hargreaves (2000), in teaching, these are symptoms of ‘de-professionalization’ along with the lessening role of higher education in initial teacher education risking practice that:

‘can at best only be reproduced, not improved’ (p.168).

Hargreaves’ (2000, p.175) solution of a ‘postmodern professionalism that opens schools and teachers up to parents and the public’ is apparently not favoured by Stronach et al (2002, p.130), who link this position to discourses of performativity, effectiveness and improvement. Both articles associate stronger professionalism with greater trust but, in my reading, divergence appears over issues of how to build and motivate this trust.

Hargreaves’ (2000) solution to de-professionalisation, for ‘professional effectiveness and public credibility’, is for teachers to ‘set and meet an exacting set of professional standards of practice‘ (p.171, italics in original), recognising this as a ‘paradoxical challenge’ (p.176). For Stronach et al (2002) such standards of practice seem to invoke a deficit model that risks demotivation, insisting that healthy practice ‘needs exercise rather than medication’ (p.132). They conclude that professionalism relies on ‘positive trust’ rather than ‘performance ranking’ (Stronach et al, 2002, p.131) and that

‘excellence can only be motivated, it cannot be coerced’ (p.132).

For a group of academics and practitioner educators, perhaps a key to both fostering this motivation and re-defining professionalism lies in another theme arising from our research cluster discussions; one with which I think both Hargreaves and Stronach et al might concur. That is, a commitment to continual learning.


Hargreaves, A. (2000) Four Ages of Professionalism and Professional Learning. Teachers and Teaching6(2), 151–182.

Stronach, I., Corbin, B., McNamara, O., Stark, S., & Warne, T. (2002) Towards an uncertain politics of professionalism: teacher and nurse identities in flux. Journal of Education Policy17(1), 109–138.