The Further Education (FE) and Skills sector is without a doubt one of the most dynamic sectors of education to work in and provides a bridge to employment or higher study for the majority of learners.
Many who decide to work in the sector and qualify as teachers do so through the completion of in-service programmes. This on-the-job training route is favoured by many dual professionals who are experts in their discipline or vocational area, and also wish to become expert teachers. Gaining a teaching qualification to work in the sector is not mandatory, however many find that gaining a better understanding of teaching and learning benefits those learners they directly work with. This can also be supported through the award of QTLS (Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills) status, which is conferred by the Society for Education and Training. This is awarded through the successful completion of a portfolio of professional practice after gaining a teaching qualification and has direct party in law with QTS (Qualified Teacher Status) for the compulsory sector. Very often, holding a teaching qualification and demonstrating commitment to continuous development is essential if practitioners choose to progress into management roles.
The expectation within the sector is for responsibility at all levels and FE professionals often find themselves leading courses at an early stage of their teaching career. For those keen to become managers and leaders, a first step is often as a programme area leader, followed by wider curriculum management roles and then head of School/Centre roles. For the most ambitious, the next step after these roles is senior leadership and roles such as director of Teaching and Learning; therefore, professionals could find themselves in the role of CEO/Principal.
Whichever role an FE professional has, learners are at the heart of the sector. Getting the best out of learners starts at the beginning of their learning journey with learners being offered good quality and impartial Information, Advice and Guidance (IAG). By providing learners with access to information about different learning routes and pathways to their chosen careers, learners can be signposted and enrolled onto programmes which are right for their needs and aspirations. This, in turn, can increase learners’ chances of success before they actually start learning.
Good quality IAG, coupled with initial and diagnostic assessment to appraise learner skills, knowledge and ability, are the foundations for FE professionals to ensure that the needs of individual learners are met throughout their learning experience. By using data about learners appropriately to support their progress, FE professionals are able to review learning at key points and update and amend group profiles and planning documentation to support the learning needs of all individuals.
Not surprisingly, good quality teaching, learning and assessment facilitated by passionate and knowledgeable FE professionals is a key factor in getting the best out of FE learners. As learners engaged in the sector are so diverse and range from sixteen-year-old school leavers to adult returners, and covers anything from pre-entry level to level six and seven qualifications, professionals need to adapt their teaching to meet the needs of the cohorts they are working with. Knowing learners and recognising the diversity in the sector indicates that learning must be relevant and useful to them and their current position.
On programme learning and the development of skills for learners’ chosen careers are key features in supporting career aspirations. Programmes in the FE and Skills sector all have an end goal and destination in mind, and professionals in the sector can foster this through enhancing learner exposure to real world experiences such as guest speakers, visits and work experience. If the start of a learner’s journey commences with access to good quality IAG, it similarly ends with it and should be a feature throughout learning to keep learners on the path to achieving their aspirations.
The FE and Skills sector is one of the most empowering sectors of education. It has no prejudice about prior attainment and supports learners through levels and qualifications. The FE professional then is someone who needs to be focused in their own career to support learners to achieve their own career aspirations.
Hayley works at the University of Derby as deputy head of Department, in the College of Education, leading a successful programme of initial teacher education for the FE and Skills sector. Prior to this, Hayley has held a number of roles in both the secondary and FE sectors, specialising in 14-19 education.