Peter Davies, who is project managing the work to create the proposed FE Guild, sent an intriguing tweet yesterday: “Real divergence of opinion with pm group – strong view that for Guild to have real impact must focus on T&L&A. [teaching and learning and assessment] How can we square this circle?”. It’s an important question, and I want to make the case that a focus on ‘T&L&A’ is too narrow: our focus should be on learners.
What are we trying to achieve through the Guild? The Consultation Document offers us a range of ‘Top Level Aims’, and the first of those is “To ensure the best possible learner experience and outcomes”. I agree with that, though I think the imprecision of those last three words – experience and outcomes – might be a clue to the problem Peter is trying to solve.
The first part is clear, and everyone accepts it: we want students to benefit from excellent learning, wherever it takes place, whether in a classroom or workplace, or through personal study.
“Outcomes” is much less clear. The way I’d put it is that we also want students to be able to make the most of the opportunities to learn which we offer them. That is a much broader task encompassing helping them to choose the right course, supporting them through their studies (which will include routine tutorials and maybe also more specialist support: educational, emotional and financial), advising on careers options, arranging work experience and enrichment opportunities, and careers advice, helping with the next steps into work or further study.
I think it also covers things which are wider still, about individuals growing as people, learning something more about themselves and what they can do with their lives, and learning some skills (and confidence) to help them take the next step. Some of that is captured in ‘employability’ and ‘enterprise’ – and in the debate about whether our job is to help students just to pass exams, or to offer a broader education!
All of those, I suggest, are professional responsibilities. Some of them fall to professional teachers; many fall to other professionals, in the fields of information, advice and guidance, for example, and counselling; and some fall to other colleagues whose expertise is not yet, or not always, labelled as ‘professional’, but whose professionalism matters a good deal to students, like staff who arrange work experience, or who stimulate and support enterprising behaviour.
I should like all of those people to be covered by the Guild, because it is the sum of their efforts which produces a first class outcome for students, not solely the work of teachers when they teach.
It’s time to dump the old, redundant, distinction between “teaching staff” and “support staff”.
Turn the words round from “FE Guild” to a “Guild for Learners” (I’m not suggesting it as a title), and the emphasis shifts to students and to how they learn, and therefore to all those who help them to learn. Focusing on our students is how we square the circle, Peter.